April 7, 2011

Coyne v. Censer: In Defense of the Centennial

by Jac Coyne and Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Although Jonathan Molloy (above) is leading Swarthmore with 14 goals, the Garnet is one of several Centennial teams who have very little shot of making the NCAA tournament. After three bids last year, will the conference have more than one this spring? Censer refuses to comment on the issue.
© Kevin P. Tucker

There is no question I enjoy zinging Censer whenever I can. Yes, it's low-hanging fruit, but entertaining nonetheless.

But the time for light-hearted barbs is over. At least for this week.

I'm going to cut a little closer to the bone with my opening challenge to Joel. I will pose a question that will make Censer very uneasy, and perhaps induce a bout of nausea. It's a query that will make watching his alma mater fall flat on its face this weekend against Dickinson feel like a sunny, spring afternoon playing hackey-sack out on the Haverford quad.

Is the Centennial deserving of an at-large bid this season?

Assuming Dickinson wins the conference automatic qualifier, I'm starting to wonder.

Gettysburg needs the AQ. Because of weak non-conference schedule, so does Ursinus. The five through nine teams -- F&M, WAC, Swat, Muhlenberg and McDaniel -- are done. That leaves one team left.

Ratcheting up the awkward quotient, perhaps the better question is: if the Black Squirrels finish with a 12-4 record and their best victory is against (gasp!) Cabrini, are they worthy?

Well, Joel?

CENSER: For a second, I was going to take Jac's Pool C bait, hike up the suspenders, start crunching numbers, list the conference bonafides, and argue that Haverford's wins over Denison and Skidmore were going to hold serious weight come postseason.

And then I realized something.

This time last year, the Black Squirrels were reeling. They were 5-5, and another loss meant they'd miss the conference playoffs. Like many Centennial slugfests, their next game against Ursinus went into double overtime. They eventually ended up grinding it out against the Bears, but only after goalie Joe Banno made a one-on-one save in the extra frame.

But then a funny thing happened: Haverford kept winning. Nearly a month later, the Black Squirrels found themselves down on the Eastern Shore, 30 seconds away from knocking out Salisbury and punching their ticket to the national semifinals.

The point I'm trying to make is not that the Fords are necessarily going to replicate another deep postseason run -- the kinks on the offensive end and an injury to star defenseman Scott Chanelli have put a damper on that -- but more that we have a lot of lacrosse to play. And predicting how these teams are going to have positioned themselves by selection time, especially in a conference like the NESCAC or Centennial, is treacherous ground. Ground I'll happily leave to the journalistic blowhards.

COYNE: Before I forget, it took an overtime goal by RIT to keep me from registering the perfect week. Regardless, my 4-1 week and Censer's 2-3 stumble has moved me into the winning side of the ledger and within a game, 19-16 to 18-17. Also, please note that Joel picked all five of the games this week.

Colby (4-4) at No. 18 Wesleyan (6-3) – 1 p.m., Saturday

COYNE: Oh, man. Am I about to be suckered into taking the alma mater? That's just so...so Censer. Yeah, I'm going to do it, and for two reasons. The first is Craig Bunker, the White Mules' FOGO nonpareil. The senior is currently running at a 73 percent (89-of-122) clip and could conceivably grab all of the draws against the Cardinals.

Second, Wesleyan has hit a cold patch. Colby could take advantage of this, especially since the team will be riding the high of beating Bowdoin on Wednesday night. The Cardinals are always a dangerous team and could figure their issues quickly. Here's hoping they don't figure it out until next week. White Fools, 8-7 in triple OT.

CENSER: Here's what we know:

This Colby team, with Bunker leading the way, isn't built teams to blow teams out.

This Wesleyan team, whose early-season wins over a Kit Smith-less Bowdoin and Middlebury have lost some luster, has been dealing with some injuries on the offensive end and isn't going to put up too many goals.

So then the question is, who do you feel more comfortable with in a 6-5 grinder?

I'll take my chances with Grant Covington picking up some of the slack in net and Wes winning at home. Cardinals, 7-6.

No. 7 Middlebury (5-2) v. Bowdoin (3-5) – 1 p.m., Saturday

COYNE: This was the first true rivalry in NESCAC lacrosse, developing back in the non-NCAA days when the ECAC championship was the ceiling for the conference, and there have been some memorable games along the way. Pickard Field has always given the Panthers trouble. Back in 2002 when Middlebury went 18-1 and rolled Gettysburg in the national title game, 14-9, the Panthers lost to the Polar Bears in Brunswick.

Unfortunately for Tom McCabe and Bowdoin, Pickard Field is now a parking lot and the Polar Bears can't buy a break this season. Owen Smith has a couple of games under his belt and Bowdoin will have a marked advantage on faceoffs, but David Hild will cause problems. Midd in a close one, 10-8.

CENSER: Anytime Jac can regale us with a little piece of NESCAC history, I get excited. Hopefully next week we'll hear all about the "Blue Era," a seven-year period from 2003 to 2010 when the conference went on a bit of a championship drought.

This can't be a fun week for the Midd kids. Three days after going down to Amherst and finding out exactly what the "Jon Thompson Reclamation Project" is all about, they have to pick up and drive five hours to Bowdoin. As much as I want to take Bowdoin at home, I can't get past its struggles in net (where the Polar Bears have a little bit of a musical chairs thing going on). Panthers, 12-9.

No. 16 St. John Fisher (9-1) at No. 6 Stevens (11-0) – 3 p.m., Saturday

COYNE: My early season nemesis reappears in this competition. I am currently running 0-2 betting against the Ducks, but that was back before Stevens established itself as a legitimate contender to come out of the North. I was worried about the deficiencies at faceoff early on, and even though the Ducks are only one draw on the good side of .500 (141-for-280), they've made up for it in other areas.

Fisher's 16-7 whitewash of Geneseo is a solid result, but that game was at home. The Cardinals have to travel to Hoboken three days after driving to Scranton on Wednesday. I like the Ducks comfortably, 16-9.

CENSER: Was hoping Jac would keep picking against the Ducks, and I'd just get to sit here like a stone-faced Teddy KGB, cracking Oreos and letting the good times roll. Alas, the old guy seems to be catching on. 14-9, Ducks.

COYNE: I spoke with Stevens coach Gene Peluso on Tuesday when he was driving back from scouting the Scranton-Fisher game, and he encouraged me to continue picking against the Ducks. Sorry, Gene.

Gettysburg (6-5) at Ursinus (8-2) – 3 p.m., Saturday

COYNE: I like everything about Ursinus in this game, especially the fact that it is being played in Collegeville. But I'm having a hard time pulling the trigger. Josh Baker is having an excellent season in net (60.7 save percentage; 7.11 GAA) and Shawn Caven gives the home team a solid faceoff option. What spooks me is the offense.

The Bears are a one-man band, with Jeff Ocampo accounting for nearly 40 percent of the goals and almost a quarter of the assists. Talk about playing into Gettysburg's hands. The Bullets may lack a lot of things this year, but they still have the ability to shut down a predictable offense, even on the road. Janczyk and the boys take it, 9-4.

CENSER: Ursinus coach Jamie Steele is a Gettysburg alum. So you have to wonder how he's feeling about the problems the Bullets have had holding on to conference supremacy for the past couple seasons.

Still, like Jac, I'm thinking Gettysburg this game. Ocampo is the real deal and probably the front runner for conference player of the year (Brendan Palladino and Joe Banno have cases, too). But I've seen the Bullets put enough star offensive players through the gauntlet to know Ocampo, Steele and the rest of the Bears are fighting an uphill battle in this one. 8-6, 'Burg.

McDaniel (5-6) at Muhlenberg (3-7) – 3 p.m., Saturday

COYNE: Normally I'd roll out a snarky comment here about a couple of Centennial bottom-feeders, but I'll demure. Mostly because there aren't a whole lot of interesting games this week, but also because this is a tough game to predict. Like the Centennial as a whole, the Green Terror and Mules have been wildly inconsistent.

Muhlenberg beats decent St. Mary's and Gettysburg teams and then proceeds to drop games to Swarthmore and Washington College. McDaniel appears to be tanking, losing three straight conference games, before upending F&M. I'll take the home field advantage and cross my fingers. Mules, 6-5.

CENSER: The race for what is probably the fourth spot in the Centennial is on. Trying to navigate who has beaten whom and where various teams stand is a complicated job. Perfect for some Swarthmore grad who needs to be crunching numbers and put in the back office. For now, I'll just hold my breath and hope the Squirrels can get by the murderers row of slow-it-down trap games (F&M, Swat, Ursinus) without slipping up.

Anyway, the trip up to Allentown is huge for a McDaniel squad coming off two big conference wins. But can the Terror win enough faceoffs against Muhlenberg's Nick Rispoli and generate enough offense in the half-field to win? I'll bet on Matt Dean and stud long stick Matt Mummert keeping even with Rispoli, and D.J. Rickels continuing to put the Terror offense on his back. 8-6 McDaniel.

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