April 3, 2014

Morning Jac: Small College Midweek Notebook

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

The Williams defense, backstopped by junior Dan Whittam (above), has faced some of the top offenses in the country. Against Tufts, the Ephs backline was on its game, holding the high-flying Jumbos to just eight goals during Tuesday night's upset. (John Strohsacker)

The Williams Road Warriors

Just like the one home game before it, and like every practice this season, the Williams players boarded a bus on Tuesday for their contest with Tufts.

With no turf options this season due to construction and a soupy natural grass field not ready for action, the Ephs have been forced to live a peripatetic existence. They make hour-long drives to New York to use the facilities at Siena or RPI for practices and then treks to New Hampshire to borrow Keene State's turf for games. It's not what any of the players signed up for, and it had the potential to be a season-killer.

After Williams stunned No. 7 Tufts, 15-8, to improve to 6-3 and 4-1 in the NESCAC, there's little doubt that the nomadic life has suited the Ephs well.

"It brought us together," said Williams head coach George McCormack. "It forced us to spend time together and we made the most of that by really bonding. We didn't have a locker room. That's where teams do their bonding, so we had a mobile locker room and the guys got to know each other and the coaches. We spent four hours every night together: an hour there, two hours of practice, an hour back. It could have gone the other way, but it didn't."

The win over the Jumbos also capped off one of the more grueling weeks for any program this season. The Ephs played No. 8 Union last Wednesday and then top-ranked RIT on Friday on their spring break trip to Baltimore prior to tackling Tufts. They lost the first two games – to Union, 8-7, in overtime and 15-10 to RIT – but the setbacks hardened the players.

When the Jumbos raced out to a 5-2 advantage to start the game, there was no panic on the Williams sidelines. Utilizing their previous experiences against top teams, the Ephs scored the next six goals to take an 8-5 lead it would never lose.

"We felt confident because we played two really good teams and we felt like if we kept playing hard, we're kind of a second half team," McCormack said.

They also had the defensive antidote to Tufts high-flying attack. John Maimone-Medwick was tasked with covering Cole Bailey – the attackman who posted an 11-point game against Conn. College three days before – and the junior held Bailey to just a goal. Senior Ben Allison drew Chris Schoenhut and sophomore Ryan Hamilton covered Beau Wood, and the duo was limited to three goals combined. Junior goalie Dan Whittam's 17 saves were also critical.

"Anything is possible when you're a unified force and you play as a team," McCormack said. "We had six one-goal losses last year against some really good teams, so perseverance pays off if you just keep battling, which they did. Every now and then you are going to put it all together and play well against a very good team."

Prior to traveling to face the Jumbos, the Williams players moved into their stationary locker room for the first time. If the weather cooperates, the Ephs are hoping to get the all clear sign from the buildings & grounds department to use the grass practice and game fields. Still, they'll have to travel for their next "home game," this time to nearby North Adams to face Wesleyan on Saturday.

It's not fun, but it has certainly paid dividends.

"It would be nice not to have to jump on a bus to go to practice, but we're going to roll with it," McCormack said.

Merrimack: "Don't Let Us Win This One"

Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan is a Mets fan from growing up on Long Island, but he paraphrased a Red Sox player when he addressed his players prior to Wednesday's game against LIU Post – a game with monumental importance to both teams.

"When Kevin Millar from the Red Sox was playing the Yankees [in 2004] and I think they were down 3-0 and they got blown out at Fenway, he was talking the next day and said, 'Don't let us win the next game. Don't let us win tonight,'" Morgan said. "I told the guys, 'Don't let us win tonight. If you want to put us away, you better do it tonight because if we win this game we're going to have momentum and we'll get guys back, healthwise.'"

Having senior Mike Perdie (5) back in the lineup was a boost for Merrimack, which defeated LIU Post, 11-10, for a pivotal victory in the race for an NCAA bid. (Merrimack Athletics)

Using a strong third-quarter surge while quieting a late Pioneers push back, the Warriors posted an 11-10 victory to keep themselves in the hunt for one of the four NCAA berths in the North region.

As expected, the game was tight with the two combatants tied at fives 37 minutes into the game, but Merrimack took control. A pair of goals 20 seconds apart – the first of which was scored by standout Mike Perdie, who missed the previous four games with an injury – gave the Warriors a 7-5 cushion before Paul Jones made it 8-5.

LIU Post did not go away, cutting the lead to one on three occasions in the fourth quarter, but could never find the equalizer. Morgan would have preferred a bigger cushion, but he likes the moxie of a team that is playing a sizable group of freshman and sophomores.

"We were playing a team fighting for its playoff life that has been in a final four with a lot of the same guys that were there, so for us it was a good win," he said. "We played a weathered, tested team and we found a way to win. If we could have closed them out with three mintues left, I would have obviously been happy, but they made a run and we had to get a stop. We certainly expected that."

This was a trying week for Morgan and his players. With an entire week, including an off weekend, to marinate in the humbling, 16-9 loss to Le Moyne last Tuesday, the players were getting jumpy. Morgan and his staff had to contemplate how they wanted to prepare the guys for a game that held the potential to be a season-ender if they lost.

"It's tough as a coach, and I struggled with it earlier in the week: you want to get the extra juice and extra energy of talking about that, but what happens if you lose? And your team just says, 'Well, our season is over,'" Morgan said. "Then it's going to be hard to continue to win if the kids don't see anything. It's a tight line to walk, but they're not stupid. We were honest with them and said, 'Hey, this is where we're at and we know what's at stake.'"

Merrimack must turn around and travel to Southern N.H., the site of a grisly loss two years ago that effectively ended any hopes of NCAA participation for the Warriors. Another loss would do the same thing.

Morgan and Merrimack aren't out of the woods yet, but don't let them keep on winning.

Christopher Newport: "It Was Kind of Crazy"

Prior to the start of overtime against No. 4 Salisbury, Christopher Newport head coach Todd Boward pulled his freshman faceoff man, Nick Kirschke, aside and gave him the green light if he won the faceoff and had a chance to end the game.

"If you get the opportunity, go ahead and take it," Boward told Kirschke.

Winning the draw was anything but assured. Kirschke was 8-for-18 against the Salisbury duo of Preston Dabbs and Chris Biank, and against Dabbs – who was waiting at the dot for the overtime draw – Kirschke had won just two of nine.

Christopher Newport junior attackman John Thompson scored the final three goals of regulation against Salisbury, sending the game into overtime and setting up a wild celebration in Newport News. (Ryan Kelly)

In the first quarter, Kirschke made the most of his opportunity. Winning the draw cleanly against Biank, he raced to the Salisbury goal and scored to give the Captains a 2-1 lead at the time.

"They figured that he wouldn't be a threat," Boward said. "They shut off the attackmen and he just took it. He was 10 yards out when he shot that first one. He basically had a one-on-one with the goalie."

As the whistle blew to start overtime, Kirschke beat Dabbs cleanly, scooped up the ball and was again heading toward the Sea Gulls net. There would be no free pass this time, however, as he was picked up by a Salisbury defender just inside the box.

"He split a kid, and then switched hands and sunk it lefthanded, which shocked the hell out of us," Boward said, laughing. "He's not lefthanded. But he did it."

CNU's 8-7 victory over Salisbury marks one of the biggest upsets of the season to date, and gives the Captains program, which is only in its eighth season, the biggest win in its history. The celebration matched the magnitude of the victory.

"It was kind of crazy," Boward said. "We had a lot of people here and they came out of the stands, which I've never seen at CNU before. The [school] president was at the scorer's table and he came over and grabbed me and he was all excited. I actually took him down to let him talk to the kids. There were people everywhere. It was kind of nuts, to be honest with you. I think I was in shock for about 20 minutes. Just trying to recover and get my bearings."

The win was sweeter because it seemed so improbable just a quarter before. Late in the third, Salisbury had a 7-4 lead and in full control of the game. But John Thompson closed the third with a goal and then opened the fourth with a morale-boosting man-down marker. Thompson's hat trick was capped off with 3:38 left to play to tie the game.

It was almost as if Christopher Newport didn't get the memo about how the game was supposed to end.

"These kids don't think they are going to lose until the game is over," Boward said. "It never dawns on them. They just keep plodding away and they think they are going to make plays and stuff is going to happen. Most of the time it does, to be honest with you. We played Frostburg on Saturday and it kind of happened the opposite of today, but we had the ball with three seconds to go and it just so happens that our faceoff kid took a lefthanded shot into a very good goalie, but I thought we were going to win until he made that save. Today, it never dawned on us that we were not going to be successful. The kids don't get down at all. They completely believe in themselves and keep going."

Slides & Rides

- There were a pair of upsets in the South region on Wednesday as Mount Olive stunned No. 7 Pfeiffer, 11-10 in overtime on a Matt Shields goal while Queens dispatched No. 15 Lenoir-Rhyne, 13-9, behind a five-point day from Garrett Chan. Pfeiffer's loss is a blow to the Falcons as they picked up their second in-region loss heading into three tough games against Queens, Saint Leo and Limestone. If they can win two out of those three, they should still be in the mix for the fourth spot. Queens, which lost all its momentum from the Mercyhurst win with the Catawba setback, will have a chance to join the discussion (and likely bury Pfeiffer) if the Royals can beat the Falcons on the road Tuesday.

NCAA Division II: Rollins rookie Jack Vonarb netted six goals in the Tars' 14-7 victory over Florida Tech on Monday evening...Matt Brigham scored four goals and set up another, leading Bentley to a 12-6 win over St. Michael's and a 4-1 mark in the NE-10...five different players scored at least two goals for Adelphi in the Panthers 16-4 victory over Saint Rose...Mercyhurst went 20-for-24 on the draw against Walsh, led by Benjamin Brooks' 10-of-11 effort...Southern N.H. picked up a nice win over St. Anselm and now will have a chance to ruin Merrimack's season on Saturday like it did in '12...Florida Southern has found its groove...Jesse Wood with a 10-point afternoon against Post (Conn.).

NCAA Division III: Plattsburgh's 16-12 victory over St. Lawrence keeps the Cardinals very much in the Pool C chase...Widener's 10-4 victory against Albright establishes the Pride as the second best team in the MAC Commonwealth behind Stevenson...Aurora won a 6-4 grinder against Carthage to take control of the MLC...as is the norm, Ithaca and Cortland needed extra time to settle their rivalry, with the Red Dragons pulling out an 8-7 win...Marymount knocked off St. Mary's in a key CAC contest...Middlebury improved to 3-3 in the NESCAC with a 12-6 win over Hamilton, giving the Panthers some breathing room in terms of making the league tourney. They're a squad no one will want to see...Stevens has fought back to even – they're 5-5 now – after beating Hartwick.

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