March 15, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: The Potential of Christopher Newport

by Jac Coyne and Joel Censer | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Joel leads out this week...

Senior netminder Andy McGregor has been outstanding for the Captains this spring, posting a 6.55 goals against average along with a 61.5 save percentage. If CNU makes the tourney this spring as a Pool B entrant, McGregor will be a big reason why.
© Ryan Kelly, CNU Athletics

When Christopher Newport University (CNU) began playing Division III men's lacrosse in 2007, I assumed it was only a matter of time before the Captains had a 50-plus man roster and were challenging Lynchburg, Roanoke, Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee for Commonwealth supremacy.

Yes, maybe the school's social scene left something to be desired. But CNU had an in-state tuition rate in a state where many of the better high school programs are public schools. The university also had top-notch facilities, solid academics and a host of other successful athletic programs on campus. And, at least in the world of Division III lacrosse, the weather was nice and the beach a short drive away.

But during the first four years, the Captains looked less like a sleeping giant taking incremental steps and more like a mediocre D-III squad mired in turmoil. From 2007-2010, they had a combined 27-32 record against mostly ho-hum competition. The team's retention rate was miserable. The program's biggest win was a one-goal squeaker against cross-town rival Virginia Wesleyan.

After Todd Boward took over the coaching reins mid-season in 2010, there were signs (despite the losing records) of an upward trend. Top tier in-state talent from Charlottesville to Richmond to Fairfax began flocking southeast to Newport News. Last year, the Captains took down Hampden-Sydney and came within striking distance of Washington and Lee. Online promo videos, where members of the team talked about living up to their potential, resonated.

Led by a lockdown defense and a couple crafty attackmen, the 2013 CNU outfit is 4-3 (after taking down Sydney again) and primed to make its first NCAA tournament as an independent.

Jac, do you think the program is built for the long-haul? Will the institutionally-advantaged Captains be more Pool B flash-in-the-pan or, when they join the Capital Athletic Conference in 2014, a pesky upstart that could provide some real resistance to the Gulls?

COYNE: Let's not worry about how the Captains stack up with Salisbury at this point. Stevenson — you know, the No. 2 ranked team in the country right now — played second-fiddle to the Sea Gulls during their time in the CAC, so projecting Christopher Newport through the Berkman prism won't really give us an idea of this program's potential.

And the potential is certainly high, although the Captains path to Pool A/C legitimacy within the CAC will be very different than Stevenson's. While the Mustangs were located within a Gilman clear of thousands of top prep programs and Division I schools offering up bundles of transfers, Newport News doesn't offer those same, ready-made solutions.

Virginia, where most of the CNU roster hails from, is no slouch when it comes to high school lacrosse, but with every win the Captains post — and especially if they earn a tourney berth out of Pool B this spring — the Siren's Song of beach life and warm weather will become more and more irresistible to northern talent and disgruntled prospective transfers. And, obviously, playing Salisbury every season will be alluring to motivated players searching for a home.

Barring a poor finish to the season, which seems highly unlikely at this point, the Captains will get their tournament berth. Next year, when they start to show up for games in Maryland and Pennsylvania (and Delaware, if you want to get picky), a whole new door is going to be opened for Boward and CNU, and the reputation of the program should spike.

Alas, Division III is littered with programs full of potential, but never move past a certain level. There's a whole other group of schools that shine brightly for a couple of years and then slip back into mediocrity. CNU will not be immune from either of these maladies, but there's no question that the Captains are headed in the right direction, and some of the scores this spring says they'll be a formidable opponent when the brackets are announced.

Onto the games, where a couple of weak 2-3 efforts keeps us locked up at 11-9.

Uh, oh. It's a 10-game speed round...

No. 14 Western New England (2-1) at No. 5 RIT (2-1) - Friday, 2 p.m.

COYNE: This could quietly be the game of the week. If you like a lot of goals, don't head to Roc City for this matinee. Home field advantage will be good enough for a Tigers' overtime goal, compliments of sophomore middie Brad Gillies. RIT, 7-6 (ot).

CENSER: If this game turns into a half-field slug fest, WNE's Nick Jez and James Reardon can provide plenty of firepower for the Golden Bears from the midfield. But I generally trust Canadian efficiency over alley dodges. Gillies, Kyle Aquin and Allister Warren run past WNE, 11-7.

No. 19 Bowdoin (1-1) vs. Amherst (1-2) - Saturday, 3 p.m. (at Providence, R.I.)

COYNE: Providence, R.I., is Jon Thompson country — the Amherst coach was a player and assistant at Brown before immersing himself in the NESCAC — so the Jeffs are a leg up. I'm not sure if this game will be played on top of the parking lot, but with long-stick midfielder Danny Gold dealing (3g, 1a vs. EConn), the Polar Bears are in trouble. 'Herst, 11-9.

CENSER: Colby and Bates rolled out the welcome mat for Thompson by treating him to two one-goal losses in Maine in as many days. While I worry about Bowdoin traveling from Washington, D.C., to Providence, I'll still put chips on Chris Williamson and company over the Lord Jeffs' greenhorn-focused offense. PBs, 8-7.

Babson (3-1) vs. Colorado College (4-1) - Saturday, 5 p.m. (Baltimore, Md.)

COYNE: How about the Tigers? They play this game against the Beavers and then follow it up on their spring break with games against Salisbury and Dickinson. Yikes. Love the fire out of CC, but Babson isn't the starter it wanted. Beavers, 11-7.

CENSER: Love the scheduling aggression from Colorado Springs' finest. If you're guaranteed a playoff spot, what do you have to lose making an East Coast swing and maybe getting slaughtered a few times? The reckoning would come sooner or later. CC gets rewarded for the cross-country efforts here as freshman netminder Chase Murphy gets hot and Steve Rijo and Charles Curtis do some damage from the outside. Tigers, 9-6.

No. 17 Wesleyan (3-0) at Bates (2-2) - Saturday, 3 p.m.

COYNE: Did you know that back in '07 when Wesleyan lost by a goal in the national semifinals to Cortland, it needed overtime to beat a 6-6 Bates team during the regular season? Did you also know the Cardinals have lost to the Bobcats the last two seasons, as well? Fear the Lasagna. Bobbies, 7-6 (ot).

CENSER: I was ready to roll with Bates as my NESCAC spoiler before they continued the musical chairs act in goal in a 14-9 win over New England College. Wes, meanwhile, is 3-0 and held conference rivals Hamilton and Williams to six goals each. I'm a bit concerned about the 250 mile bus ride to Lewiston, but Wes has enough backbone and balanced scoring to grind this one out. PCU, 10-7.

Middlebury (2-0) at No. 15 Conn. College (2-0) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: When the Conn. College defense is functioning at its full zone efficiency, the Camels can suck the life out of any team. I don't know why that wouldn't apply in this game. What, wait a minute. They've allowed 13.5 goals a game to Hamilton and the Tufts freshman team? No, that won't do. Club Midd, 15-10.

CENSER: Freshman southpaw Jon Broome, a Mountain Lakes product who was an absolute steal for the Midd program, has lit Division III on fire in his first two games. While defensemen are going to start sitting on his left hand at some point, it won't happen Saturday. Midd Kids, 13-11.

Whittier (3-3) vs. Mary Washington (4-1) - Saturday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: These are dangerous times in Hollywood (or wherever Whittier is located). After a 3-3 homestand, the Poets are now in a race to stay at .500 in order to stay eligible for one of the five Pool B bids heading into a four-game East Coast swing. They start with a confident Mary Washington team eyeing the second spot in the CAC. Not good. Eagles, 11-7.

CENSER: Whittier will have a possession advantage with freshmen Scott Pescheret cleaning up at the face-off dot. But Mary Washington is a deep, experienced squad that may even give Salisbury some lip in the CAC. Eagles fly, 12-4.

No. 18 Union (2-1) at Springfield (1-3) - Saturday - 1 p.m.

COYNE: This will be a brutal transitional week for Springfield. The Pride had their doors blown off by Middlebury on Wednesday, 18-12, and now must switch gears to the grinding ways of the Dutchmen. Springfield will be in the NCAA tourney, which is more than can be said of Midd and Union at this point, but that won't make this loss any more palatable. Pass the Dutchy, 8-5.

CENSER: It's been a rough couple weeks for Springfield who learned that there are in fact repercussions when a team graduates most of its defense. Alas, I still think the Pride have enough goal scorers to run past a goal-starved Union outfit. Pride, 14-8,

No. 11 Tufts (0-2) at No. 4 Stevens (5-1) - Saturday - 1 p.m.

COYNE: I'm at a complete loss with this game. We've got a Tufts team at full strength and ready to make a statement and a Stevens team that just proved they can roll with the top team in the country. When in doubt, default to the NESCAC bias. Jumbos, 11-10.

CENSER: Stevens has played six games together and figured out what works and what doesn't. Tufts, meanwhile, starts in earnest on Saturday and is pretty far behind the Duck curve. Dupras, Phillipi, Dorne, Maroon and the rest of uptempo Hoboken roadshow put themselves in the contender conversation here. 15-9, Stevens.

Censer's Pick

No. 1 Cortland (4-0) at No. 13 Cabrini (3-2) - Saturday, 3 p.m.

CENSER: If the Cavaliers took down the top-ranked Dragons, it'd be a program-defining win. In many ways, Cabrini is better suited than most with Corey Elmer and Bobby Thorp providing the offensive fireworks. But alas, I just don't see the Cavs being disciplined enough against a team defined by discipline. Cortland, 11-6.

COYNE: Cortland's win over Stevens on Wednesday is certainly an advantage — it's always good to catch the Red Dragons fat and happy — but Cabrini has only managed to keep one of its first five opponents below double digits (Swarthmore). You've got to be able to make every possession a fight with Cortland, and the Cavs aren't there yet. Dragons, 13-8.

Coyne's Pick

Eastern (4-0) at No. 10 Gettysburg (3-2) - Friday, 3:30 p.m.

COYNE: This is the working definition of a trap game. Gettysburg is coming off a disappointing one-goal loss to Cabrini on Wednesday and is already looking forward to the Centennial opener with Haverford next week. Meanwhile, the Eagles are undefeated and catch the Bullets with just one day of rest. Upset special. Eastern living, 10-9.

CENSER: It wasn't too long ago when the Eagles were packing in a zone and hoping they wouldn't lose by twenty goals. But the rise of the upstart Main-Liners has been quick and punctuated in 2013 by wins over Centennial schools and Aaron Benz's 66.0 save percentage. Then again, Gettysburg wrote the Division III textbook on tough defense and offensive efficiency. Robby Maddux, Martin Manilla and the rest of the Bullets roll at home here, 13-7.

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