May 7, 2013

Dickinson Looks to Continue Its Season-Long Mastery

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Senior attackman Matt Cherry and the rest of the Red Devils have mastered the season so far, posting a 17-0 record and a conference championship. With the top seed in the South, the challenges begin anew, but Dave Webster's crew looks like it's up for the challenge.
© Kevin P. Tucker

As he stood on the sidelines of his 11-year-old daughter's lacrosse game on Sunday morning, the day after clinching the Centennial Conference championship with a dominating, 16-2 performance, Dickinson head coach Dave Webster had many of the emotions that proud fathers have. But there was also some confusion.

"I'm still trying to figure out the girls' game," he said, with a laugh.

Understanding the nuances of the female version of lacrosse is just about the only thing Webster hasn't mastered this spring. He has guided his Red Devils to a 17-0 record — one of two undefeated teams in the country along with Cortland — and grabbed the lone first round bye in the South region.

Running the table in Division III, and especially in as strong a conference as the Centiennial, is as impressive an accomplishment as there is in lacrosse, but it's not something that Webster had set out to do. However, being in their current position as one of the two teams to beat as the tournament commences on Wednesday is certainly an objective that the Red Devils have strived for since Day One.

"It's funny, after the game [Saturday], all of the parents were excited and so supportive, and they had comments like, 'I can't believe it,' and 'I can't imagine it, Coach,'" Webster said. "And I get that perspective and appreciate that, but I think all of us in that locker room absolutely believed it. That's the first step in achieving that. I've never had any kind of goals in mind for our record or number of wins, so I never thought about 17-0, but we certainly did think about being successful and winning the conference and advancing to the national tournament."

It was not all smooth sailing for Dickinson. After opening up the season with five convincing wins, including four against eventual tourney qualifiers St. Mary's (by a score of 19-5), Roanoke (15-5), Cabrini (12-6) and Montclair State (14-8), the Red Devils hit a stretch where things didn't come so easy. There was three consecutive one-goal wins over Widener, Colorado College and McDaniel and then a fourth against Haverford to open April.

Dickinson was still undefeated, but they certainly weren't operating with an air of invincibility. For as many questions as that stretch created about the Devils long-term prospects, it actually set the table for the squad's powerful finish.

"I sure think we learned a lot and I know the coaches learned a lot, too," Webster said. "Those close, competitive games, you gain a lot of from that experience in terms of composure and poise and an attitude about competing and preparation. That has certainly benefitted us in the second half of the season."

The talent doesn't hurt, either. Attackmen Brian Cannon (44g, 20a) and Matt Cherry (13g, 28a) entered the season as known commodities, along with incomparable long-stick middie Brandon Palladino. The defense as a whole is as stingy as it always has been during Webster's tenure, anchored by goalie Greg Hanley (61.5 sv%; 7.01 GAA), who blanked F&M for the first 50 minutes of the league title game.

As Webster contemplates the players on his team, he gives a nod to all of those top guys, but he also highlights the work of some of the less proven personnel who carried the load this spring. There was Parker Waldron, who barely saw the field as a sophomore, and Ace Sudah, who have both excelled at the defensive middie position. Jack O'Connor and Mike Smith have been able to effectively spell Palladino at long-stick midfield while Brian Gleason has transitioned from an extra-man attacker to an everyday (26g, 19a) producer.

"They have stepped into much bigger roles and have done an awesome job with that," Webster said. "We knew we had some experienced returning players and I was pretty confident about what we'd get from them. But some of the younger guys have come on and played really big roles for us."

Snagging the bye was a big deal for Dickinson. Webster called it "huge." With their exam period starting this week, a Wednesday game would have forced the Red Devils to play through distractions — something that Webster admits did have an impact on last year's performance.

Alas, it's just another example of Dickinson's mastery of this season so far. We'll find out if it continues on Saturday.

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