May 2, 2011

Golden Tee: Polar Bears Find Talisman

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Since adding a yellow undershirt to the uniform, Bowdoin has upset a pair of Top 10 programs in Tufts and Amherst. The Polar Bears are hoping the good luck continues this weekend when they face Tufts again, this time in the NESCAC semifinals.

© Brian Beard

Some would call it a t-shirt. Others might describe it as a shooting shirt.

Semantics, really. Whatever it's called, its working.

The Bowdoin men's lacrosse players bought yellow shirts, with just "Bowdoin Lacrosse" emblazoned on the front, to wear underneath their uniforms for Friday night's game against Tufts in the regular season finale, and proceeded to smash the Jumbos, 15-9. The last time Tufts, the defending NCAA Division III champion, lost by six goals was in 2008, when it finished 9-6.

On Sunday, with the gold showing below the Polar Bears usual road blacks, Bowdoin -- seeded seventh in the NESCAC tournament -- traveled to Amherst and bested the Lord Jeffs, 14-9. It was just the second loss of the season for Amherst, the first at home and the most goals it allowed this spring.

"That might be our new look from now on," said Bowdoin head coach Tom McCabe on the bus ride back from Amherst on Sunday afternoon. "We've played pretty well with them on, so I think we're going to keep them."

Whether it's the new accent color or something else, there's no doubt the Polar Bears are on a hot streak. After starting the season with a 3-6 record and posting a 1-5 mark in the conference that had them perilously close to not even qualifying for the eight-team playoff, Bowdoin has won five straight games. Three of those games came against ranked teams, and two against top-10 squads.

"It's a combination of things," McCabe said. "We've won a few games in a row. I've always thought we were pretty athletic. We just haven't connected the dots. We seem to be doing that right now."

The combo is controlling the tempo on offense to protect a still-maturing defense, along with a lot of good vibes when the ball enters the attack zone.

"I just think it's a confidence issue right now," McCabe said. "Offensively, when we have the ball, our guys think they can score every time we have the ball, and that's a good mentality to have."

The looming presence of All-American midfielder Kit Smith is still around to force defenses to burn their best pole on a middie. "If they don't put the long stick on him, he's going to get four or five goals," McCabe said. This has created opportunities for a host of other players, including Keegan Mehlhorn and Patrick Lawlor, who scored four and three goals against Tufts, respectively. Ben Chadwick had two goals and six assists in the triumph over Amherst.

"The guys really believe in the offense right now," McCabe said. "We've got a bunch, six or seven different people, who are scoring, so it's hard to defend us."

McCabe and the rest of the Polar Bears understand that they will have to win the NESCAC title if they want to play in the NCAA tournament. Despite the late hot streak, Bowdoin is still just 8-6. The toughest challenge to making the dance lies in the semifinals Saturday, when the Polar Bears travel to top-seeded Tufts for a rematch.

Despite the earlier victory -- or perhaps because of it -- it's a daunting task.

"They've got so many kids that can get it done," McCabe said. "They are just so dangerous and they do it in bunches. The key for us is to control the pace of the game. Our offense is our best defense."

And don't forget about the lucky yellow shirts.

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