March 28, 2011

Strong Island: Big Weekend Shows Briarcliffe is an MCLA Threat

by Jac Coyne | | Twitter

Sophomore Matt Karp (above) is Briarcliffe's leading scorer with 18 points. The Bulldogs are an extremely young team featuring no seniors and five juniors on its 22-man roster.
© Cecil Copeland

The only other states outside of its Bethpage, N.Y., location that Briarcliffe traveled to last year in the regular season were Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. While some MCLA teams were flying from one end of the country to the other, the Bulldogs' were taking the ferry across Long Island Sound.

Throw in the Bulldogs schedule, which featured nearly as many scrimmages against NCAA teams than it did against MCLA squads, along with a roster of just 19 players, and it's no wonder why the association was fascinated by the unknown Bulldogs when they showed up in Denver last year as the champions of the lightly regarded Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League with its black uniforms and Long Island attitude.

That fascination turned to a healthy dose of respect when Briarcliffe lost to Utah Valley -- the eventual national runner-up in Division II -- by a lone goal in the first round of the tournament, 10-9.

With that experience behind them, the Bulldogs are now eyeing a far deeper run in Denver.

"Not to sound egotistical, but we've gone a step up from where we were last year," said BC coach SeanMichael Pagano. "We've gotten more depth and we've gotten more lacrosse players. The guys know they can go to the final four, if not a championship game, if they put the work in."

That boast will hit home with the rest of the division after Briarcliffe completed an impressive sweep of a pair of 2010 tournament teams in Pennsylvania this past weekend.

It started on Friday night with the Bulldogs humiliating Grove City, a quarterfinalist last spring, 17-1. That was followed up with a convincing victory over Davenport -- which has made the national semifinals the past two seasons -- on Sunday, 10-7.

The quick start is a product of the talent that has been added to the program, but also the boot camp that is run by Pagano, a former Marine and an investigator for the New York State Police, all the way up to the start of the season.

"They've done nothing but work for me in the fall and all of the preseason," said Pagano, who has guided his team to a No. 8 national ranking. "Before every game so far, we've told the players, 'You've put in the work, now it's time to have fun.' They know where they're supposed to be and they know what they're supposed to do because coach has been running them way too much for them not to know it."

Part of the preseason preparation was conditioning, and that will be paramount this spring. The Bulldogs are thinner than Pagano had hoped they'd be -- there's only 22 players on the active roster, including three goalies -- and that's a concern with four games in five days waiting in Denver. Davenport tried to take advantage of that in Sunday's game, continuously running fresh lines at the Bulldogs, but it didn't work.

It almost seemed like Briarcliffe, which trailed 5-4 at halftime, got stronger as the game wore on.

"We put a lot of stock in our conditioning and the fact that we're going to run all game," said Pagano. "We believed that when we went into halftime we would win the game. My staff and I said that all we had to do was keep it close for the first half and we'll run the second half and the second half will be ours. They did it. We're a pretty well-rounded team, but we know we're going to hit our stride in the fourth quarter and we're going to keep on running."

Briarcliffe's schedule is not as stacked as some of the top teams in the country. The contests against No. 10 Grove City and No. 5 Davenport are the extent of the ranked teams they Bulldogs will face. All that remains on the slate are six games against overmatched PCLL opponents and a couple of scrimmages.

It will have to suffice as the program readies itself for Denver.

"We don't want to get knocked off," said Pagano, of the team's motivation now. "We're going on our third season of being undefeated in conference. We haven't been beat in the regular season in the MCLA and we're trying to keep that going."

They'll keep it going. The only difference is teams all over the rest of the country will know about it now.

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