March 25, 2013

Making Sense: The Evolution of Bennett Cord

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Ever since the day Washington College head coach Jeff Shirk threw Bennett Cord (left) out of practice early last spring, the two have been on the same page. The results since — including the Shoremen's current No. 5 ranking — are undeniable. 
© Kevin P. Tucker

A player's career can be changed by any number of catalysts. An injury can open the door to a starting spot or a game-winning goal can provide the confidence that was once lacking. Even being snubbed for a postseason award can provide the impetus to prove oneself. For Washington College senior attackman Bennett Cord, it was something much different.

His career swung on a game of Hungry Hippos.

Hungry Hippos is a ground ball drill where balls are placed in the middle of the field and players are charged with scooping them up and getting them back to their team, much like the children's game from which it received its name. Washington College head coach Jeff Shirk started his practice with the drill on the Monday following last spring's Washington & Lee game, after which the Shoremen sat at 0-2. It was the players' punishment in response to what Shirk perceived as a lack of effort.

Midway through the drill, Shirk's whistle blew and Cord, who was leading the team in points with four goals and three assists at the time, was singled out.

"I was doing it my way and he wanted it his way," Cord remembered. "It resulted in me getting kicked out of practice."

Cord stalked off and simmered in the locker room. He was angry, but also had a twinge of sadness as it appeared his third season in Chestertown was going to be just as frustrating as the first two.

He arrived at Washington College as a highly-touted player out of Gaithersburg, Md., where he was named a US Lacrosse All-American after twice leading Montgomery County in scoring. But at the beginning of his first season with the Shoremen, Cord was bumped down to midfield. He finished the campaign seeing time as a short-stick defensive midfielder.

During his sophomore year, which coincided with the arrival of Shirk as head coach, Cord asked for another crack at attack and his request was granted. He ended up leading the team in scoring with 19 goals and eight assists, but the Shoremen weren't good. A big reason he was enchanted with Washington coming out of high school was the program's No. 4 national ranking, but the 2011 squad finished 5-9 and didn't even qualify for the Centennial Conference tourney.

Now, in a practice at the beginning of his junior year, Cord had been given the hook by the head coach. This was not how he had drawn up his collegiate lacrosse career.

After getting some time to clear his head, Cord rejoined the team for film study, stood in front of his peers and apologized, promising it would never happen again. Later on, he confronted Shirk.

"We had a learning moment with Bennett, but he came into the office later that night and we talked things out," Shirk said. "Ever since that point, he's been nothing but a hard-worker with a great attitude."

"After that, it wasn't about me. It was about the team," Cord said. "That's always been the ultimate goal. For a little while there last year, I lost that. After that moment, and ever since then, we have been on the same page."

With Cord fully on board, the results were astounding. The Shoremen went on an eight-game winning streak, played in the Centennial title game and made the program's first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2008. Finishing with 38 goals and 22 assists, Cord was named the conference offensive player of the year and a second team All-American.

"Last year, we kind of got back on the map a little bit and he got the individual awards, and I think for the first time in college, he really felt that sense of pride that his hard work and his new mentality had really paid off," Shirk said. "Coming into this year, he really wants to be a good captain and leader, and not live in the past. A lot of our conversations are about how can I be better, how can I help the team and how can I make sure I'm not a one-hit wonder. I think last year got the monkey off his back in his own mind and this year he is just trying to work as hard as he can to keep contributing."

Not surprisingly, Cord has been the center of attention for opposing teams and he has been getting worked over pretty good by top defensemen and early slides. He's still producing — he leads the team in points with 16 goals and 14 assists — for the 7-0 Shoremen, who are ranked No. 4 in the country. But the extra stick checks and hits he's taken can bring out the combustible — Shirk calls him "passionate" — side of Cord's personality.

"I knew I was going to take the beating I have been taking and I had to prepare for that, but that pressure can get to me," admitted Cord. "I've definitely matured because I was kind of a hot head my sophomore year and I have kind of calmed down. I don't panic as much when we're down or when stuff isn't going our way. I'm more cool and collected now. And I've got Coach Shirk and my roommates who I can talk to and get a second opinion on things. They are there to help me out when I need it."

Shirk has gotten pretty good at reading Cord's body language and facial expressions, allowing him to be proactive in keeping his top player on the right path, but the coach admits that a smoldering Cord isn't always a bad thing.

"He's one of those guys who comes into a game and practice focused, but as soon as something happens that makes him mad, that's when you'll get his spark that makes him even more motivated," Shirk said. "He's definitely a guy who is likable, but he has that switch to him."

Ever since that fateful game of Hungry Hippos, Cord very rarely speaks of his own accomplishments. Every statement is couched in relation to the team and his teammates. But when one reads between the lines, there is a sense that Cord sometimes speaks for himself as much as the Shoremen.

"It's mind-blowing in a way to think we've come that far," he said. "It's kind of a testament to our team and how hard we've worked to get back to this point. People may say that I'm the big gun, but there are 50 other kids on the team who deserve just as much credit as me. That's the scary part about our team: we've been there and we know how bad it can get, and we know that won't happen again because we won't let it happen."

Players of the Week

NCAA Division II
Matty Beccaris, A, Fr., LIU Post
Heading into LIU Post's matchup against No. 5 NYIT, it looked like goals were going to be at a premium, but Beccaris made them look cheap. The rookie scored five goals and set up two others as the Pioneers hammered the Bears, 15-5. After seven games, Beccaris is averaging a hat trick and one assist per outing (28 points).

NCAA Division III
Andrew Fiamengo, M, Sr., Tufts
The Jumbos faced a grueling week with three games in six days in three different states, but managed to post a 3-0 mark thanks to Fiamengo, who amassed nine goals and two helpers over that span. It started with a 7-6 win over No. 2 Stevenson in which the senior netted a pair, followed by a contest at league rival Colby where he scored three and set up three more. He capped it off against No. 15 Western New England on Sunday with another hat trick.

MCLA Division I
Dan Cohen, A, Sr., California
The Golden Bears have been holding steady just outside the Top 10 in the polls with a strong schedule, but they were still searching for a signature win to catch the committee's eye. They got that on Saturday against Oregon, thanks to Cohen. The senior scored five goals as Cal coasted past the No. 8 Ducks, 12-7.

MCLA Division II
Mike King, G, Sr., St. John's
The Johnnies knocked off '12 national finalist Grand Valley State and No. 5 Dayton on back-to-back days thanks to the play of King. Against the Lakers, the senior made 17 saves in a 7-3 victory. He followed that up with 10 stops in a 13-8 win over the Flyers. After five games, King has a 79.4 save percentage for the No. 3 Johnnies.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Le Moyne (7-0) – The Dolphins start the second half of their season on the road against a motivated Merrimack squad.
2. Merychurst (7-0) – Three of the next four games are at home for the Lakers, including the Dowling tilt.
3. Adelphi (4-0) – How long will Gordon Purdie stick with the goalie platoon of Eric Janssen and Aidan Bennardo?
4. Limestone (8-1) – The Saints got a weekend off to savor their start, and now only have Pfeiffer left as an obstacle.
5. LIU Post (6-1) – The Pioneers are looking good for the tourney right now, but three of the next four are on the road.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (6-0) – The Red Dragons had all weekend to rest up for the clash against RIT on Wednesday afternoon.
2. Dickinson (7-0) – The Devils have a pair of one-goal wins in their last two outings, both versus unranked teams.
3. Washington College (7-0) – Jim Cusick's five-goal performance against McDaniel introduced another option for the Shoremen.
4. Tufts (4-2) – The Jumbos now get rewarded for their adventures with a week off and a four-game homestand.
5. Stevenson (7-1) – Six different goalies got at least four minutes of burn in the Mustangs walkover of Hood.

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado State (9-0) – How long will the Rams shutout streak last tonight when Chapman pays a visit?
2. Stanford (8-0) – The Cardinal will get two convenient opportunities to scout out BYU before Wednesday's showdown.
3. Colorado (10-0) – The trip to Provo is never fun, but the Buffs should catch an exhausted Cougars squad.
4. Arizona State (9-1) – The Sun Devils have still yet to give up double-digits this year, which is pretty darn impressive.
5. BYU (8-1) – Three games in three days against Oregon, Cal and Stanford will be harder than anything in Greenville.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (4-0) – Can Western Oregon make St. Thomas sweat like they did last year in the first round?
2. Westminster (7-3) – The Griffins gave Montana State a taste of what it's like to run with the big dogs.
3. St. John's (6-0) – The Johnnies are thisclose to moving into the second spot after dispatching GVSU and Dayton.
4. Liberty (9-0) – Kurt Tobias is off his numbers from last year, but his unselfishness is a key to the Flames' success.
5. Dayton (2-1) – A lot of contenders for this fifth spot, but I think St. John's is just that good, so the Flyers stick around.


NCAA Division II: Despite a snow shoveling-induced loss to Merrimack, Lake Erie is ready to break out.
NCAA Division III: Middlebury is looking a lot better than last year, but Dave Campbell knows it's still early.
MCLA Division I: Regardless of the results in Colorado, Chapman is moving in the right direction.
MCLA Division II: To understand the 2013 version of Liberty, you have to know the story of the '05 squad.

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