May 1, 2013

Early Division III Qualifiers Finding Time to Kill

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Ohio Wesleyan head coach Mike Plantholt has the Bishops into the NCAA tournament, but he and the other early qualifiers have 10 days before things pick up again.
© John Strohsacker

For the three Division III teams that punched their tickets to the NCAA tournament this past weekend, it was certainly a relief. Thanks to victories in their respective conference tournaments, Norwich, Montclair State and Ohio Wesleyan know their season will continue.

The early entrance into the dance also gives the coaches and players some extra time to fill. Since they won't know their opponent until Sunday, there's plenty of time to do, well, all sorts of things.

"We're trying to figure all of that out right now," said Ohio Wesleyan head coach Mike Plantholt on Monday. "We're tying up some loose ends."

Having played up until the last weekend with no league tourney, this break is somewhat new for the Bishops. As such, the OWU players were given Monday and Tuesday off while Plantholt and his staff was finishing up some of their recruiting homework that got ignored during the run to the NCAC title. One of Plantholt's assistants took Tuesday off to attend his nephew's confirmation.

Montclair State, which won the Skyline, isn't used to an extended break, but head coach Chris Kivlen doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

"It's a little unusual that we have so much time off," Kivlen said. "It's like a bowl season for us. You have a full 10 days. This year, we're a little bit low in numbers, which is a little bit better for us. It just gives us a chance to tighten up and work on ourselves for the week."

OWU and Montclair are experienced tournament teams — the Battling Bishops are making their seventh consecutive trip to the NCAAs while the Red Hawks are making their fifth straight — but this is the first go around for Norwich, the winners of the GNAC automatic bid. In addition to the newness of postseason play, the Cadets actually had another game on Monday after their conference championship tilt on Saturday.

Because Norwich had to make up a conference game, their initial contest with Castleton had to be postponed. Since Castleton, the frontrunner for the NAC bid, had its own conference tournament to attend to, Monday was the only day it would work (Castleton won, 16-9). It's just part of the process for this carefree bunch of Cadets.

"We have a young group of knuckleheads," said Norwich head coach Neal Anderson. "We teach every practice about refining and getting better. We'll probably take two days off and get back it Thursday and Friday."

While all three coaches said they'd be concentrating on themselves up until the bids are announced on Sunday, it's only natural that they might do a little arm-chair prognostication during their downtime in order to get a feel for what kind opponent they have in store.

Anderson readily admits to having a wish list.

"We're definitely wait and see, but if I could I daydream a little further, I'd love to see Middlebury in the first round," he said. "They are our [Vermont] neighbors and I've got some really good friends who coach over there. It would be dream to be able to have the game close by, and I'd love to match-up against those guys and prepare for them."

Kivlen isn't ready to play that game yet — "No guesses right now," he said — however, no matter who they draw in the first round, there will be less of a happy-to-be-there mentality and more of a business mindset.

"I'm not going to get so caught up in all the travel and all that stuff this year," Kivlen said. "We're just going to take what they give us and make that a little smoother so I can concentrate on the game. It is such a quick turnaround. Last year, we wanted to make it kind of an experience for the guys, and it should be a great experience, but we're going to put that on the back burner and focus on our opponent."

Plantholt is in a slightly better spot to predict who he might see in the first round. As a member of the regional ranking committee, which does mock brackets during its calls, he was able to narrow down the list of possible opponents. Located in Ohio, he also knows that the winners of the Midwest Lacrosse Conference and the MIAA are going to need accessible Wednesday destinations, along with Otterbein, which looks like it will be admitted via Pool B.

Still, Plantholt wasn't completely willing to hedge his bets. "We'll just have to wait and see," he said.

If the Bishops can find a place to practice on Saturday — that's when the MLL's Ohio Machine, which plays in OWU's stadium, has its season opener — they feel like they know what they need to do.

"I'm hoping that we can be smart about all of this time between now and the next game," Plantholt said. "Let them rest, and then get back into practice and get ready for the playoffs. Mentally, the guys are a little bit more prepared, but I don't think anybody is looking at our NCAA record and going nuts or anything. We still need to prove ourselves in the NCAA tournament. The seniors and upperclassmen know that and we're hoping to do that this year."

Will the extra time be a help or a hindrance to the early qualifiers? Only time will tell, but it sure beats not knowing.

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