October 30, 2012

30 in 30: Can Nazareth Start a New Streak?

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The Golden Flyers were young last year and will again have a youthful look in 2013, but they will boast players like senior midfielder Brian Wright (above) returning to help Naz rebound from the first losing season in the program's history.
© Nazareth Sports Information

The 27th time is always the hardest.

Nearly three decades after the program's inception in 1986, Nazareth faced a season in 2012 like none other before it. A loss to Ithaca in the Empire 8 semifinals guaranteed that the Golden Flyers would suffer the first losing season in their spectacular history.

Nazareth is eight years removed from its last appearance in the national championship game and 15 years from its last title, but the Golden Flyers are Division III royalty. They are just one of seven teams to win a title in the 32-year history of D-III and their three crowns are tied for third most. Naz is also responsible for ushering the division into the modern era when it snapped Hobart's streak of 12 consecutive championships in 1992.

As such, last year's 8-9 record raised some eyebrows.

How did it happen?

It was a perfect storm, blending both a brutal schedule along with a roster as callow as the Rochester school has ever seen.

Playing heavyweights on a weekly basis is nothing new for the Flyers. It's the key reason Naz was able to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament in '11 with an 11-6 record. Playing that slate with a 41-man roster comprised of 31 freshmen and sophomores is a different story. For the first time in program history, two freshmen – Drew Simoneau (ground ball champ) and Vincent Parillo (defensive MVP) – earned postseason team awards.

As the Flyers prep for the 2013 campaign, they have to decide what they want to do with last year's outcome.

"We certainly don't want to put it behind us," said Naz head coach Rob Randall, who enters his 13th season with a record of 146-57. "It's very fresh in my mind, but it's not something we bring up to the kids. I think it was more of just a result of our youth and our schedule. The two put together was not a good combination for us."

Despite the obstacles, Nazareth wasn't far from continuing its streak of winning campaigns. The Flyers were tied with No. 15 Western New England heading into the fourth quarter before losing by a goal. They led No. 7 RIT by a goal with just over two minutes remaining before succumbing in overtime. Naz led conference rival and No. 9 Stevens in the third quarter before bowing by a pair.

If the Flyers win those three games, they not only finish up with an 11-6 mark, but are also flirting once again with an NCAA bid.

"The difference between a good season and a mediocre season is winning those close games," said Randall.

Pondering 'ifs' and 'buts' are not Randall's thing. He's a member of the NCAA selection committee – and will be the chair in 2014 – and knows there are no bonus points for close losses. He does, however, see the potential for last year's disappointing season to provide an impetus this spring.

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"We really won't know until we get into the season, but we do expect a payoff," he said. "We feel really good about what happened this fall, and so do our guys. The year of experience under our belt is going to help us."

While Parillo will be lost for the '13 season with a knee injury suffered over the summer, Simoneau – the E8 Rookie of the Year and a first team all-conference selection – is expected to be an All-American contender as a multi-dimensional faceoff man. Junior Collin Clark (30g, 13) returns as the leading goal-scorer and sophomore Jerry Chasteen should anchor the defense.

And the youth movement is not over. At the conclusion of fall ball, Randall and the Nazareth staff had two freshmen penciled in at the top of the attack depth chart. That's a daunting proposition considering Nazareth's schedule, which will once again be one of the best in the country.

"We open up with Stevenson in Baltimore on Feb. 16, so hopefully we'll have a better idea at that point," deadpanned Randall. "Just because kids are in the top three spots right now, that doesn't mean that's the way it's going to be come February. But it's a good indication about our freshmen and sophomores right now."

Stevenson is followed by Springfield, Geneseo, Western New England, Clarkson, Cortland, St. Lawrence and Amherst. Combined with the Empire 8 schedule, it's a gauntlet that even the most experienced squad would struggle with.

Will it cause the Flyers to falter again?

With only one losing season out of 27, the odds would say no.

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