February 16, 2012

Coyne v. Censer: Starting with a Must-Win Game

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

What makes the difference in a must-win game? It sure doesn't hurt having an experienced goalie. Haverford has one of the best in senior Joe Banno.
© Larry Drexler

Is it possible to have a must-win game midway through February?

It's a tough concept to swallow, especially since we're still in the glow of the "Anything is Possible!" honeymoon period of the 2012 campaign. But I'd argue that the impending Haverford-Stevenson game Saturday is a must-win for both of those programs, albeit for very different reasons.

For the Black Squirrels, the need for this game is obvious, and it was established when Colin Bathory and his charges sat in their film room last year and watched the NCAA selection show.

"That feeling of sitting all together, watching the last team click off and realizing we weren't in the NCAA tournament? That certainly was pretty rough," admitted Haverford goalie Joe Banno.

It was rough because the Squirrels realized that they were probably one signature win away from leapfrogging Nazareth and earning that last Pool C berth to the tournament. Certainly had they defeated Stevenson in the season opener last year, the chorus of "Que Sera, Sera" would not have been sung in the taverns of Northwestern Philadelphia last May.

Fortunately, the Fords have the ability to break out an Office Max-esque "reset button" and get another bite of the apple. Haverford has perhaps its best team of the last three seasons, and if it is able to hit the road and bounce the Mustangs, they will instantly become both a front-runner for an at-large bid as well as a legitimate challenger for the Centennial crown. Conversely, a loss on Saturday and the Black Squirrels will be chasing the season for the next quarter annum.

As such, Haverford must win this game.

The Mustangs must also win this game, but for very different reasons.

Both figuratively and literally, the sparkling new stadium in Owings Mills was built by Paul Cantabene. Figuratively speaking, Cantabene set the foundation of the edifice by turning a lacrosse afterthought (then known as Villa Julie) into a Division III goliath in a matter of years. Oh, the standard PR line out of Stevenson will be that the structure is a multi-sport facility designed as a home for football, lacrosse and other sports (blah, blah, blah), but Stevenson is a known as a lacrosse school, and will be as long as Cantabene is there.

In a more literal sense, as the Associate Athletic Director for Facilities, Cantabene built the stadium. He has been in on every decision and the shaping of every nook and cranny, from the bleachers to the bathrooms to the turf. The fact that the stadium is now symbolic of the great potential the university holds is a professional triumph for Cantabene.

Losing the first-ever lacrosse game played in the stadium? Unacceptable. It would be an ignominious outcome that could never be scrubbed from the historical record, never mind that it would be coming at the hands of a school known more for hemp sweaters and spoken-word recitals than lacrosse. Clearly, this is a must-win for Stevenson.

Obviously, one of these contestants is going fall short of its must-win edict come late Saturday night, which makes this game the most compelling joust of the weekend, despite the presence of the Salisbury-Lynchburg clash.

So what do you say Joel: Does this game hold all the weight I think it does, or did I oversell it?

CENSER: I sign up for another year of Coyne v. Censer and this is what I have to respond to? A 500-word diatribe trying to sell some early February game like it's life or death?

Does anyone remember Salisbury in 2011? Of course, over the past nine months Jac and the rest of the NESCAC nation have tried their best to forget "The Massacre in May," when the Seagulls put a quick end to the year-long, often sanctimonious victory lap NESCACophiles had been making after Tufts' 2010 championship win.

But early last season, that same Salisbury squad that hung a 19-spot on Tufts couldn't break double-digits against Washington and Lee, Ohio Wesleyan or Gettysburg.

Personally, I think people who look to the early-season for statement games are going to be consistently disappointed. Especially when it comes to two teams like Stevenson and Haverford.

For the 'Stangs, glossy new turf and a football-sized roster doesn't mean there's not going to be a rough transition to the post Jimmy Dailey, Ray Witte, and Evan Douglass era.

Ditto for the Fords, who have to replace (among other things) Max Hjelm's lefty rip and Travis Gregory's between-the-stripes bonafides.

There's a quote near the end of Shawshank Redemption, where Red, recounting how Andy escaped using a rock hammer, says "That's all it takes really: pressure, and time."

The more Division III lacrosse I watch, the more I come back to that prison yard reflection. That the teams we'll see in May aren't always the ones jumping out to some eye-opening, Feb. 18 win. But the ones that deal with adversity and continue to grind away behind some Rita Hayworth poster are the ones to be feared.

And, by playoff time, have enough energy and confidence to crawl through the proverbial 300-yard septic tank.

To the games...

No. 11 Lynchburg (1-0) at No. 1 Salisbury (1-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: I want to believe Lynchburg can win this game. No, I have nothing against Salisbury. I, like many, would just like to see a little of the inevitability taken out of Division III. A win by Lynchburg over the reigning champs would provide that, if only for a weekend. However, since the Hornets started the tradition of opening their season against the Sea Gulls, which started in 2008, the 'Burg has only played within five goals once – a 10-9 loss in '08, which, as it turns out, was LC's last visit to the NCAA tournament.

How can the Hornets win? It starts with Jeff Schwartz (64.4%; 1st Team All-ODAC) at faceoff and an aggressive offense. Faceoffs aside, if the Hornets try to slow this game down, it will be over by halftime. Even though he was pulled after five minutes in last year's game against Salisbury, Lynchburg has to trust goalie Franc Cook and the defense enough to create just as many scoring chances as the Gulls. Will they be able to that? Again, I want to believe.

Faith is a funny thing. Sometimes you have to suspend your natural instincts to accept it. I'm definitely doing that here, especially on the road. Lynchburg, 11-10 in overtime.

CENSER: Is Jac right? Is this the year the Hornets party like its 2003? Back then, rumblin' Billy McCulloch scored four goals and the 'Burg squeaked by the Evil Empire with a 13-12 win.

There have been rumors up and down Interstate 29 that this is the most talented Lynchburg squad since Ryan Cranston was suiting up. Certainly, with talented poles like Joe Lisicky and Jon Lombardo patrolling the backline and Cook in net, the Hornets will be better equipped than most to stop the Gulls.

But when I think back to last May, when Bradman turned M&T Bank Stadium into his own personal scoring showcase and Tony Mendes made Tufts defenders' ankles into silly putty...well...I just can't see Lynchburg keeping pace. 16-11, Birdz.

St. Mary's (0-0) at No. 2 Roanoke (0-0), 2 p.m.

COYNE: The year was 2006, and Roanoke was coming off a loss to Salisbury in the semifinals of the '05 national tournament. The Maroons took on St. Mary's in an early-season contest and, stunningly, when the final whistle blew, the Seahawks had a 9-5 victory. Fast forward to this season. 'Noke's coming off a semifinal loss to Salisbury and opening the year against St. Mary's. Should we expect history to repeat itself?

There's only one difference: Roanoke's at home for this one instead of in St. Mary's City. That, and the fact that the Seahawks were a ranked team in '06. Unlike this spring, when they are nowhere near the national radar coming off 6-9 campaign. Keep a close eye on how the Maroons' faceoff unit fares, but expect Jeff Keating to get a handful of goals and 'Noke to snare a comfortable victory. Roanoke, 15-5.

CENSER: What happened to St. Mary's? In 2011 after stringing together a couple nice years, the program limped home, including losses to Mary Washington and York.

I don't know if Chris Hasbrouck's troops can crawl their way back to CAC respectability. But if it happens, it won't be during this early-season barn-burner. Keating and Canuck sidekick Richard Lachlan heat up as the Maroon roll. 18-4, RC.

No. 17 Haverford (0-0) at No. 7 Stevenson (0-0), 7 p.m.

COYNE: We set this game up in the opening, and it isn't an easy pick. I can come up with five reasons why each of these teams should win, but I'm going to default to home field advantage and take the Mustangs. Stevenson, 9-7.

CENSER: At this point, we know how Stevenson wants to play. They want to push the tempo, play fast, and score often.

But there's plenty we don't know. Do they have the horses to run-and-gun in 2012? Can Tyler Reid and a couple of stop-and-go freshmen steer the ship? Is high profile UVA transfer Pete Borror going to play a role between the stripes (or at all). As for Haverford, we can expect a stingy defense. But there are question marks at the face-off and on offense -- where Zack Cohen and Phil Valliant will run the show.

I think if Haverford turns this game into a half-field slugfest, they'll win. Certainly Joe Banno and Black Squirrel defenders Dillion Hamill and Scott Chanelli aren't the easiest guys for the Stevenson young guns to get their sea legs against. Fords, 6-4.

Jac's Pick

Greensboro (0-1) at Wesley (0-0), 1 p.m.

COYNE: Oof. One of the perils of the mid-February pick 'em contests is the paucity of high-end games. This tilt certainly won't move the Division III Q-meter – Wesley probably won't be a threat in the CAC and Greensboro is still a year away from being a threat in the Pool B scene – but it should be a close game. Last year, the Wolverines raced out to a 6-1 on their way to a 10-8 triumph in Carolina.

The Pride is coming off yet another hammering at the hands of Salisbury in the opener (19-6), but this one should pay off for Greensboro. Although their collective ego may be bruised by the Gulls, the Pride players have played lived competition while Wesley will be opening its season. And it's not like Greensboro is going to see a better team than they just faced. So even with the grueling trip to Dover, Del., ahead of them, I like the Pride by a hair, 8-7.

CENSER: Watch the face-off circle.

Last weekend, Greensboro's Skip Jakupi got tossed around by Salisbury's 6-foot-3, 215-pound pitbull Tyler Granelli, winning only 10 of his 28 attempts. He'll face another tough CAC technician when he goes head-to-head against Wesley junior Michael McQuarrie (57 percent in 2011).

In last year's game, Jakupi was one of the few bright spots for the Pride (14 of 20 that day). But I have a feeling that McQuarrie will get some redemption come Saturday, winning enough extra possessions for bruising midfielder Eric Crumbock and company to take care of the rest. 9-6, Wolverines.

Joel's Pick

Kenyon (0-0) at McDaniel (0-0), 1 p.m.

CENSER: Over the past eight years, the Green Terror have generally played the role as Centennial Conference outsider. Usually not good enough to make the conference playoffs, but pesky enough to knock off (or at least scare the daylights out of) one of the power teams.

Kenyon, after a couple of nice years earlier this century, has fallen back in line behind Denison and OWU in "PoolBlandia."

In 2012, both squads lose a couple big-time defenders, but return most of the key pieces on offense (albeit generally a stagnant offense). That said, I'll take the team with the best player, and in this case it's McDaniel's D.J Rickels, a sinewy type who is going to press the corner. Western Maryland, 11-6.

COYNE: If my portfolio wasn't quite as risky as it is right now - the Lynchburg and Greensboro picks have me stretched pretty thin - I might take a flyer on Kenyon. Not to say that the Lords can't pull this off, but for all of their struggles in the Centennial, McDaniel is a battle-hardened group. I've been on the Terror bandwagon early in years past, mostly because Matt Hatton reels me in with his salesmanship, but I'll let them build their foundation organically this spring without my PR campaign. Micky D's, 7-4.

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