April 18, 2011

Making Sense: Learning to Pick Up the Pieces

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

Knowing that All-American midfielder Sam Bradman (above) wasn't completely healthy in the game against Stevenson certainly made it easier for Salisbury coach Jim Berkman to shrug off the loss to the Mustangs.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Gene Peluso was as disconsolate as I've heard him. The typically positive coach with the self-deprecating Long Island wit was gone, replaced by a guy speaking in a flat tone just barely audible above the ambient bus noise as his Stevens team made its way back to Hoboken on Saturday.

Starting the season 12-0 and climbing to No. 6 in the nation, only to get smashed by 10 goals against No. 4 RIT, will do that to you. Throw in the underlying fact that he was playing the team he once coached, and the disappointment was completely understandable.

The team he watched amidst the rain drops and gale force winds in Rochester was a shadow of the squad that had dominated its opponents for the first two months of the season.

The Tigers were running by, and through, his team to the goal. His goalie was throwing outlet passes to riding RIT attackmen, springing two-on-nones. And the Ducks couldn't buy a ground ball.

The frustration made him fight the urge to just stand up on the bus and yell, "What was wrong with you guys!?"

Peluso's been down that road before, however, and found that particular approach wanting. After Lynchburg manhandled Stevens last year, Peluso and his staff lit up the players.

"We just didn't come out of the gates and we harped on it," said Peluso of the Lynchburg loss. "We crushed them in the film room and we really broke our guys down a little bit. I don't feel like that it helped us. I think we're more in the train of thought that this was as bad of a game as we've played. We don't expect to ever play that bad again. We need to move forward and focus on what's ahead and not really focus on today."

Winning is easy. The challenging part for coaches, especially those with aspirations for a deep postseason run, is finding the right route after a high profile loss. While Peluso had highly-ranked match-ups while he was at RIT and is starting to get more of them in his second year with Stevens, it's still something his feeling out.

For Salisbury's Jim Berkman, it's just part of the drill.

As he stood in the athletic department parking lot two hours after the No. 2 Gulls' 16-12 loss to No. 3 Stevenson with his family bugging him to get off his cell phone, Berkman was his usual sanguine self. He had already given the game film a cursory view and had broken down what went wrong: stupid penalties, poor faceoff wing play, and two key players -- Sam Bradman and Dean Rossi -- nursing badly sprained ankles.

He even nailed down the intangibles that hindered his team, all with a clinical tone that showed neither anger nor disappointment.

"I don't know if we did a great job of handling the emotions," said Berkman. "They obviously scored more goals, but they didn't handle the emotions very well either. Neither one of us is going to win the big game down the road if we're going to take that many penalties. We've got to get better about it. There were a few times that the penalities cost us some valuable offensive opportunities today."

Berkman was even able to find a silver lining in a loss that gave Stevenson the No. 1 seed in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament that will conclude next Saturday, likely with the Gulls and Mustangs meeting again.

"The good thing was we didn't panic when we got down 5-0 and 8-2," he said. "We kept hanging in there and kept chipping away. The next thing I know, it's 8-5 and, boom, it's 8-6 and we're right there knocking on the door again. We never gave up. We just have to get off the bus a little bit quicker next time and not give them a lead like that."

Was their something for Stevens to grow on after the 18-8 loss?

"Not really," admitted Peluso. "There's none of that today. We know what our guys are. We watched them do things for 13 games now, and 12 of them were on the good end and one of them wasn't. We didn't see what they were today."

There's not necessarily a right or wrong way for a coach to handle a big-game, high-profile loss. Peluso's angst-ridden bus ride back to Jersey was no better or worse than Berkman's antiseptic analysis leaning up against his car. Individuals with different personalities, styles and amount of experience will obviously handle things differently.

Peluso making his first visit to the school he once coached is going to stir different emotions than Berkman playing the first of likely three games against a familiar foe. There are plenty of variables to explain the differences between the two men on Saturday.

What the two coaches hold in common is the knowledge that unless you are playing on Memorial Day, you're only as good as your next game.

Game Balls

Brian Craig – Defense, Le Moyne
Trailing 4-3 at the half to Northeast-10 rival Merrimack, the Dolphin defense, led by the junior, locked down, shutting out the Warriors in the second half for the 6-4 win. Craig finished with two caused turnovers and five ground balls.

Kelso Davis – Attack, RIT
In the battle for supremacy in the Empire 8 against No. 6 Stevens, the senior scored five goals and set up two others, helping the Tigers roll to the 18-8 victory over the Ducks.

Mark DeOliveira – Goalie, Wittenberg
The senior made 18 saves against Denison, helping the Tigers not only beat Denison, 9-8, but also take control of the top Pool B bid to the NCAA tournament.

A.J. Drivas – Attack, Florida State
The Seminoles not only dashed the playoff dreams of their archrival Florida, they stomped on them. FSU knocked the Gators out of the SELC tourney with a 22-11 win, sparked by four goals and four assists from the senior.

Andrew Hunter – Goalie, Grand Canyon
The 'Lopes headed off into the sunset with a win thanks to the junior. Hunter made 22 saves as Grand Canyon defeated Dominican (Calif.), 12-11, in the final game in program history. The school has decided to discontinue the team as a varsity option.

Cameron Holding – Attack, Grand Valley State
The top-ranked Lakers entertained No. 7 Dayton and the senior provided a rude welcome. Holding scored 11 goals -- the second time this season he has hit that benchmark -- and dished out an assist to help GVSU pound the Flyers, 21-13.

Will Johnson – Attack, Eastern
The sophomore scored three goals -- including the game-winner in overtime -- and dished out three assists, helping Eastern take down Lycoming in a MAC clash. (Bonus points for the blazer-over-shoulder look).

Jeff Keating – Attack, Roanoke
Roanoke rallied to defeat Hampden-Sydney and retain control of the ODAC helped by the junior. Keating scored six goals -- including two in the Maroons decisive 9-0, fourt-quarter run -- as well as dishing out two assists.

Kyle Menedez – Defense, Stevenson
The senior was Mustang coach Paul Cantabene's pick for Game Balls. Menedez helped give the Salisbury offense fits all game and even cashed in a goal on an end-to-end rush. "I thought he was outstanding," said Cantabene.

John Scheich – Attack, Catawba
With the Indians trailing by a goal entering the fourth quarter of the Deep South championship game against Florida Southern, the rookie scored two goals, including the game-winner, and set up a third, helping Catawba win the title, 10-8. He had five goals and four assists in the three-game tourney.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Limestone (14-0) – The Saints winning the Conference Carolinas qualifies as the least surprising news from the weekend.
2. Le Moyne (9-1) – The Dolphins knew that Merrimack was going to throw everything at them and Dan Sheehan's squad still managed to squeeze out a win.
3. C.W. Post (13-1) – Mercy is the only program standing between the Pioneers and the Central Region bid to the tournament.
4. Adelphi (10-1) – Maybe the Panthers are trying to lull Le Moyne into a false sense of security by going into double overtime with St. Mike's.
5. Mercy (10-1) – The Mavericks need to beat Post this weekend or Dowling on May 7 to have a crack at the Wild Card berth.

NCAA Division III
1. RIT (11-0) – The Tigers are undefeated and just destroyed one of the hottest teams in the country. RIT has earned it.
2. Tufts (10-1) – The Jumbos laid an egg against Endicott, but they still beat Stevenson on the Mustangs' field. Can't drop 'em any further.
3. Stevenson (15-1) – A win over Salisbury on the road is always impressive, but that wasn't a breathtaking performance by the Mustangs.
4. Amherst (11-1) – The Lord Jeffs hop into the Fives after subduing a charged-up Colby team looking for satisfaction against Jon Thompson.
5. Dickinson (12-1) – The Red Devils aren't the sexiest team out there, but being the top dog in the Centennial still counts for something.

MCLA Division I
1. Michigan (13-0) – Michigan State is doing the Wolverines a favor by keeping them sharp. UM knows it will have another tough game in the CCLA tourney.
2. Colorado State (10-1) – A double-down against Utah and BYU is the only thing standing between the Rams and the No. 2 seed.
3. Michigan State (9-4) – Sparty knows they can score against Michigan. Now they have to control the tempo of the game.
4. Arizona State (9-3) – The only real test left for the Sun Devils is the inevitable game against Chapman in the SLC championship game.
5. Brigham Young (13-2) – The Cougars will have two weeks to prepare for Colorado State. They better at least keep it close.

MCLA Division II
1. Grand Valley State (12-0) – The Lakers have put an undefeated season and the No. 1 seed in the bank. St. Thomas in the title game is the only thing left.
2. St. Thomas (14-1) – The Tommies showed in the span of the three days that the UMLL tournament is not going to be an issue.
3. Western Oregon (11-1) – Is it me, or does everyone hate the Wolves? If so, it doesn't seem to be fazing the team, that's for sure.
4. North Dakota State (11-1) – Hey, I'm just as surprised as you. But if Briarcliffe gets in for just beating Davenport, the Bison have to be ahead of them.
5. Briarcliffe (6-0) – The most regular season wins the Bulldogs can get is nine. Does that seem like a number a contender would have? I'm not sure.

Monday Notebooks

NCAA Division II: Grand Canyon goes out (for good) with a win.
NCAA Division III: The ODAC is a charitable bunch.
MCLA Division I: The questions about Minnesota-Duluth.
MCLA Division II: Who is the MCLA-II Player of the Year?

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