April 28, 2014

MD3 Notebook: Ducks Feeling Better About Playoffs

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

The return of sophomore goalie Austin Boyd (above), who made 15 saves in the Ducks' upset win against Ithaca, has made a difference for Stevens. "Austin was a guy we were counting on heading into the year thinking he would be the guy, but this was maybe his fourth start," said Stevens head coach Gene Peluso. "He was certainly the difference [Saturday]." (Stevens Athletics)

Gene Peluso felt miserable. Suffering from a gastrointestinal bug, the Ducks head coach traveled separately from the rest of the team for the regular season finale against Ithaca on Saturday, an empty plastic bag strategically placed on the seat next to him in case of a sudden heave.

"If you had asked me 24 hours ago if I thought I'd make it to this game, I don't think I would," Peluso said.

As he stood on the sidelines at the start of the contest, Peluso was still woozy. Having not eaten anything in the previous 36 hours – "That's a personal record," he deadpanned – combined with both a lengthy Senior Day tribute by the Bombers and freshly laid mulch around the field, Peluso's nausea forced him to take a knee on several occasions.

But for as bad as Peluso felt, his team played that good.

Heading into the game, the Stevens staff took a roll-the-ball-out approach against the Bombers. Because the four-team Empire 8 tournament field had already been set prior to the game with Ithaca, the Ducks knew that they'd be making the same exact trip four days later with a lot more on the line. As such, they took a simplified approach.

"Sometimes you go into games with elaborate plans and you do too much, and at the end of the day, the guys just want to be guys, they want to be lacrosse players," Peluso said. "It wasn't really any kind of major scheming, it was just do what we do, and hopefully that would be better than what they were doing. We played loose."

Backed by four goals from Andrew Scrutchfield and opportunistic shooting in general, Stevens built a 10-5 halftime edge and would lead by as many as seven in the second half on its way to a 15-11 victory. Only RIT (15) and Cabrini (20) put as many goals up against the typically stingy Bombers' defense.

The Ducks were also bolstered by the play of sophomore Austin Boyd. Making just his fourth start after missing the first 11 games of the season with an injury, Boyd made 15 saves, including some clutch stops at the beginning of the game.

"Austin was a guy we were counting on heading into the year thinking he would be the guy, but this was maybe his fourth start," Peluso said. "He's played really well. He was certainly the difference today, especially early. He made some really good saves early to keep us three or four goals ahead."

The end of this season has a different feel than the last couple for Stevens. After starting the campaign at 1-5 and currently boasting an 8-7 mark, the Ducks' only avenue to the NCAA tournament is via the Empire 8 auto bid. As such, Peluso and his team have already turned the page to a new season – one in which Stevens just has to go 2-0 to achieve its goals.

It would only make sense that the coaching staff use some of the early season games for motivational purposes, including a streak of contests comprised of, in order, Endicott, Springfield, Cortland, Tufts, Denison and Montclair State. It can be reasonably said that there aren't a lot of teams left in Division III that could show something the Ducks haven't seen already.

But that's all in the past now, and Peluso feels it's probably better to leave it there.

"We talked a little bit about it, but what I'm finding is the less we talk about that stuff, the better we are," he said. "When I started comparing how we played against Denison in mid-March, it kind of loses its fire. Let's just do our thing. Let's keep it simple and get after it. At the end of the day, our guys just want to play lacrosse."

The Stevens head coach has been around the block a couple of times in the Empire 8, and knows that a win in the regular season doesn't mean much when it comes to tournament time. He just has to look to last season when the Ducks beat the Bombers to end the regular season, only to see Ithaca come to Hoboken and hand Stevens a home loss.

For now, the Ducks will just try to play loose again and see if they can start their second season at 1-0.

"It makes for tricky business to go up there knowing that we'd be heading back up there on Wednesday," Peluso said. "I know that there will be changes on both ends for this next game, but we'll just have to see how that all shakes out."

And hopefully the head coach can ride the bus this time.

The 2014 Team Becomes Denison's Finest

The 1965 and '67 teams are spoken about in reverential terms around the Denison lacrosse offices. Both of those teams finished the season with 15-0 records and were named the small school national champions. After Saturday's win over Ohio Wesleyan that pushed the Big Red's records to 17-0, there will be a new member of the pantheon.

"To be able to win the game [Saturday] was kind of our goal, and then afterwards it kind of hit us: 'Wow, we just went 17-0!'" said Denison head coach Michael Caravana. "I kept saying to the guys all the time, 'Why not us going 17-0? We worked hard and we're just as dedicated and committed as any other team.'" (John Strohsacker)

"To be able to win the game [Saturday] was kind of our goal, and then afterwards it kind of hit us: 'Wow, we just went 17-0!'" said Denison head coach Michael Caravana. "I kept saying to the guys all the time, 'Why not us going 17-0? We worked hard and we're just as dedicated and committed as any other team.' It hit us afterwards because we had our awards banquet right after the game. It was just a nice, fortunate situation where everything came together. We're just trying to enjoy it."

They can enjoy it for another week. Unlike their peers from 1960s, this Denison team lives in the world of the NCAA tournament where champions are crowned only after a grueling 30-team tournament is adjudicated.

Ranked No. 3 in the country, the Big Red has as good a shot as anyone to be raising the trophy on Memorial Day weekend, but going undefeated in the postseason is a different animal than the regular campaign. While Caravana's players competed against a very stiff schedule, everything has changed.

"It's a new season, but now you know it's do or die," Caravana said. "The guys know that. You can't fool them. We think we've got a lot of good lacrosse still to play, but now everyone is good. Anybody who makes the tournament in Division III these days is pretty good."

With their credentials, Denison is guaranteed a home game to start the tournament, but then it's up in the air. As traditional members of South region, they would have to get past the likes of Salisbury, Stevenson, Cabrini and Washington College. Because the brackets don't always break evenly between the regions, the Big Red have been thrown into the North at times, which will pose its own set of problems. That's why Caravana will be using this week leading up to Selection Sunday to scout out some of his potential first round opponents.

"You have to be able to start looking around at who we might play, but there are so many variables," he said. "Geography comes into play, so it can be a crap-shoot, but you do start gathering your information because we're not going to find out close to 10 p.m. on Sunday. At least we know that Wednesday's game should be home."

But that's 10 days away. Right now, this edition of the Big Red can lay claim to being the best version ever, so they should relish the fact that it will be they who are spoken about reverentially 50 years from now.

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Cole Bailey, Jr., A – Tufts
As the ringmaster of the Jumbos scoring circus, Bailey has put up monster numbers for much of the season, and it didn't let up on Saturday. Bailey scored five goals and dished out three assists...in the first half. With Tufts comfortably ahead at the break, 16-5, Bailey's services weren't needed in the final 30 minutes, but his economy of purpose was unmatched this week. After 16 games, Bailey has 39 goals and 45 assists for 84 points – good for second on the team.

"Cole is an amazing young man and one of the toughest players I have ever coached," said Tufts head coach Mike Daly. "He is one of our best students and hardest workers. He makes everyone on the field better and he competes as hard as anyone on our team. His stats are amazing, but his – and our entire attack's – riding prowess is what fuels our team."

Honor Roll

Jason Andrews (Randolph-Macon), Cole Bailey (Tufts), Cameron Bazin (Olivet), Brendon Berg (Benedictine), Nicholas Betti (Maine Maritime), Doug Boyd (Adrian), Jamie Campagna (St. John Fisher), Richard Cheifitz (Kean), Robert Clemens (Widener), Jonathan Cohen (Swarthmore), Brandon Corbo (Husson), Chris Dashiell (Stevenson), Gunnar Elder (Hope), David Evert (Elmira), Grant Ferguson (Eastern), Adam Fiore (Guilford), Will Franken (Messiah), Ryan Gallagher (Mt. St. Joseph), Andrew Gamble (York), Brett Gifford (SUNYIT), Cory Gray (Keuka), Geoff Harty (Merchant Marine), Rob Holden (Clark), Chad Hollandshade (Salve Regina), Daniel Johnson (Becker), Mike Kane (Salisbury), Tim Kelly (Roger Williams), Kyle Kingsley (Cazenovia), Kyle Kerrigan (Geneseo), Jared Knowlton (Susquehanna), Jason Koziol (Aurora), Austin Lauzier (Emmanuel), Tim Lawrence (Plattsburgh), Noah Lessing (Washington & Lee), Martin Manilla (Gettysburg), Breanainn McNeally (RPI), Garrett Maw (Southern Virginia), Quinn Moroney (Amherst), Matt Prezioso (Wesleyan), Bo Prozinski (UMass-Dartmouth), Andrew Reynolds (Misericordia), Koda-Wataka Robinson (New England College), Michael Roth (John Carroll), Joe Schoen (Utica), Andrew Scrutchfield (Stevens), Dylan Sheehan (Springfield), Matthew Simon (Hilbert), Austin Stewart (Lynchburg), Matthew Stiefel (Sewanee), Nick Strandholm (Clarkson), Connor Stubbs (Centre), Mike Sullivan (Otterbein), Eddie Vita (Denison), Allistar Warren (RIT), Sam Wladyka (Concordia), Gerry Yotcoski (FDU-Florham).

Pool Duty

Pool B
1. Whittier (6-3)
2. Sewanee (12-4)
3. Eastern (12-4)
4. Centre (13-3)
5. Colorado College (9-5)

Pool C
1. Union (12-2)
2. York (15-3)
3. Amherst (13-3)
4. Lynchburg (13-4)
5. Mary Washington (14-3)

Slides & Rides

- For the third year in row, the top four seeds in the NESCAC tournament advanced to the semifinals, and most of them did it in comfortable fashion. The closest of the four games was Wesleyan's 10-8 victory and the largest was, predictably, Tufts' 24-9 rout of Colby. This Saturday's semis are both compelling games. Tufts, which will host the entire tourney from here on out, will entertain Williams – the only league team to hand them a loss this spring. It should be both a blessing and a curse for the Jumbos. On one hand, motivation shouldn't be an issue for Mike Daly's squad, but on the other, the Ephs know they can beat Tufts (and quite handily, at that) and are no strangers to playing big games on the road.

The other semifinals features a contest between two Pool C hopefuls (assuming Tufts wins the league). Amherst (13-3) and Wesleyan (12-4) have the record for consideration, but a trip to the NESCAC title game would go a long way to cementing an NCAA bid. During the regular season, the visiting Lord Jeffs defeated the Cardinals, 14-10. While there is an outside chance the NESCAC could snag a second at-large, both teams will likely be approaching this game as an NCAA tourney play-in contest.

- It was an agonizing Saturday afternoon for Ursinus. Needing to beat Muhlenberg while Gettysburg lost to make the four-team Centennial tournament, the Bears held a 13-5 lead over the Mules at the start of the fourth quarter while the Bullets trailed McDaniel, 15-10, with just over 14 minutes left in the game. Things were looking good for Ursinus. The Bears would go on to beat Muhlenberg, 16-9, but they realized at the end of the game that Gettysburg scored six unanswered goals against the Green Terror, walking away with a 16-15 triumph and the last spot in the tourney. Ursinus had a great season, finishing 9-6 and 5-3 in the rough Centennial, but sometimes an entire season can boil down to one quarter.

- Congrats to Southern Virginia and head coach Jason Lamb for picking up the first varsity win in program history, a 13-3 triumph over Bethany...Centre upended Sewanee for the SAA tournament title, 11-10. With no AQ, the upset doesn't automatically impact the structure of the NCAA tournament, but it could impact the Pool B race. Sewanee was already a lock as an independent, but Centre may have hopped ahead of other contenders like Otterbein or Eastern in the pecking order...the Emmanuel program is just three years old, but the Saints will be making their first trip to the NCAA tournament after winning the GNAC. Brendan McWilliams, who apprenticed at UVM and Tufts before taking over at Emmanuel, is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in Division III.

- Keep track of the conference tournaments via Lacrosse Magazine Online's clearinghouse...my math was wrong about the ODAC. Roanoke picked up the top seed, but Washington & Lee ended up as the two seed and Lynchburg at No. 3. It's an extra game for the Hornets, but they are uniquely qualified to play back-to-back games in one weekend, which is the ODAC format this year for the semis and finals...losing to Dickinson in the regular season finale, 8-7, not only cost Franklin & Marshall a home game in the Centennial tourney, but it dinged their Pool C resume, as well...Aurora wrapped up the top seed in the Midwest Lacrosse Conference tourney, but the team they will face in the first round, Augustana, played the Spartans to within a goal on Saturday before losing, 11-10...both teams that advanced to the CAC championship game, Salisbury and York, are looking good for a tourney berth either way, but the question is whether Mary Washington has enough juice to make it three...Oneonta snapped up the last bid in the SUNYAC, edging out Geneseo.

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