April 10, 2014

Morning Jac: Small College Midweek Notebook

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

Dickinson head coach Dave Webster earned his 200th career win on Wednesday by beating Gettysburg. Like everything for the Red Devils this season, it didn't come easily. (Kevin P. Tucker)

Dave Webster won the 200th game of his 23-year career on Wednesday when Dickinson upset No. 20 Gettysburg, 12-7. Like many of the previous 199 triumphs, this one wasn't easy, as it took a second-half surge for the Red Devils to subdue the Bullets.

Alas, nothing has come easy for Webster and his program this spring.

The encore from last year's magical 18-1 season, which included the top seed in the South region and a trip to the national quarterfinals, has been bumpy. It started promisingly enough with a 2-0 start and a win over St. Mary's, but the Devils lost five of their next seven, only getting back onto the good side of .500 with the win over Gettysburg.

"We had a very ambitious non-conference schedule and I knew this fall as that schedule was finalized it was going to be tough this year," Webster said. "We are a very different team than we have been."

The look of the program was altered drastically after the second game of the season when senior close defender Slay Sudah tore his hamstring and senior defensive middie Parker Waldron broke his collarbone. Both were All-Americans last year and both are likely done for the season.

"Those two changed match-ups for us," Webster said. "Slay is the best one-on-one defender in the country in my opinion. Everyone has injuries, but losing those two has had an impact."

If you're counting along, the Red Devils lost five All-Americans from last year's defense: three to graduation and two to injury. As a result, Webster and his staff have had to completely alter their defensive philosophy on the fly.

"We've changed ourselves from a pressure, man-to-man team into a zone team, and that's with not having coached zone for six or seven years," Webster admitted. "That's tough to do in the offseason, never mind during the season. I give our guys a lot of credit for being coachable and understanding that this would be our best chance to be successful. They've bought into it and got better and better at it. But we're learning."

The issues on the defensive end have meant that there has been added pressure put on the offense to carry the day, especially down the stretch in close games. It hasn't always happened.

"That's something we've struggled with early on," Webster said. "We haven't been able to finish games. We were up or very close going into the end of games in many of the ones we lost early on, so we talked a lot about finishing. We worked on those things at practice."

It paid off against Gettysburg, as Dickinson was locked in a one-goal contest early in the second half. With the game teetering on going either way, the Red Devils offense – and senior All-American Brian Cannon in particular – stepped to the fore. Cannon scored three goals in a five-goal skein bridging the third and fourth quarters, turning a narrow 7-6 lead into a 12-6 bulge that put the game away.

"We kept our poise and stayed with the game plan, and things started to come our way," Webster said. "We got that gap and kept expanding it. We finished really strong."

While the Red Devils appear to be on the outside of the at-large race for an NCAA tournament bid at this point, they are very much in the hunt for the Centennial crown. The loss to Ursinus two weeks ago put some pressure on Dickinson in terms of making the four-team conference playoffs, but the Gettysburg win has Webster's crew in a three-way tie for second place. Awaiting this weekend is a home date with Washington College and the opportunity to take control of the league.

It's a scenario that would have seemed far-fetched just a month ago, but the Red Devils have ignored all of the outside noise and just kept getting better.

"A lot of people I've talked to say, 'What's going on?' 'The guys aren't working hard.' 'They've got attitudes,' and things like that," Webster said. "And it couldn't be further from the truth. The effort, the work, the practices have been fantastic and they're learning a ton. It's great to get a win like [Wednesday] to affirm for those guys the messages we've been sharing with them about sticking together."

Webster will go for win No. 201 on Saturday, but like all of them, it won't be easy.

The Price of Losses Has Gone Up

After Dickinson's 12-7 victory over Gettysburg, Red Devils' head coach Dave Webster said the game balls went to senior attackman Brian Cannon, who finished with five goals, and sophomore goalie Nick Baxter (above), who turned away 16 shots. (John Strohsacker)

With each passing day the completion of the regular season nears, and with every passing day the conference tournament picture and NCAA candidates come into focus. Considering how tumultuous this season has been in terms of weekly upsets, this slate of midweek contests has been relatively drama-free.

Most of the top teams in Divisions II and III fulfilled their task on Tuesday and Wednesday. RIT dispatched a Nazareth team still searching for a premium win, Springfield rallied to beat a resurgent Middlebury, Washington College thwarted Ursinus' overtime upset bid, Tufts out-gunned Endicott, Merrimack escaped a late Bentley push while Dowling, Tampa and Seton Hill all breezed to expected triumphs.

Not every team was so fortunate. Two teams suffered setbacks that could come back to haunt them if, as expected, they are thrown into the Pool C mix.

Plattsburgh, fresh off its first-ever win against St. Lawrence and a gritty, one-goal loss to Cortland, traveled to Potsdam for a SUNYAC clash. The Bears are no pushovers – they were 6-3 heading into the game and made the conference tourney last year – but if the Cardinals won, they would be 9-3 and in the mix. After a career-best 19-save performance from Ryan Duffy, Potsdam stunned Plattsurgh, 8-7, for the Bears' first win over the Cardinals since 2010.

With a win over archrival Colby, Bowdoin had the opportunity to bring a 10-2 record into their final three games of the season – all on the road – against Wesleyan, Endicott and Tufts. After Tyler Will stopped 19 saves and John Grimaldi tallied seven goals for the White Mules to upend the Polar Bears, 11-7, on Tuesday, Bowdoin is now limping into its finishing kick.

Neither loss is a complete deal-breaker for either team, as there is enough time to make up for it. But there's also a chance that when the committee sits down in early May, these two games could return as a selection criteria hobgoblin for the Polar Bears and Cardinals.

That's where we're at in the season for all teams: everything matters.

Slides & Rides

- No. 10 Pfeiffer's 14-8 loss to No. 13 Queens on Tuesday was a miserable outcome for the Falcons, as they've let a once healthy lead for one of the four berths in the South region disappear. The result is good for fans of the region, however, because the race for the last spot is wide open with lots of key games remaining. While Limestone, Tampa and Mercyhurst have spoken for the first three spots at this point, there are six other teams who could make an impact in the last month and take control of the fourth seed – Lake Erie, Mount Olive, Pfeiffer, Queens, Seton Hill and Wheeling Jesuit. A seventh team, Dominican (Calif.), could even join the discussion if things break perfectly the rest of the way. Hold on to your seats, because this could be a wild ride.

- Pfeiffer entered the Queens game with a reputation for defense, but they were undone by Royals' sophomore attackman Garrett Chan, who scored six goals. Chan has been particularly effective against traditionally strong backlines, as he netted four in Queens' upset of Mercyhurst earlier this year, as well. "He's creative and he is very patient when he wants to be aggressive," said Royals head coach Jim Fritz. "He has great quickness. His teammates are seeing what he is doing and are playing well with him."

Chan had a solid rookie campaign last year, finishing second on the team in scoring (29g, 9a), but he's reworked his game to be more of a threat. "He is now more mature, but also he has worked hard at becoming a good mid-range shooter, which he did not have last year," Fritz said. "He is playing very confidently right now and becoming a leader on the offense and on the team."

- NCAA Division II Notes: Tom Engelhardt and Joe Leonard each scored four goals and dished out two assists in Molloy's 13-3 victory over Roberts Wesleyan on Monday...it was two relatively comfortable midweek games for No. 5 Dowling. The Lions scored the first seven goals in the first 16 minutes against Mercy before coasting home with an 11-7 win. Dowling then took care of start-up Post (Conn.) on Wednesday, 21-6, with Matt Crough posting a seven-spot...Wheeling Jesuit (8-1) will get an idea of their chances of a.) winning the ECAC and b.) making the NCAA tournament over the next two Saturdays when the Cardinals travel to Seton Hill this weekend and then entertain Mercyhurst the following Saturday. Wheeling has locked in the No. 4 seed in the ECAC tourney, but they'll need at least one win down the stretch to keep their NCAA hopes alive.

- Sunday's game against Ohio Valley is looking like Lees-McRae last chance to snap its losing streak, which currently stands at 35. The Fighting Scotts are 1-12...Tampa tied for at least a share of the Sunshine State Conference regular season title by beating Rollins Wednesday. A win over Lynn on Saturday seals the top seed...Florida Southern's Dane Sorensen currently leads the D-II goals chase with 50, but he has conference rival Jake Rooney (49) of Tampa right on his tail. Rooney has played in two more games, however...Rooney's Tampa teammate, Conor Whipple, leads the nation with 72 points, but Luke Miller of NYIT paces the country in points per game with 5.55.

- NCAA Division III Notes: With the loss to Virginia Wesleyan, Ferrum has been eliminated from the Pool B hunt. The Panthers are 6-9 with only two games left...Lyndon State won the battle of winless teams by defeating Green Mountain, 11-8...Quinn Maroney has 64 points for Amherst after posting a nine-point afternoon against Conn. College on Tuesday. Only one other player has topped the 60-point plateau (Derek Cherney '07, twice) for the Lord Jeffs since 1999. Moroney's averaging over four assists per game...Salisbury cracked the 20-goal barrier for the second time this year, posting 25 on Wesley. The Gulls entertain No. 3 Cabrini on Friday night...the Tufts scoring circus rolled on, hanging 18 on No. 17 Endicott. Cole Bailey with four goals and three assists.

- St. John Fisher head coach John Johnson won his 100th game with the Cardinals in a 20-2 rout of Houghton...Beloit became the second team this week to crack the 30-goal barrier, beating Dubuque, 31-4...Aurora basically wrapped up the top seed in the Midwest Lacrosse Conference with a 13-5 win over Concordia. Augustana technically has a shot, but it's unlikely...Kenyon took Ohio Wesleyan to overtime last week. Denison buried the Lords, 23-2 on Wednesday. Yikes...the CAC will almost assuredly get a second team in the tournament, and could be in the hunt for three.

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