April 18, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: Another Gettysburg Address

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

Martin Manilla (above) and the Bullets are 7-5 as they enter this weekend's Centennial showdown with Washington College, meaning their streak of nine straight NCAA tournament appearances is in jeopardy. Regardless of what happens this season, it's best not to bet against Gettysburg in the long run.

Those who have followed my meanderings over the years know that I have a healthy respect — even a mild fear — for the power of Gettysburg. It mostly stems from an egregious story I wrote back in 2009, when I declared the Bullets' season was effectively over after they started the spring with a 2-3 record.

Gettysburg was done. Toast. Out of the mix.

That was on March 15. The Bullets didn't lose another game until Memorial Day weekend, when they bowed to Cortland, 9-7 in the national title game. Since that time, I've been leery of making any kind of sweeping judgments about the program or even picking against them in this space. Once bitten, twice shy.

Gettysburg has made the NCAA tournament every season since that 2009 campaign and hasn't missed the dance since '03, when Division III looked vastly different than it does today. All in all, the Bullets have been in the postseason 21 of the last 22 years, winning 13 Centennial titles along the way. It's an amazing run, and Gettysburg is one of only a handful of programs that can say it accomplished anything close to it.

With the Bullets looking like they won't be participating in the NCAAs — and note that I used a heavy qualifier — it's only right to appreciate the run that Gettsyburg has put together. However, when a run like that ends, it's only natural to examine the causes for the shortfall. Questions arise as to why this year is different than in the past.

From my perspective, Gettysburg's 7-5 mark so far this spring is symptomatic of a couple of things.

First, the Bullets are, in many ways, the victim of their own success. Their domination of the Centennial for so many seasons has forced the other programs in the conference to up their game to stay in the same conversation with Gettysburg. The rise of Dickinson and the other top teams in the league is a direct response to getting stomped by the Bullets over the years. The reason the Centennial is one of the true power conferences in Division III is because Hank Janczyk and his squad have forced it to be.

Second, there is always a cyclical nature for lacrosse programs. There are up years and down years. It just so happens that in the past when it has had a down year, Gettysburg was still vastly superior to the rest of the field, and thus still earned an NCAA invite. The same is true for Middlebury, which has essentially been the Bullets' NESCAC doppelganger over the past 15 years.

When analyzing Gettysburg, it's good to keep Middlebury in mind. Last year, when the Panthers struggled, posting a 4-9 record, there were whispers that there was something systemically wrong with the Midd program. The coach had lost his touch, the school wasn't getting in the same type of players, no one wants to go to East Nowhere, Vt., anymore. A year later, the Panthers are 9-2, ranked No. 11 in the country and looking good once again for a spot in the dance. If you need an example closer to home, take a peek at Washington College's arc over the past decade.

Reveling in the misfortune of the once powerful is an American institution. Everybody takes a measure of satisfaction when Goliath takes a knee. But it's a dangerous proposition. Eulogizing a program like Gettysburg provides a visceral motivation for those on the other side of the fence, and can boomerang right back in your face. Trust me, I know.

If Gettysburg doesn't make the NCAA — and again, I wrote if — they'll be back soon enough, and they will likely be ready to prove everybody wrong.

Joel, you've seen the Bullet program up close during your playing days. Are you willing to bury Gettysburg's legacy, or do you know better?

CENSER: I played at Haverford during a golden Gettysburg era, and the small amount of success we had against the Bullets was mostly the result of having a coach who was arguably Division III's best at the time. Whether it was our middies bee-lining it straight to the defensive box to prevent any kind of transition, installing a new offense that dealt with their quick double-teams or throwing out a pesky zone defense, playing Gettysburg was as much about conjuring up some elaborate game plan as anything else. Not surprisingly, our coach has long since been poached by the Division I vultures.

Yet what was so overwhelmingly obvious about the Bullets during my tenure was just how fundamental they were. It seemed like everyone, from their first to their 40th guy, had a slick stick and a high lacrosse IQ. Sure, our game plan was solid. But if you misplayed a ground ball or did something stupid, they were going to capitalize. In many ways, they resembled a boa constrictor in that they would get a lead and then squeeze you with faceoff wins, caused turnovers, some crisp passing and a grinding, mistake-free half-field offense.

Elite talent comes and goes. Chase Stewart. Chris Renzi. Andrew McGann. Tommy Kehoe. Kyle McGrath. Even Tom O'Donnell. Those were Division III-type guys who don't come around too often. Jac's right. Because of Gettysburg's own success, there's not much margin for error in the Centennial anymore.

But the concern for me is that the last three years I'm reminded less and less of that metaphorical boa constrictor. Certainly, protecting the pill and tilting the possession war is as much about effort and focus as it is about firepower. This 2013 version of the Bullets isn't demoralizing teams with crisp ball movement, stingy defense or ground ball savvy: things that frankly, I thought would always be Gettysburg staples.

Onto the games, where things are back to level after Coyne posted a 3-2 week, with both parties running at 28-22.

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

Endicott (10-4) at Bowdoin (7-5) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: When I selected this game, these two teams looked like they were ready for a strong finishing kick. Three days later, each is coming off a surprising road loss — Bowdoin to Colby, Endicott to UNE. Playing at home is obviously a boon for the Polar Bears, but Gulls' faceoff man Sam Ozycz should negate that advantage. The Gulls keep their Pool C hopes alive, 9-7.

CENSER: On paper, I don't feel particularly comfortable picking the Polar Bears. They thrive in low-scoring games and this Endicott outfit will likely start with possession most of the time and have proven they can score. Still, I've learned enough over the years to know not to pick against Bowdoin at home. PBs, 7-5.

Bates (6-5) at No. 19 Conn. College (9-3) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: These two NESCAC teams have both thrilled and frustrated their fans this season, but neither would be described as a real graceful squad. Winning ugly has its merits, however, and I think Conn. College will show a tad more grit playing at home. Camels, 7-6.

CENSER: Conn. College is a tough cookie to break with freshman phenom Bobby Bleistein dominating in net and sinewy attacker Andrew Freedman taking care of things at the offensive end. But Mac Jackson has been on an absolute heater at the face-off dot and will do enough damage there for the Bobcats. Bates, 10-7.

No. 6 Stevens (10-2) at Nazareth (9-4) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Stevens has a penchant for posting a road clunker once a year — Fisher last year, RIT in '11 and Fisher again in '10 — and the Ducks are due. Nazareth has its flaws, as well, but the offense seems to be coming around. Golden Flyers take advantage of early bus legs and ride it out, 10-9.

CENSER: So Jac's betting on a Nazareth outfit that for all its young talent still has plenty of issues at the defensive end? I mean this is a team that gave up 25 (25!) goals to RIT three weeks ago. I'll take the over that Phillipi, Dupras and Dorne run roughshod over the Golden Flyers. 18-12, Stevens.

Amherst (4-7) at Williams (5-5) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: The bad news is these two teams are both on the periphery of the NESCAC race at this point. The good news is it looks like it will be an evenly matched contest this spring and Williams might have a chance of snapping the Lord Jeffs' three-game winning streak in the series. Give me the hat trick from Evan Dedominicis and the Ephs at home, 8-7.

CENSER: Win or pack up the locker room for these two blood rivals. Plenty of people want to squawk at skipper Jon Thompson, but the truth is there's plenty of the talent in the Lord Jeff pipline. I think Amherst has enough offensive firepower to carry them past the Ephs and into the postseason. Amherst, 11-9.

No. 9 Washington & Lee (11-2) at No. 13 Roanoke (12-3) - Saturday, 2 p.m.

COYNE: This game has morphed from a bland ODAC affair into the game of the week in the course of about 10 days. Roanoke has gone from an afterthought to possibly the top seed in the league tourney while W&L has gone off the grid while feasting on conference gossamer. As much momentum as they have right now, the Maroons aren't ready for the W&L bump and grind. Gennies, 8-6.

CENSER: Let the battle over tempo begin. I think this game is pretty simple: can Joe LaSala, Andrew Fusselbaugh and the rest of the W&L defense keep Richard Lachlan and the red-hot Roanoke squad under nine goals? Hard for me to bet against the team with all the mojo right now. 'Noke 10, Generals 8.

No. 12 Washington College (10-3) at Gettysburg (7-5) - Saturday, 5 p.m.

COYNE: You knew it was coming, and I won't disappoint. The M&M boys — Robby Maddux and Martin Manilla — each post three-point afternoons as Gettysburg makes life uncomfortable for a WAC team riding a War on the Shore high. Les Bullets, 11-9.

CENSER: The Shoremen are coming off their biggest win since Stephen Berger was lacing 'em up and all Jac can talk about is Gettysburg's ho-hum, turnover-friendly offense. My primary worry for the Bullets, though, is in net where there's some musical chairs going on, and at the face-off dot where WAC's Michael Trapp is world-class. Sho'men grind the Bullets up here, 10-8.

Hampden-Sydney (10-4) at No. 10 Lynchburg (11-3) - Saturday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: In the span of four days, Hampden-Sydney found a way to lose to Virginia Wesleyan and then take Roanoke to the brink, losing both by the same 12-11 score. This is not the type of consistency needed to tackle the Hornets, which will be doing all they can to make sure they aren't a three-seed in the ODAC tourney. Bugs, 11-7.

CENSER: I'm not jumping off the Lynchburg wagon because of one loss against a Maroon team that will provide some form of resistance every year. At this point, we know what this Hornet outfit can do. They're going to scrap. They're going to d-up. And against the Tigers, Max Voumard and Co., will do enough damage on the net. 'Burg, 13-9.

No. 4 Stevenson (13-2) at No. 16 Widener (9-4) - Saturday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: I was all ready to take a flyer on Widener in this one, especially at home, but the overtime loss to Albright on Wednesday has changed that thought process. If the Lions are posting nine on the Pride, Stevenson should have no trouble cracking the double-digit barrier that will ensure a win. Mustangs, 11-7.

CENSER: Widener is definitely the kind of defensive-oriented squad that is best avoided around May. But I think Stevenson's on-again, off-again offense has made strides, and that it's about time the Mustangs put together a 60-minute game. 'Stangs, 14-7.

Coyne's Pick

Christopher Newport (7-8) at Ferrum (8-8) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Nothing grinds Joel's gears like Pool B, so we'll hit him up with another Beta Pool elimination game. Both of these teams looked like they had a decent shot a couple of weeks ago, but now one will go the way of Whittier. Andy McGregor makes 15 saves as the Captains win a shootout, 13-11.

CENSER: CNU has had some inexcusable losses recently while the Panthers have showed some real backbone. Still, the Captains have, at the very least, enough talent at the defensive end to grind this one out. John Thompson dishes out six assists as CNU secures its first NCAA bid (where it will promptly get thrashed in the first round, but whatever). 15-6, Captains.

Censer's Pick

Haverford (5-6) at No. 15 Franklin & Marshall (9-3) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

CENSER: It will be an alumni gathering as a bunch of old 'Fords celebrate Matt Thorne-Fitzgerald's upcoming nuptials by taking in a game in Lancaster. Thorne-Fitzgerald graduated in 2008, and is best known for the greatest bulldodge and crosscheck (back when those things were legal) that the Main Line has ever seen. All in all, a good day to root for the Squirrels. Scott Chanelli scores a goal, has seven caused turnovers and 14 groundballs as the 'Fords roll, 22-6.

COYNE: Is Haverford the best 5-6 team in the country? You betcha. The Squirrels are three goals away from being 8-3, taking Denison, WAC and Dickinson to the edge before falling. The 'Fords need this one if they have any hope of making the conference playoffs, but the trip to Lancaster proves insurmountable. Dips, 7-6.

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