April 27, 2012

Coyne v. Censer: Choosing a School, Not a Coach

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

Prospective student-athletes don't have to worry about guys like Gettysburg head coach Hank Janczyk, who have been at their schools for decades, leaving during their collegiate career. But there are plenty of up-and-coming coaches who are trying to move up the ladder and might not always be around. That's why choosing the school, as well as the program, can save a lot of heartache.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Occasionally, I'll receive an email or two, typically in the summer months and usually from a parent of a Division III lacrosse player, lambasting a coach who has decided to leave his current program – the one where junior is headed to or playing at – for another.

I can't hit the delete button quick enough.

Why? For two reasons.

First, unless you're currently "Occupying" some location, no one has the right (or should have the dignity) to begrudge another individual for jumping at a better opportunity. That's the American way. Ostensibly, the coach in question has worked diligently at his current school in order to open more lucrative and prestigious professional opportunities. As much as some parents and players believe that coaches exist for the sole purpose of making his or her son a better lacrosse player, coaches have aspirations, too.

And sometimes that means they leave.

One of the big indictments leveled against these coaches who suddenly depart their programs is, and I'm paraphrasing here, "The coach always preached family with the team, but deserted that concept once a better offer came along."

My parents preached the concept of family to me for 18 years, but when I had my first opportunity to leave, I left a Roadrunner cloud on the front porch I was gone so fast. And guess what? My parents didn't hold it against me.

Second, if a student-athlete picks a college based on the coach, or even on the lacrosse program, he did himself a monumental disservice. Not because those factors aren't important. Coaches can be lifelong mentors and the experiences on the competitive playing field will serve an individual well throughout his life. But those are just part of the overall package.

If you're miserable for the majority of your time in college, can the daily three hours of respite on the lacrosse field be enough to keep you sane? I doubt it.

If that's the case and the coach leaves before you graduate? Well, you won't receive much sympathy. At least not from me, anyway.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe.

Joel, you're not too far removed from the recruiting and college selection process. Would you have attended the same school you did if the coaching and overall program were different? And, as always, don't be afraid to brag on yourself a little bit.

CENSER: As a 17-year old senior who spent my summer lighting hot dogs on peoples' doorsteps, it still shocks me that I made a mature decision picking a school.

I was getting recruited by some mid-range Division I and a couple elite Division III programs. But instead of choosing a college based on where they fell in the USILA rankings, I did the research, took the visits, and decided on Haverford.

At the time, the school was not very good at lacrosse. When I visited to watch fall ball, practice was held on a field caked in goose droppings. I left convinced my high school team could have beaten the Centennial bottomfeeder.

I got the recruiting pitch from then coach Mike Murphy. He even drove the five hours roundtrip to make a house visit – where I felt like Penny Hardaway from Blue Chips (besides the whole shoebox full of cash or the rogue down payment on a new home).

But in the end I chose Haverford mostly because of its small academic environment. It was "close enough from home but far enough away," and the kids on the lax team were just weird enough that a kid with academic parents fit right in. So yeah, I don't have a ton of sympathy for the high schoolers who choose a college solely based on lacrosse.

Every summer when I was at Haverford, we'd hear some message board rumor about how a Hamilton, Washington and Lee or a Dartmouth had laid it on thick to try to convince Coach Murphy to take the reins. But we just kind of crossed our fingers, hoped it wouldn't happen, and kept living our lives.

I feel fortunate that Coach Murphy stayed my four years. I really do believe that I received some of the best coaching Division III had to offer (four of my coaches are now head college coaches somewhere). When Coach Murphy did leave for Penn the year after I graduated, I think I speak for all of Black Squirrel Nation when I say that we were all thrilled for him.

We knew that it was crazy that a coach that qualified, who knows lacrosse inside and out, was coaching at a school with 1,100 kids and where the admissions policies were tough. There weren't many resources, and a percentage of the student body had a complicated relationship with sports (especially, helmet sports – unless it's competitive biking or spelunking. Or something).

Anyway, the Haverford crew has adopted Penn as our Division I subsidiary team. Maybe I would think of differently if I had been a freshman when he had left. But I doubt it.

Go Fords. Go Quakers.

To the games (it was a 5-0 week for Coyne, so it's Jac at 40-15 and Joel posting a 37-18 mark)...

No. 18 Gettysburg (10-4) at No. 13 Dickinson (11-3) – Saturday, 3 p.m.

COYNE: It's that time of year for conference tournament jockeying, and this is one of the four we're featuring this week. With the win, Gettysburg can lock up the top seed in the Centennial playoffs, but could also drop all the way to the third seed with a loss. It will be a lot more difficult for Dickinson to grab the top spot (it might be impossible, depending on the tiebreakers), but a win prevents the Red Devils from losing three of its last five games heading into the postseason.

The Bullets were impressive in their last key road game against Washington College, but the Red Devils are a more explosive offensive team and a bit more desperate at this juncture. Dickinson, 9-7.

CENSER: Ah, the old uptempo, (blue)-bloodspat for Central Pennsylvania bragging rights.

Dickinson may need to bolster its tournament/Pool C bonafides. But trust me: Gettysburg wants and needs this game just as much. There is no way the Bullets have any interest in traveling across state lines to play the conference tournament in Chestertown, in the night cap game no less. For the Bullets, it'd be like taking a chartered time machine all the way back to 1998. I can imagine Sugar Ray over the loudspeakers now.

Cabrini head coach Steve Colfer has become synonymous with the Cavalier program, but as the assistant athletic director for recruitment and retention, he knows that athletics has to fit into the overall college experience if a student-athlete wants to maximize his education.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Both Dickinson and Gettysburg are pretty evenly matched and are going to get their opportunities. Both have solid players at the faceoff X. Both have a couple nice options in the half-field. Both have hot-and-cold goalies who have been yanked at various points this year.

But after only making three saves in the Bullets' loss to McDaniel on Saturday, look for junior netminder J.T. McCook to reclaim some 2011 mojo back there. 'Burg, 11-8.

No. 7 RIT (11-2) at No. 17 St. Lawrence (12-1) – Saturday, 12 p.m.

COYNE: Both of these programs are through to the four-team Liberty League tournament, but the top seed is still up in the air. If RIT wins, they'll get that honor, while St. Lawrence will have to win and have Union lose to Skidmore in order to lock up home field advantage. The importance of playing at home can not be overvalued at this time of year.

This game has the added incentive of giving the winner a nearly assured berth to the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the conference tournament. They might both be in already, but this will cinch it. They've had a remarkable year, and Mike Mahoney is clearly the national coach of the year, so I think the Saints keep marching. SLU, 8-7.

CENSER: St. Lawrence is a nice story. Historic program has a down year, and then rises from the Liberty ashes to grind the Vassars, RPIs and Skidmores for another day.

But the Larries haven't faced any team yet with much of an offense. Heck, the only team with a national profile that they have even played was a goal-starved Union squad.

But RIT, with senior finisher Tyler Russell and his Canadian cohort Brendan McDonald hanging around the pipes, is going to break double-digits. I can't see the Saints going goal for goal in this one. Roc City, 13-7.

No. 10 Stevens (13-2) at Ithaca (11-4) – Saturday, 12 p.m.

COYNE: Moving on to the Empire 8. Ithaca is currently in the catbird seat with a 6-0 record heading into the season finale with the Ducks, but with just one loss (to St. John Fisher). Stevens can snatch the No. 1 seed at the wire with a win.

The Bombers have had a nice bounce-back year from the 9-8 campaign of a season ago, but they still don't feature any signature wins, so it's likely AQ or bust for Jeff Long's troops. Stevens has a more impressive resume, but it'd be foolhardy to think it is assured of an at-large at this point in the game. The Ducks know this, and that's why they'll pull out a gritty road win, 10-7.

CENSER: The uptempo, shot-friendly Hoboken roadshow takes its act up upstate for the weekend.

If Ithaca is going to keep pace with the Ducks, tablesetter Pat Slawta and the rest of the Bombers will have to have test the musical chairs Stevens has going in goal (although freshman Matthew Deiner seems to have grabbed the reins). If Ithaca can score a couple early, win some faceoffs and set the right tempo, the Bombers have a chance to pull the upset.

But like Jac, I think Stevens with Rich Dupras, Harrison Dorne, Alex Hofrichter and Co., has too much firepower here. Quacks, 14-8.

Coyne's Pick

Colby (9-4) at Connecticut College (9-5) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Both of these teams have a lot going for them. Outside of Medford, the Camels might just be the hottest team in the NESCAC after reeling off victories in seven of the last eight games, including four, one-goal wins. Conn. College is getting balanced goal-scoring (seven players with at least 13 goals) and Rob Moccia (57.6 save percentage, 8.05 goals against average) has been solid enough in the cage to allow the Camels to sneak out one of the coveted NESCAC tourney quarterfinal home games.

Colby has also won seven of its last eight games, anchored by a defense that has allowed double-digits just twice this entire season, both in victories. John Jennings (30 goals, 2 assists), who scored seven goals in the win against Middlebury, is a pure sniper who is complemented by the likes of Ian Deveau (25g, 17a) and Greg McKillop (14g, 20a). While the White Mules don't have the depth of scoring like the Camels, they do what they do very well.

The first time these two met, Conn. College won a four overtime affair, 8-7, but I think Colby is a more confident bunch than they were then. I'll take the White Mules on the road, 10-8.

CENSER: No Craig Bunker? No problem. In year two of Justin Domingos' tenure in Waterville, the White Mules have done just fine. Even without the crouch-and-clamp savant around to win back every possession.

As for this game, you have to think that the White Mules know that they can win, and will be looking for some revenge after the quadruple overtime/bypass game.

But if I've learned anything picking NESCAC gauntlet games the last two years, it's never bet against a hot goalie at home. Moccia and the Camels roll, 7-5.

Censer's Pick

McDaniel (8-6) at Swarthmore (5-9) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: It took me a little while to figure out how this one arrived on the docket, but I eventually figured it out. This contest will mark the hardest that Censer, or any Haverford lacrosse grad, will ever root for Swarthmore because if the Garnet can shock the Green Terror, and the Squirrels take care of business against Muhlenberg – not a safe bet, by any means – Haverford will squeeze into the fourth and final playoff spot in the Centennial (the Fords own the tiebreaker with F&M).

Swarthmore is erratic, but they have shown that they have the potential to beat a team of McDaniel's caliber if everything is aligned. The Garnet have taken Gettysburg to double overtime on the road and beat Haverford in triple overtime, along with decent wins against Eastern and Widener. However, Swat has also been routed by Whittier (15-7), Dickinson (14-5) and F&M (12-4).

Swarthmore will string Joel long enough to ratchet up the pain level, but the Terror will pull it out in the end, 9-8.

CENSER: Yep, Jac, you got it. On Saturday, I will wake up and put on my Garnet garb for the day.

The question is can McDaniel handle Swat's zone? Or the Garnet's opportunistic odd-man rushes? Can the Green Terror, never a team known for its discipline, play through a half-field grindathon?

Some teams deal with it better than others. Having a premier faceoff man helps. It's worth nothing that McDaniel has had some problems with the Garnet in the past.

Here is to hoping that Swat spits McDaniel out the other end of their grinder, and Haverford takes care of business on Saturday. Sweatmore, 7-6.

Coyne v. Censer Archive

Week Ten: Player of the Year Qualifications
Week Nine: The Death of a Rivalry?
Week Eight: Defining "Institutional Advantage"
Week Seven: Making a Case for the NCAC
Week Six: Whittier Still California Dreaming
Week Five: Finding the ODAC's Blueprint
Week Four: NESCAC's Degree of Difficulty
Week Three: Using Scheduling to Recruit
Week Two: The State of the Shoremen
Week One: Starting with a Must-Game

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