April 4, 2011

Making Sense: The MLC's Lame Duck Dilemma

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Junior Keegan Bowman is leading Carthage with 32 goals and 27 assists, as the Red Men have raced out to a 9-1 start. Whether they, Adrian, or any of the other Midwest Lacrosse Conference want it, the league may just find itself with a bid to the NCAA tournament a year before the automatic qualifier kicks in.
© Carthage Athletics

They have labored for the past two season as the point programs of the westward movement in Division III, and with each passing day the institutions comprising the Midwest Lacrosse Conference takes a step closer to grabbing their piece of the pie. Starting in 2012, the MLC will have its own automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.

The way things are shaping up this season, however, one member of the MLC may not have to wait until next May.

Due to an extra berth in Pool B -- aka, those tourney bids designated for independents or programs playing in non-AQ conferences -- there are two or three MLC teams that may find that their resume is good enough for consideration to the dance.

The NCAA has determined that there are four Pool B bids this year, and three of them are essentially spoken for. With its blend of strong non-conference schedules and a self-protecting policy of playing only a handful of Pool B competitors per season, the NCAC will fill three of the four openings. No. 10 Denison, No. 19 Wittenberg and Ohio Wesleyan are as close to locks for the tourney as you can get right now.

That leaves one bid for the 47 remaining Pool B candidates. A vast majority of those have no shot, whether due to a winning percentage below .500 (which eliminates a team from consideration) or a lack of schedule strength.

Enter the top tier of the Midwest Lacrosse Conference.

Whether they are earnest in their disinterest or they just don't want to jinx it, several of the league's coaches are downplaying the notion of being a Pool B contender.

"How should I say this politically correct? We're looking toward the future," said Mount St. Joseph head coach Pat Kennedy. "First and foremost, our approach this season was to win the conference."

MSJ is in the hunt because they are the only team that, because of its location in Cincinnati, has managed to ink the Big Three of Denison, OWU and Wittenberg on its schedule. Because of this, they have one of the stronger schedules among the remaining contenders even though they are 4-5 currently.

"We play those teams so that, in theory, it will prepare us for our conference games," said Kennedy. "With those teams so close and willing to play us, it does wonders for our program as far as recruiting."

Kennedy, however, is not fostering any notion about a Pool B berth, regardless of whether or not the Lions are in the mix. He's not alone.

"It hasn't been in my mind, to be honest with you," said Cathage (Wis.) head coach Dave Neff. "We've been working everything toward next year when we finally get our first senior class."

Adrian coach Brendan Hayes comes closest to admitting he has been keeping tabs on the Pool B dynamic. Even for him, it boils down to winning the MLC conference tournament first and then see what happens.

"For the most part, I know that we make our own bed," he said. "I keep an eye out on how other teams do, but I know we need to win our games to be considered. As far as I'm concerned, as long as we win or have a good showing against teams we compete with, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Adrian is the clear frontrunner for that final Pool B spot, whether they want it or not. Greensboro and Whittier both have stronger schedules, but neither are likely to be eligible. The Pride have to finish 4-1 over their final five contests, which would mean a win over Lynchburg or Washington & Lee. The Poets have to sweep their final three, which includes OWU and undefeated Colorado College.

Still, Hayes says the Bulldogs frontrunner status was not based out of any conscious choice to take a run at the Pool B in this last year before the MLC moves to an automatic qualifier. Rather, it's just a byproduct.

"Strength of schedule and level of competition are always the driving force," said Hayes. "The way that I schedule, if we can get the best teams on our schedule and we have a good showing, that should help us with an at-large bid. That won't change next year with the automatic qualifier. We'll still approach things the same way."

As it turns out, the last legitimate hurdle for Adrian is the regular season finale against Carthage. The Red Men have posted a 9-1 record, admittedly against lesser competition, but if they win out -- including a win over the Bulldogs -- Carthage will be 15-1 (and undefeated in Division III). A Carthage win may not matter, as last year we saw Colorado College have a better record and beat Wittenberg head-to-head, only to find themselves on the outside.

A potential rematch in the MLC championship game between Carthage and Adrian might be worth more than the trophy that is currently on the line. The winner might just be getting a call on Selection Sunday.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The MLC coaches, even the ones in contention, will have us believe they are just biding their time until 2012.

"I don't even think our players are aware of it," said Neff. "The continued mindset with our kids is 'Let's work for next year when we know we'll have some sort of control over it.'"

They can believe what they want, but the MLC might have to be ready for prime time a year early.

Game Balls

Kevin Coholan – Midfield, Mercyhurst
The Lakers hosted No. 3 Dowling in a critical Central Region clash and the UMBC transfer scored four goals and set up another as Mercyhurst tamed the Lions, 16-8.

Nick Coric – Attack, C.W. Post
The Pioneers had to rebound against an old nemesis in NYIT, but the California Kid made sure Post got back on track. The junior scored four goals as the defending champs won, 9-5.

Jeff Hebert – Attack, Trinity
The Bantams put their perfect record on the line against Williams and the sophomore made sure it remained that way, scoring three goals and setting up three others in Trinity's 12-8 victory.

Scott Herberer – Attack, Cal Poly
As long as the Mustangs take care of business in the WCLL, they could be looking at a Top 4 seed and the junior made sure Cal Poly took care of one of its biggest conference threats. Herberer scored three goals and assisted on four others as Poly knocked off UC Davis, 15-9.

Mike Holden – Attack, Skidmore
The Thoroughbreds are one of the hottest teams around and Holden made sure they continued with five goals in Skidmore's 16-10 victory over St. Lawrence.

Shayne Jackson – Attack, Limestone
Limestone is making a mockery out of the South region, thanks to the junior. The Saints pounded No. 7 Queens – the presumptive favorite to unseat Limestone in the region – 24-3, helped by four goals and two assists from Jackson.

Jordan Richtsmeier – Attack, Davenport
Just when you think the Panthers are going into the tank, they go out and drop the hammer on No. 3 Dayton, 15-7. The sophomore led the way with five goals and three assists.

Tyler Russell – Attack, RIT
It was Kelso Davis who netted the game-winner in overtime against Geneseo, but Russell was critical in helping RIT get to that point. The junior netted three of his four goals in the third quarter, helping the Tigers bounce back from an 8-3 halftime deficit for the win.

Patton Watkins – Goalie, Tufts
With name made for the NESCAC, the rookie made quite a first impression in his inaugural collegiate start. Watkins made 15 saves, helping the Jumbos blast Wesleyan, 15-8.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Limestone (10-0) – Queens entered Saturday's contest with a 7-1 record and a No. 7 ranking. They lost to the Saints, 24-3.
2. Le Moyne (6-1) – Why am I starting to think that game with Limestone was a preview of the national championship game?
3. C.W. Post (10-1) – Eight is the magic number. If Post keeps opponents below eight goals, they win. This stuff is so easy sometimes.
4. Merychurst (7-1) – The Lakers traverse the state of New York this weekend for a game with massive implications against Post.
5. Mercy (8-1) – The Mavs beat NYIT and lost to Mercyhurst by two. The second-year program gets a moment in the sun.

NCAA Division III
1. Tufts (7-0) – The Jumbos didn't let Wesleyan hang around for the potential upset. The Cards were put away by halftime.
2. Salisbury (11-0) – The Sea Gulls could very well end the regular season with only two games against Top 20 opponents.
3. Stevens (10-0) – The Ducks have won their last three games by an average of 25 goals. These guys are for real.
4. RIT (7-0) – Not the most impressive of wins, but that was a gritty comeback to beat a desperate Geneseo team.
5. Stevenson (11-1) – The Mustangs (and Salisbury) have entered the stat-padding portion of their schedule.

MCLA Division I
1. Michigan (11-0) – Wolverines will get two mild tests from Sparty in the regular season and CCLA title game, but their already in Denver mode.
2. Colorado State (7-1) – We'll give the Rams the benefit of the doubt for the gritty come-from-behind win over Michigan State.
3. Cal Poly (9-2) - The Mustangs just keep taking care of business. It'll be fun to follow them in the Pacific Northwest next weekend.
4. Michigan State (6-3) - Sparty is two overtime goals and a last second shot away from being 9-0. They should be No. 2 right now.
5. Arizona State (7-3) - It was a tough call here, but I'll allow the Sun Devils to stick around and give BYU the boot.

MCLA Division II
1. Grand Valley State (8-0) – Still two weeks away from the Dayton game, and that isn't looking so great anymore.
2. St. Thomas (8-1) – Tommies host another big weekend in St. Paul with contenders from the CCLA, RMLC and GRLC visiting.
3. St. John's (8-0) – The Johnnies won their two games by a combined score of 47-2 this weekend. UMLL = top heavy.
4. Western Oregon (9-1) – The Western rep in Division II, Wolves hang around despite the front-loaded schedule.
5. Briarcliffe (4-0) – The Bulldogs sneak into The Fives thanks to the inconsistency of Davenport and Dayton. They'll be tough to dislodge.

Monday Notebooks

NCAA Division II: One man's Coach of the Year winner.
NCAA Division III: A eulogy for St. Lawrence's Liberty dominance.
MCLA Division I: The brackets for Denver as of right now.
MCLA Division II: Davenport causes a reevaluation.

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