March 16, 2011

Skidmore Takes Down Dickinson, Old Friends

by Jac Coyne | | Twitter

Ben Cornell (above) scored the first two goals of the contest to give the Thoroughbreds an early lead, helping Skidmore post a 9-7 upset of No. 6 Dickinson in Orlando on Wednesday afternoon. Cornell finished with a game-high three goals.
© Skidmore Athletics

A lot of coaches in Jack Sandler's situation would have looked at the other sideline on this sunny Wednesday in Orlando and had a grim look on their faces. There, on the opposing half of the field, was Dickinson -- an NCAA tournament participant from 2010, the recent slayer of Roanoke, and the No. 6 team in the country.

When Sandler, Skidmore's sixth-year head coach, looked at the Red Devils sideline, he smiled.

It wasn't out of some kind of false bravado or gamesmanship. It was just good to see old friends again.

Before Sandler took over the Thoroughbred program in 2006, he was an assistant under Dickinson head coach Dave Webster and is close friends with Devils assistant Joe Starsia-Lasagna. To complete the family atmosphere, Sandler coached his current Skidmore defensive coordinator, Tim Marshall, when Marshall was a close defender at Dickinson.

"We headed into the game obviously knowing that they are a great opponent," said Sandler. "I have a whole lot of respect for Coach Webster and his program."

So when his Thoroughbreds raced out to a 3-0 lead and still led by three at the half, Sandler knew that the counter-punch was coming at some point and his kids needed to be ready.

"We were up 5-2 at halftime and we're feeling real good about that because they've been scoring 14 or so goals per game and we held them to two goals in the first half," said Sandler. "We reinforced to the guys that they needed to keep it up in the second half and be ready to weather a storm of goals. They came after us."

After the lead ballooned briefly to 6-2 early in the second half, the Red Devils made their charge, tying the game at seven. With the game still locked up in the fourth quarter, Sandler looked out and saw that freshman attackman Richie Davis had the ball in his stick and a gleam in his eye. The coach tensed his body.

"A freshman going to the cage makes a lot of coaches nervous, but he was in there for a reason," said Sandler. "He took the guy to the cage and was able to make a nice move. Dickinson was slow to slide and he buried it."

Ben Cornell tacked on his third goal of the game minutes later to give Skidmore the 9-7 margin that would provide the Thoroughbreds what is thought to be the first win over a Top 10 team in program history.

One would think keeping a lid on the high-powered Dickinson attack and it's freshman phenom Brian Cannon would be part of the game plan, but Sandler actually was more than willing to go toe-to-toe with the Devils, despite what his defensive coordinator wanted.

"It's actually kind of funny, we look to push the ball. We practice our transition game a lot. That's what we want to do. [Marshall] can't stand it when I say it, because I say it all the time, but if the other team scores 14 goals, we'll score 15."

Defenses ruled the day, however. Entering the game averaging nearly six points per game, Cannon was limited to just one assist by the play of Skidmore defender Mike Jennings while goalie Connor Dowling made 10 stops in his first start for the victors. The Thoroughbreds would likely have cracked double-digits had it not been for the play of Greg Hanley, who stood on his head in net for the Red Devils.

Combined with a solid performance in its 10-7 loss to No. 7 Haverford last Wednesday, Skidmore should bounce into the Top 20 poll on Monday. Sandler hopes it will be a sign of steady program ready to win a conference championship in a very deep Liberty League.

"It's a great moment for these guys to realize that they can play at this level and they should expect to win these games, not just be happy to be in them," he said. "I think over the course of time here it has been about building consistency. We've gotten big wins and we've made it to the league championship game, but nobody thought we'd be here. And it is great to be here."

The postgame handshake between Sandler and his old friends was obviously subdued. However, the underlying friendship was not impacted.

"We wished each other luck," said Sandler. "The more games each of us win from here on out, the better it is for both of us. We both want to make sure we win a lot of game and have great years. I have a ton a respect for them and it was great to play them. No matter who won or lost, we were going to be happy for the other guy."

You never know, maybe they'll meet again in a couple of months.

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