April 14, 2014

MD3 Notebook: Ithaca's Sights Set on E8 Entry

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

Pat Slawta (above) and Jake Long get most of the attention on Ithaca, but it's the secondary guys who will determine how far the Bombers go. "Our big game guys get attention from everybody day in and day out, but what is going to make us a good team – and maybe a great team, if it happens – is the second attackman or the guys on the third midfield or the second long pole," said Ithaca head coach Jeff Long. "The guys like that who step up and you don't drop off at all when you're subbing; that's what makes a great team. Those would be my MVPs right now." (Kevin P. Tucker)

A couple of hours after Ithaca downed Nazareth to improve to 10-3 and take over sole possession of first place in the Empire 8, Bombers head coach Jeff Long was asked about what his approach to the NCAA tournament will be with his team going forward.

His answer was straight out of 2009.

"All we're really concerned about is getting the AQ," said Long, who is in his 27th year with Ithaca. "We kind of look at it that we're out of the Pool C consideration, so it's really about taking care of business these last two weeks. If we don't win the Empire 8 tournament, there's a good chance we're not going to get in. That's got to be the goal right now."

With losses to RIT, Cabrini and Cortland – all teams in the Top 10 – it would reason that the Bombers would fare pretty well if they got thrown into the at-large pool. Long hasn't forgotten about the '09 campaign when Ithaca went 14-2, lost in the finals of the E8 tournament and were left out of the brackets.

While the '09 season has lingered over the years when it comes to prepping for the tourney, this year's edition of the Bombers is like no other, according to Long.

"This is probably the biggest cast of characters that we have contributing and it's probably the most improved group of guys that I can remember from freshman year to now," he said. "It kind of has its own personality, which I enjoy. We've got combined leadership; it's not just one or two guys. If someone is having a bad day, they're pretty good about picking each other up. It's really nice because they are forming their own personality and it's one that I like right now."

The Bombers have a resiliency about them, and they showed it against Nazareth. Despite being locked in tie game at halftime, Ithaca methodically built a second-half lead before allowing the defense to stifle the potent Flyers offense until the whistle in a 10-8 win. As usual, it was Pat Slawta (2g, 3a) and Jake Long (3g) receiving the most attention after the game, but Long believes they are a product of the Ithaca collective.

"They are two good players, but we have other guys who are doing a lot of work," Long said. "The reason we're doing so well at this point is some of the unsung heroes. Our faceoff kid, the freshman attackmen, a senior, Joe Perkins, who plays attack and middie, and the defense has solidified. It's just a really good supporting cast. [Slawta and Long] get a little more attention in the scorebook, but there are guys getting hockey assists and stuff like that."

One can tell that the head coach loves that he has a group of grinders who operate on the fringes to make the Bombers as successful as they are to this point. Long even went as far as to quantify their value to the team.

"Our big game guys get attention from everybody day in and day out, but what is going to make us a good team – and maybe a great team, if it happens – is the second attackman or the guys on the third midfield or the second long pole," Long said. "The guys like that who step up and you don't drop off at all when you're subbing; that's what makes a great team. Those would be my MVPs right now."

The one aspect of Ithaca that is still to be determined is which unit is the signature one for the Bombers. Sometimes the offense has carried the day in comfortable victories or shootouts, and the next day it's the defense leading the charge. Which one is it?

"I wish I could tell you. You can't tell from day to day," Long said. "Even [Saturday], you work hard from Monday through Friday, and then you find out in the first five minutes if all the work paid off. This level of Division III is about playing with confidence and believing in yourself and putting in the whole 60. It's a mistake-laden game, you just have to take advantage of the opportunities.

If the Bombers utilize all their chances over the next five games, they'll get an opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 and finally bury any lingering memories of '09.

Salisbury Banks a Second Clutch Win

It was supposed to be Cabrini's debutante ball, but it turned into just another Salisbury party.

Using a ball-control offense, avoiding turnovers and creating a stalemate on faceoffs, the Sea Gulls kept the high-powered Cavaliers offense to just 11 shots in each half while building a 14-7 fourth quarter leader that played out for a 15-11 victory on Friday night.

"We knew that Cabrini was a good team and they've been good for a long time," Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman said. "We played them a couple of times in the quarterfinals and they've been knocking on the door every year. They've had an outstanding season to date and the reason we scheduled that game was because we needed another outstanding opponent on our schedule with Roanoke not playing us. We were lucky to get the game, and as it played out, it turned into a great opportunity for us to get another quality win."

The Sea Gulls are now 14-1 with wins over five ranked teams, setting them up for a favorable seeding in the NCAA tournament. The two big ones to this point are Cabrini and Washington College.

Luke Phipps had four goals and three assists against Cabrini, helping Sailsbury pick up a key regional win and earn Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week. "He played great," said Sea Gulls head coach Jim Berkman. "Stuck his shots and buried his opportunities." (Justin Odendhal)

"On those two stages, I've got to say honestly we've played our two best games of the year," Berkman said of taking down the Cavaliers and Shoremen. "Hopefully this continues."

The last big hurdle standing between Salisbury and a possible No. 1 seed in the South region is Saturday's game against rival Stevenson. A win in that contest and it will come down to a head-to-head comparison with Denison for the regional top spot, and the Gulls would have a good case.

Still, despite the impressive wins over Cabrini and WAC, this is the same Sea Gulls team that was baffled by a zone defense against Christopher Newport two weeks ago in their only loss.

"Hopefully we're a better team because of that loss," Berkman said.

Attacking the zone is something Salisbury has worked on in the meantime and they quickly chased Cabrini out of a zone with a clinical finish on Friday night. Without a roster full of All-Americans as in the recent past, learning on the job will be the approach the Sea Gulls take for the rest of the season.

"It's not about our stars. Everyone is just pretty good," Berkman said. "That's our story."

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Luke Phipps, Sr., A - Salisbury
In a battle between the old guard and the new guard in the South, Phipps ensured that it was old guard that came out on top. The Maryland native scored four goals and dished out three assists, helping the Sea Gulls breeze to a 15-11 victory over Cabrini on Friday night. It was Phipps' career high-water mark in terms of points in a contest and he's currently second on the team in scoring (40 points).

"He had a really nice game," Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman said. "I've been trying to get him more assertive to attack the goal, and he blatantly beat his defender a couple of times and scored some really nice goals. He made a couple of great passes and should have a couple more points. He played great. Stuck his shots and buried his opportunities."

Honor Roll

Jason Andrews (Randolph-Macon), Brooks Arnold (Messiah), Stephen Banick (Stevenson), Stefan Basile (Union), Cameron Bazin (Olivet), Derek Bertolini (Conn. College), Brendon Berg (Benedictine), Zach Blewett (St. Mary's), Jon Broome (Middlebury), Geoff Bruno (U. New England), Ryan Coakley (Wentworth), Josh Currier (Virginia Wesleyan), Cameron Dabir (Washington & Lee), Danny Dahms (Concordia), Brendan Damm (Plattsburgh), Dave Darling (Eastern), Zach Davidson (Castleton), Grant Delaney (Bethany), Pat Diorka (Aurora), Ryan Duffey (Potsdam), Corey Elmer (Cabrini), David Evert (Elmira), Eric Fannell (Adrian), Don Finn (Montclair State), Connor Flaherty (Babson), Sam Funnell (Bard), Louis Geswaldo (Morrisville State), Kevin Gleason (Augustana), John Goracy (Clark), Travis Granich (Bethany), Eric Hanover (Cazenovia), Casey Helms (Ohio Wesleyan), Connor Jackson (Oberlin), Billy Kempner (Franklin & Marshall), Connor Latimer (Keuka), Ryon Lynch (Springfield), Bob Markunas (Neumann), Mike Marone (Drew), Jack Meachum (Carthage), Michael Morris (Sewanee), Kevin Mulvey (Skidmore), Peter Murphy (Centre), Eric Ohman (Cortland), Jacob Perry (Illinois Wesleyan), Stephen Petersilge (Colorado College), Bo Prozinski (UMass-Dartmouth), Colin Rossano (Roanoke), Christopher St. George (Plymouth State), Patrick Serio (McDaniel), Gunnar Shelton (Thomas), Adam Shute (New England College), Scott Slater (Marywood), Pat Slawta (Ithaca), Harris Stolzenberg (MIT), Andrew Suh (Lasell), Tim Taylor (Widener), Michael Traub (MIT), John Umbach (Ohio Wesleyan), John Uppgren (Tufts), Alex Villegas (Hood).

Pool Duty

Pool B
1. Sewanee (10-3)
2. Whittier (6-3)
3. Eastern (10-4)
4. Colorado College (8-4)
5. Centre (10-3)

Pool C
1. Union (10-1)
2. York (12-3)
3. Lynchburg (9-4)
4. Franklin & Marshall (10-3)
5. Amherst (9-3)

Slides & Rides

- The ODAC continues to be a wild ride. Lynchburg barely beat Hampden-Sydney, needing two overtimes to tame the Tigers, 7-6, which moves Washington & Lee into the first chair with an undefeated conference record (and an important win against Roanoke already). The Generals will put their unblemished league mark up against the Hornets on the road Wednesday, but if they get by that one, the ODAC tourney will almost certainly go through Lexington, Va. The six bids to the conference tourney are essentially already sewn up: W&L, Lynchburg, Sydney, 'Noke, Virginia Wesleyan and Randolph-Macon.

- On a similar topic, the eight participants in the NESCAC are pretty much wrapped up, with Bates, Trinity and Hamilton the likely candidates for omission (each only has one league win at this point). The Centennial is still a work in progress.

- It doesn't resonate on the national level because the conference isn't strong enough, but Saturday's game between Lasell and Emmanuel will likely be a preview of the GNAC championship game as well as an indicator of who will get the GNAC bid. Both teams are 8-0 in conference play and three games clear of the third place team in the conference. Emmanuel – a team with just one senior on the roster – is in its third year of existence under the watchful eye of coach Brendan McWilliams. Coached by Tim Dunton, Lasell is also a relatively young team. Both squads are looking for its first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament and whichever team does get the eventual bid will probably earn an all-expenses paid trip to Medford.

- Dickinson was in good shape to pull the upset on Washington College, but the Red Devils were burned by a pair of second half celebration penalties that killed momentum and allowed the Shoremen to stay within shouting distance. WAC eventually won, 16-12, thanks to four goals from Stephen Luck and five points from Hunter Nowicki...it has been tough sledding for Western New England this season as the Bears have just managed to reach the .500 mark with the win over Roger Williams on Saturday. On Tuesday they'll play the game that will go a long way in determining how far WNE can go when they travel to archrival Endicott. If the Bears can beat the Gulls – or even keep it close – they'll know they have a chance to snatch the CCC AQ and still get to the dance.

- It was a long week for Bard. Literally. They went 1-1 for the period, but played in a four overtime game (a 8-7 loss to Manhattanville) and a three overtime affair (an 8-7 victory over Regis). "It's been a crazy year, but our guys have so much heart and we always talk about that," Kear said. "If there is one thing we want to be known for, its playing hard and having heart"...Scranton is looking more and more like the team to beat in the Landmark. They still have defending champion Susquehanna and Goucher remaining on the road, however...the clash of the Liberty titans occurs on Wednesday when Union visits RIT. It could be the first of three meetings this year...Keene State handled Eastern Conn. to take control of the Little East...Stevenson and Widener meet Wednesday to determine the top seed in the MAC Commonwealth tourney...Tufts travels to Bates on Tuesday. It will probably be the Jumbos last road trip until mid-May...New England College and Castleton meet on Wednesday to determine who is likely to walk away with the NAC auto-bid...Ohio Wesleyan will take its first crack at handing Denison its first loss on Wednesday. The Bishops will play the Big Red again in the NCAC tourney.

- Carthage played its second doubleheader of the season and breezed to a pair of victories against Dubuque (31-1) and Illinois Wesleyan (24-6)...Marywood junior Dylan Swope broke the program's career record for assists after notching a pair in the Pacers 21-8 victory over Immaculata. He now has 62...Richard Stockton won its 12th game of the season, setting the school record for wins...it was a very good week for Potsdam. The Bears knocked off Plattsburgh midweek and then capped off the period by bouncing Brockport. Potsdam is in good shape to make the SUNYAC tourney for a second straight year.

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