February 21, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: The Day Spring Break Died

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

You think Luke Wooters (above) and Nazareth made the trip to Owings Mills because it was trying to escape Rochester? No, the Flyers have turf. They were just following the current model for Northern teams when it comes to spring break.
© John Strohsacker

Man, did the Southern teams have it good. It was only a decade ago when coaches in warmer climates could sit back, wait for a call from some unsuspecting Northern team with enough cash for a Spring Break trip and pencil in a convenient home game. When I worked at Washington & Lee, it happened every year.

Not to say it involved bad teams. Cortland came down one year, Bowdoin the next. But the Generals were always at an advantage against the sun-starved players getting their first dose of vitamin D because W&L had nearly a month of frolicking under the Virginia skies. Washington & Lee was so hospitable to their cold-weathered foes, it would provide free on-campus housing for visiting teams, which was located in the basement of the gym and appropriately known as "The Tombs."

It wasn't just W&L leaving a trail of bread crumbs for the Northern teams. Gettysburg entertained Middlebury on a semi-regular basis while Roanoke, Hampden-Sydney and Salisbury would all roll out the welcome mat for anyone interested in a visit. Florida was also a popular stop for Northern teams and, like vultures circling overhead, the Dixie programs would roll down for a win against ill-prepared foes.

But seemingly overnight, that whole dynamic changed. Sure, teams from the two regions are still facing each other, but it is happening under a completely new set of circumstances.

The watershed occurrence was the proliferation of turf fields. It closed the gap between the two regions, and with startling speed. In the 1990s, there were turf options at some schools, but the bloating of endowments, along with the bank accounts of prominent donors, in the early 2000s gave nearly every lacrosse program an artificial alternative to the natural grass fields that typically weren't ready until mid-April. Instead of six weeks of half-field scrimmages in the field house, the Northern teams not only had the whole playbook installed, but had the conditioning to execute it.

As a result of the turf revolution, teams from the snowbelt reevaluated their spring break. They were no longer targeting using their trips simply for the level of competition, but also tying them into their recruiting efforts. Instead of Cortland traveling to Gettysburg, the two teams have met in the fertile grounds of Manhasset, N.Y. Instead of Middlebury playing Washington & Lee in Lexington, Va., they met in Washington, D.C.

Looking at two schools, we can see this phenomenon up close.

Tufts plays a pair of games in New England prior to its spring break, and then makes a trip southward. The first stop is in Hoboken, N.J. – a relatively quick drive from one of the Jumbos feeding grounds in Long Island – to play Stevens. The second stop is in Owings Mills, another recruiting production zone, to play Stevenson. These contests obviously feature quality opponents, but there is some targeted marketing going here (and it doesn't hurt that the Jumbos are winning more than they're losing).

In order to hammer the point home about targeting recruiting, let's take a look at Amherst. The Lord Jeffs aren't traveling more than two hours from campus during their spring break trip, but the Lord Jeffs are playing neutral site games in Providence, R.I. (against Bowdoin), Hartford, Conn. (Endicott) and Albany, N.Y. (Nazareth). Instead of a budget-busting trip to the Mid-Atlantic or lonely home games without the student body around, Amherst is hitting several nearby recruiting areas (and/or alumni pockets), using its spare time for a purpose other than giving Southern teams a gift simply due to their geographical proximity to the equator.

All of the top drawer Northern teams are doing this now – it's just not a NESCAC thing. While there is no smoking gun about the effectiveness of this new-age strategy, there's no denying where the majority of the at-large bids are going these days. And it ain't the South region.

Joel, Philly is kind of one of those 'tweener areas' in terms of weather, but what were your spring break trips like? With Haverford's liberal bent, I'm surprised the Squirrels didn't head to a remote, left-wing bastion like Boulder, Colo., or something of that persuasion.

CENSER: Ah, the 'Turf Revolution.' I'm sure in a couple centuries when anthropologists are looking to understand the cultural significance behind the "NESCAC" they'll look to this column for clues.

Anyways, it's true. The rise of Fieldturf put an end to the annual exodus of unprepared Northern teams trekking towards the Mason-Dixon. For me, this is sad. I think I speak for everyone in the South region when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed Gettysburg taking down Middlebury 18-6 in early March 2005 (on E-Lacrosse no less) or when Roanoke dismantled Tufts a few seasons later.

Reading between the lines, the most interesting question Jac raised is whether the rise of artificial surfaces has coincided with the North overtaking the South the past few seasons? Have teams like Tufts and Cortland developed into legit title contenders year in and year out in part because they have facilities that enable them to play outdoors all preseason? Did Geneseo fall to the wayside because they didn't jump on the field turf/black pellet bandwagon?

Probably. It's hard to argue that being able to practice more outside full-field is not a boon for programs. But I don't think it's the only reason Northern teams have started hording Pool C bids either. There' s just a natural ebb and flow to Division III lacrosse. Power shifts. Teams rise. Coaches come and go. If I had to spitball, I'd guess that the growth of a game that has spread beyond the Eastern Seaboard probably benefits the NESCAC schools first. But who knows.

Finally, as to what my college spring break's looked like, I remember our coach always trying to coax us to play a game in Colorado Springs. But no one really wanted to go. Would you want to have to travel to suck wind against some team who trained all year in altitude? Didn't think so.

Instead we always usually took on some ODAC team at some neutral site in some recruiting hotbed (clearly, we were ahead of the curve) and then would have Haverford's campus to ourselves. During those weeks, I remember always having big plans to write papers or clean my apartment. But instead I generally ended up doing what I did best during college -- waste time.

Onto the games, where Coyne holds a narrow, one-game lead: 4-1 to 3-2.

Nazareth (0-1) at No. 14 Springfield (1-0) – Friday, 3 p.m.

COYNE: It's tough to put a bow on a six-goal loss while giving up 17 markers, but I was mildly impressed with Nazareth's performance against Stevenson last week. Drew Simoneau was competent on faceoffs (15-for-28) and the Brothers Haefele, hailing from the wilds of Central Maine, combined for five goals and three assists against the Mustangs. The Golden Flyer goalie play again left a little to be desired (a combined 41.4%), but the netminders got hung out to dry at times.

Naz isn't likely to see a team as complete as Stevenson until St. Patrick's Day when Western New England comes calling. Unless, of course, I'm underestimating this Springfield squad. The Pride bring back quarterback Ryon Lynch (24g, 34a), but the rest of the offense needs to be reconstructed. They do have Branden Fernandez (62.6%) at the dot and Robert Maher (65.1 sv%; 5.64 GAA) in the cage. Those two players, combined with home field advantage, should see Springfield through, 12-9.

CENSER: Nazareth announced that a return to the Neal Powless, Jake Coon, Chad Amidon, Ryan Hotaling salad days may not be too far off when they traveled to Owings Mills last Saturday and hung tough for three of the four quarters (a 55% clearing percentage and three faceoff violations didn't help the Golden Flyer cause).

While Springfield trashed Gordon 22-7 on Wednesday: questions remain. The holes that come from graduating midfield studs like Mike Delia and Shane Ferguson or a couple poles aren't going to be readily apparent against some Commonwealth Coast patsy.

As it usually is when two proud traditional powers lock horns, I'm expecting a bloodbath. I also expect Springfield's Lynch, Ryan Murphy, Dylan Sheehan and Bryce Serrielo to pick up enough of the offensive slack to grind this one out. 15-9 Pride.

Endicott (0-0) at No. 7 Stevens (1-0) – Sunday, 12 p.m

COYNE: Endicott usually runs neck and neck with Western New England for Commonwealth Coast supremacy, but last year we saw the Gulls slip behind Roger Williams (two losses, including the CCC semifinals) in the conference pecking order. That's not a good sign.

To beat a team like Stevens, Endicott will need goals and good netminding. Alas, the Gulls lost their top three scorers from '12 and Tom Burke's numbers in net (51.5 sv%; 8.16 GAA) were underwhelming. Endicott will find some goals, as they have Sam Oczyz (65.5%) back for a grad year on faceoffs and the Ducks' defense will be a work in progress early on, but they won't find enough of them. Quackers, 15-11.

CENSER: In some ways, Endicott seems perfectly suited to go head-to-head with the shoot-first, ask-questions-later Ducks. The Gulls are tough. They face off well. They always defend.

But Stevens has figured out other ways to win the possession war and has never seemed too perplexed by problems at the dot or in goal the last couple seasons. Knowing Rich -- yes, I'll take 17 shots against Merchant Marine – Dupras, Harrison Dorne and Co., are going to chuck a lot of rubber at the cage, I just can't see a young Endicott offense keeping pace in this Hoboken barnburner. 17-7 Stevens.

Washington & Lee (3-0) at No. 10 Denison (1-0) – Sunday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Over the last couple of years, W&L had so much trouble scoring goals – especially against good teams – it appeared the Generals might be better off running the Armadillo. The 19-17 cumulative record in the past two seasons illustrated the offensive issues facing Lexington's finest in their quest to get back to its former spot among the division's elite. The low-point came in last year's 10-5 loss to ODAC rival Virginia Wesleyan in the friendly confines of Wilson Field when the Generals connected on just five of 37 shost.

The shooting percentage is only nominally better this year, but the Generals are getting more of them, and the results are staggering. The defense, which has always been a constant, is now matched by an offense that puts pressure on the opposition. Wednesday's win over Salisbury was a testament to that fact. But now W&L hits the road again for another Top 10 contest against Denison. Should we expect the same?

The Generals are at least co-favorites in the ODAC now and are in the (very) early mix for an at-large. Alas, this is still too tall of an order. Big Red, 11-10.

CENSER: Looking past W&L's emotional win against the Gulls, my brain is pleading with me to take Denison. During the post-Stagnitta era, the Generals have never showed that they keep up very well with success. Moreover, after playing Salisbury at Salisbury, W&L then has to pack their bags and travel the six hours to Granville, Ohio. Finally, Denison is the kind of plucky type team you don't want to see after logging all those bus miles. The Big Red play hard, have a couple crafty scorers around the goal and Chip Phillips to take care of the dirty work at the faceoff stripe.

But if this is the year W&L breaks through the ODAC, it's going to have to start now. Why not? Garret Paglia keeps the shooting streak going and Joe LaSala (two knee surgeries later) leads a resurgent backline as the Gennies nip Denison, 8-7.

Censer's Pick

No. 8 Dickinson (1-0) at St. Mary's (1-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m. (at Brooklandville, Md.)

CENSER: St. Mary's has shown over the past decade that they can pick up a signature win every now and then. After taking down Roanoke, 13-12, last Saturday, the Seahawks had the whole Chesapeake rocking.

But this Dickinson squad has been four years in the making. While the Red Devils generally like to make it close, Brandon Palladino will create havoc and enough of those unsettled situations for Dickinson to feast on. On a quick side note, Dickinson freshman Rob Kendall took 10 shots against Lycoming. On an offense with Brian Cannon, Matt Cherry and Christian Beitel, etc., it's hard not to like that kind of aggressiveness from the quick-trigger Pittsburgh slinger. Red Devils roll, 13-10.

COYNE: St. Mary's was able to win last year's penalty-marred contest – each team had 10 EMO chances – despite losing the faceoff battle and just about every other statistical measure. With Dickinson's Chip Murray no longer taking faceoffs, the advantage should swing to Albert Mitchell, who dominated Roanoke (21-of-25) last weekend. The Seahawks are going with a freshman in goal, but Joey Casey was solid (15 sv, 12 GA) against the Maroons.

Other than Murray and Ward Gruppo, the Red Devils return just about everyone, including a defense that will make it extremely hard for St. Mary's to match the 12 goals they got last year. Maybe I've been blinded by the Roanoke win, but I like the looks of this Seahawks' edition. It's back-to-back upsets for SMC. 'Hawks, 10-9 in overtime.

Coyne's Pick

Swarthmore (0-0) at Eastern (1-0) – Friday, 3:30 p.m.

COYNE: Swarthmore can grind with anyone, even NCAA tournament teams. They were close in fourth-quarter losses to Cabrini and Washington College, and even took Gettysburg to overtime on the road. And they opened the '12 campaign with an 8-7 win over Eastern, which eventually won the MAC and earned a bid, as well. Although the Garnet was 5-10, there were only three games in which they were not competitive.

This game will be a grind again, but the Eagles will know what to expect and have the luxury of AJ Ryan returning, a faceoff specialist who won 15-of-19 draws against Swat last year. They also have the confidence of a being a tournament-caliber program. Eastern will get a better performance out of goalie Aaron Benz than they got last year and shut down the Garnet late. Eagles, 9-7.

CENSER: An upstart Eastern takes a quick jaunt on I-476 to face a plodding Swarthmore team no one wants to play.

In most every statistically significant way, the Eagles are superior. But Swat always finds ways to keep these kind of games close. In a low-scoring slug fest, I trust Garnet attackers Ian Lucaszewicz and Johnathan Molloy and veteran defenders Geli Carabases and Michael Girardi to know how to sweat it out in the boiler room a bit more. Sweatmore, 6-5.

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