April 4, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: Understanding Senior Day

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

A lot seniors, like Ohio Wesleyan's Scotty Rosenthal (above), get plenty of time during their final year. But on Senior Day, there are plenty of guys who are honored but haven't seen the field time that they hoped for when their careers began. Getting hung up on games played, statistics or awards is missing the true value of a college lacrosse career.
© John Strohsacker

We're nearing that time of the year when the schedules are marked by Senior Days, which are typically the last weekend home date of the regular season where friends and family join the team in feting the players who have given their four years — or the bulk of it — to the program's success. It's obviously a bittersweet day, not unlike the graduation ceremonies most of them will be partaking in later on, but it's always comforting to see programs take the time to single out the guys who have committed themselves to the team.

Most of the Senior Day game stories are highlighted by a picture of the group of seniors, sometimes prior to the game, occasionally afterwards. Many times, that photo tells varying stories. The starters and key contributors have a big smile on their face while some of the others have half-smiles, a weak grin or even an expressionless mask.

The latter are typically worn by seniors who weren't quite good enough to see time on game days, were injured during the course of the year or simply got caught up in a numbers game at their position. It's only natural that while his class is being recognized, there is an accompanying sense of disappointment at the way everything played out. No one starts their collegiate lacrosse career dreaming of being a glorified cheerleader or scout team captain.

I wish I could pull each and any player who might feel that way and let them know that lacrosse, or any extracurricular activity, is just part of the journey. As with everything during one's college years, the sport is just a tool to learn skills applicable later on in life. Toiling every day for four years for the greater good of a team without the payoff of playing under the bright lights is as valuable a life lesson as scoring game-winning goals or earning individual accolades.

MVP awards and all-conference honors make for a nice coda on a résumé, but a student-athlete who shows up every day with his hard hat and lunchbox and doesn't receive the glory of serious face time on game days is just as important for a future employee — or employer — as the guy with the dirty jersey on Saturday. This is probably small consolation on Senior Day, but it shouldn't be forgotten.

If the future value of a non-playing senior's commitment doesn't resonate, those players should understand that their presence, while sometimes not quantifiable by individual statistics, shapes the direction of the program as a whole. I feel comfortable saying that most coaches would agree with me on this. Teams with a large senior class, whether the individuals actually play or not, are typically the ones that have more success. One of the metrics that I use in my preseason evaluations is how many seniors a team has because I've found the correlation to be that indicative.

I understand why Senior Day for a bench player isn't always a joyous occasion. The lessons learned, friendships made and values gained are rarely appreciable in the here and now. It usually takes years to go by for a true understanding of just what a four-year lacrosse career provides a person on both a tangible and intangible level. Here's hoping that every senior, regardless of their participation rate, can take at least a small measure of satisfaction in their career. They've certainly earned it.

Joel, no senior playing in his last home game wants a pep talk from some schlub writer whose high school athletic career would stress the broadest definition of the terms "athletic" and "career." If you had advice for those seniors, whether they get burn or not, what would you pass along?

CENSER: Ha, I doubt they want advice from some dude who clearly, five years removed, still cares a little too much about lacrosse either.

For me, the best reasons for why a kid should play competitive college ball could usually be found in the emails we'd get before every game when a senior would talk about why Haverford lacrosse was important to him.

I don't remember our best players' responses. To talk about why you do something when you're pumping in goals or picking up accolades is just never going to have that much of an emotional pull. Of course, lacrosse means something to you. It's fun and you're good at it.

But to this day, I often think back to those heartfelt emails from the guys who didn't get much burn. If there was a constant theme from those emails, it was that most of those guys considered quitting.

Whether it was the allure of going abroad for multiple semesters, or just how terrible it was to travel to Montclair State to watch the team lose in freezing temperatures, or how 7 a.m. lifts and long practices cut into study time, they all wrote openly about how quitting was naturally something that passed into their heads. But ultimately, they were just were too invested in the group of guys in the huddle or in the sport itself to let go.

So Senior Day was a nice photo opportunity and gave kids who hadn't played a lot an opportunity to start. Half a decade later, I can tell you that no one from my team thinks twice about who starred on the field and who didn't. We all remain close. Jac's right. It was about the journey. Corny? Probably. But definitely true.

Onto the games, where Censer has taken his first lead of the season after a 3-2 performance, 23-17 to 22-18.

No. 12 Denison (8-1) at No. 11 Cabrini (6-3) - Saturday, 3 p.m.

COYNE: Denison has gone off the radar for a bit while feasting on the likes of Concordia, Centre, DePauw, Oberlin and...wait for it...Haverford. Now the Big Red reemerges with a nasty little affair against a grizzled Cabrini squad eyeing a tasty seed in the South region. The fact that the Cavs are playing at home, where they've been just three times in the first nine games, makes this an even bigger mountain to climb for Denison.

There's a lot to like about the Big Red, especially in relation to the NCAC, where they are still the favorites to capture the league's first-ever AQ, but this isn't a good matchup for them. Cabrini pounces early and coasts home for the 12-8 victory.

CENSER: Ah, Coyne had to take a dig at the Squirrels. I guess it's just par for the course after Colby got its teeth kicked in by the University of New England on Tuesday.

Anyway, I'm with Jac on this one. Corey Elmer, Bobby Thorp and company have been matching up with elite competition all season. It showed against Ithaca last Saturday when the Cavs battled back from a 7-5 fourth quarter deficit to win by a couple goals.

Denison, meanwhile, will have to be ready for some old fashioned grit-and-grind. Playing a bunch of cupcakes doesn't help much in that regard. 10-8, Cavs.

No. 13 Middlebury (7-1) at No. 4 Tufts (6-2) - Sunday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: I'll admit to having a hard time figuring out this Tufts team. One game they are holding a talented offensive team like Stevenson to six goals on its own field, and then turning around and giving up 14 to a goal-starved outfit like Western New England. I was going to chalk the latter up to the fact that the Jumbos couldn't get a proper scout in with the constricted schedule, but then Trinity — a squad that managed nine combined goals against Bates and Conn. College — racked up a dozen on Tufts.

Perhaps the Jumbos will be a team that does just enough against its opponents this year, but it has me a little concerned for the program's ceiling come postseason time. Against Middlebury, Tufts will have to revert to its stingy version as goals will be at a premium. The Panthers are a grimy bunch that likes to operate in the single-digits. I'll give Mike Daly's troops the benefit of the doubt in this one, but questions linger. Pachyderms, 8-6.

CENSER: Three weeks ago, Jumbo goalie Patton Watkins was the toast of Division III after making 16 saves in the Tufts' win over Stevenson. Now? The sophomore has been replaced by freshman Alex Salazer, who is currently saving shots at an insane 70 percent clip. So the musical chairs in goal and not having veteran close defenseman Sam Gardner helps explain at least some of the turmoil.

In many ways, Tufts seems ripe for the upset. Whereas the 'Bos will have a greenhorn in net, Midd junior Nate Gaudio has been a rock all season. Moreover Tufts has struggled at the faceoff X, while the Panthers have a couple veteran possession warriors in Brian Foster (63 percent faceoff percentage) and longpole Darric White (31 ground balls) running roughshod.

It will be close. But I'm just not confident that Middlebury can generate consistent enough offense to keep up with the blue and brown circus. Jumbos, 10-8.

Eastern Conn. (3-5) at Keene State (6-2) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: While UMass-Dartmouth is doing its best to make us think otherwise, the Little East auto bid will once against be a showdown between the Warriors and Owls, so this contest will determine who will have home field for that title tilt. It's important, because these two teams have met in the LEC championship game the past three seasons and the team that won the regular season meeting (and home field) won the bid.

With both teams being miserable on faceoffs and each having a team save percentage below .500, this has all the makings of a high scoring affair. Taylor Jette caps off his hat trick with the game-winner in overtime as the Owls prevail, 14-13.

CENSER: Keene longstick Andrew Fazio isn't at school this year. This is a problem as the sparkplug was the likely cover for Eastern Conn. star middie Mike Devine.

Anyway, I think the first to ten goals wins, and the Warriors have a couple more weapons at the offensive end to buoy them there. EConn, 12-9.

Coyne's Pick

Colby (5-3) at Wesleyan (7-2) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: We're just into April and it's already a must-have weekend for Colby if they want to have any hope of making the NESCAC tourney. Sitting at 1-3 heading into back-to-back games with Wesleyan and Trinity, anything but a sweep and the White Mules will be on the brink with Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury and Bates left on the slate.

The home loss to Conn. College last weekend was a killer, especially since Colby appeared to have the game under control at halftime. While Trinity looks wobbly enough for the White Mules to grab an away win on Sunday, Saturday's tilt against Wesleyan is a different story. The Cardinals have yet to allow more than seven goals this season and they'd love to swallow up Colby in a grinder. Wes gets its wish, but Ian Deveau puts the Mules on his back for a late game strike, 7-6.

CENSER: This feels almost like stealing. The Mules are in free fall and finisher extraordinaire John Jennings has missed the past four games. Yet Jac, ever the proud alum, thinks they can rebound by and go goal-for-goal with the Cardinals? Ian Deveau learns the hard way that a zone defense is the perfect antidote for a one-man show. Wes rolls, 15-6.

Censer's Pick

Roanoke (7-3) at No. 7 Lynchburg (9-2) – Saturday , 7 p.m.

CENSER: Roanoke has begun to pick up the pieces after a disastrous start to the season where they were blown out by both Dickinson and Salisbury by double digit goals.

But the question is can they rekindle this old-fashioned ODAC bloodspat by winning enough faceoffs and scoring enough goals against Lynchburg's stalwart backline?

I'm not sure the Hornets have the explosive type of offense to blow any team out. But I do think they generally play harder than their opponents and make you earn your goals. Derek Sweet continues the shooting clinic. Lynchburg, 11-7.

COYNE: If this game follows the arc of the season, Lynchburg will have no trouble dispatching its conference nemesis and all but wrap up at least an at-large bid to the tournament. But what if the Bugs lose? Well, it completely changes the complexion of the ODAC, as well as the contemporary view of the Maroons, which is not good at this point.

Can it happen? 'Noke has enough offensive weapons to make it interesting on that end of the field, with Richard Lachlan leading the way, but where Maroons have had trouble all season — and they will against the Hornets — is on defense (9.00 goals per game) and faceoffs (47.1 percent). Those are two aspects of the game that can't be hidden, no matter how prolific the offense. Lynchburg cements its dominance of the ODAC, 13-9.

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