October 13, 2010

Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.

With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.


Numbers Game: Hope Will Be a Contender

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

After posting a 120-point season in 2010, Hope senior Eric Weber is used to drawing a crowd. With expanded depth in the Dutchmen midfield this year, Weber and his prolific running mates on attack should find plenty of room.
© Hope Lacrosse

Hope had one of its best seasons in 2010, cruising to an 11-5 mark, including a perfect 4-0 record in the Dutchmen's division of the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association.

Still, the scores of the team's three losses to MCLA Division II foes – which all came against other CCLA programs that qualified for the nationals in Denver – are startling.

There's the 24-16 loss to Grand Valley State in the second game of the season followed in the next contest by a 22-11 setback to Davenport. Throw in a 22-13 defeat at the hands of Dayton in the conference semifinals and it's pretty clear the Dutchmen had some issues.

The cause of those issues may surprise you. Typically, those kinds of numbers point to a porous defense. Yet, according to Hope coach Mike Schanhals, it's actually a deficiency in the midfield unit.

Stocked with players Schanhals refers to as "home-grown" – athletes who never picked up a stick before arriving in Holland, Mich. – or freshmen, the midfield could not stack up in talent or depth with the metal of the CCLA.

"We're playing a team like Grand Valley early in the year before we've had any real practice and they run us out of the house because we have one and a half lines of middies and they have four lines of good middies," said Schanhals. "The problems we had were mostly a matter of horrific transition defense and bad turnovers by midfielders early in the season."

Schanhals is a 'glass half full' guy, and talks glowingly about the improvement his middies made over the course of the year as they gained more experience. In a late-season game against Grove City – a team that was selected for nationals – the team put it all together and routed the Wolverines, 17-6. While Hope always gets off to a slow start because of the institutional rules on practice time, Schanhals thinks he has brought in a load of talent to rectify that situation. It might be all the Dutchmen need to reach Denver.


Despite the uncertainty in the midfield, Hope still returns the best attack unit in MCLA Division II intact.

It starts with Eric Weber, arguably the best attackman in the country last year after leading the country in points per game (8.0) and goals per outing (5.7). The knee-jerk reaction is to pick apart a 120-point season and chalk it up to feasting on the weaklings, but in the four games against teams that qualified for the national tournament, Weber racked up 23 goals and nine assists. Weber's running mates – seniors Dillon Fink (54g, 13a) and Allen Campbell (42g, 32a) – are also returning for a final monster season.

"They think they can play with anybody, and they're right," said Schanhals about his frontline. "But how well that translates to the younger guys will be interesting."

Playing in the CCLA, easily the best MCLA D-II conference in the country, means the new additions will have to start their adaptation from the moment fall ball begins. But with the kind of skill and talent the Dutchmen bring to the table in 2011, it's a good bet that the ugly numbers from last spring will look a lot prettier in May.


Team: Hope
2010 Record: 11-5 (4-0 CCLA)
2010 In Review: With one of the most prolific attack units in the country, Hope advanced to the semifinals of the CCLA tournament, but problems with inexperience and depth in the midfield kept the Dutchmen from competing with the top echelon of the conference teams.

Andy Palkowski. The senior captain was a producer out of the midfield (12g, 13a) and a strong leader for a young team. Palkowski never played the sport before coming out for Hope, but worked to become a big part of the team. "He was an athlete who made himself into a good player four years later," said Schanhals. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him." So much respect that Palkowski has been signed on to be an assistant coach this year. "He'll be missed on the field, but we don't feel like we'll miss him too much because he's still around," said Schanhals.

Niko Pagkanlugan. A product of Barron Collier (Fla.) High School, Pagkanlugan was The Naples News Player of the Year last spring after scoring 28 goals and dishing out 32 assists in 11 games from his attack position. Although he was originally going to bypass collegiate lacrosse to focus on his pre-med studies, he has been coming out for the Dutchmen this fall. Also keep an eye on Michael Scofield from Mendham (N.J.) High School, who is expected to be a contributor at face-off.

Will Franken out of West Ottawa (Mich.) High School will be a huge asset in the midfield, according to Schanfals, while a couple of transfers – Josh Kamstra and John Lovasco – will also add depth to the midfield unit. Rookie goalie Ben Weber, the younger brother of Hope's stud attackman Eric, has been a very pleasant surprise this fall and could push for time.

Offseason Developments: Hope had a false start on its bid to become a varsity program this summer, but it shouldn't be viewed as a lack of desire on the part of the institution. It was likely caused by esoteric details about the NCAA automatic qualifying protocol.

Neither Schanhals nor MIAA Commissioner Dave Neilson (who said: "The MIAA is not prepared to make any external announcements at this time.") would delve into the issues, but I can give you a likely scenario.

If Hope and Calvin had made the leap to the NCAA, it would have likely triggered a conference championship within the MIAA because there would be five schools sponsoring the sport (this is a common occurrence, and it happened to the SCAC last year). This isn't a bad thing on its face, but it would have forced Adrian, Albion and Trine – three schools who already field NCAA teams – to abandon the Midwest Lacrosse League just a year away from that conference gaining an AQ from the NCAA, to join a league that not only doesn't have an AQ, but would need two more as-yet-undetermined schools within the MIAA to go varsity before having the AQ.

Out of fairness to those schools – and likely with a little encouragement from the conference presidents – Hope and Calvin put off their declaration of varsity status until the MIAA can come online with seven schools and immediately have an AQ (established NCAA conferences, like the MIAA, do not have a two-year waiting period). When this will happen is up in the air, but it isn't halting the Dutchmen's quest to go varsity.

In another development that Schanhals is hoping will have a huge impact on the running of the team, both in practice and during game days, is the school now has the funds this year to provide the Dutchmen with a pair of assistants. "That will help a lot," said Schanhals. "I've been using volunteers a lot in that role, but these are guys who will be able to be at practice and not just show up on game days."

Big Question:
As noted above, it's the depth of the midfield.

Fall Schedule:
As part of its impending move to go varsity, Hope is held to the standards of all of the other intercollegiate programs, meaning there are just 16 practice dates in the fall. There has been one concession made as, unlike the other varsity teams out of season, Hope can play two intercollegiate scrimmages. The Dutchmen tangled with Aquinas on Oct. 7 and will face rival Calvin on Oct. 14. There will also be an alumni game on Oct. 23 and Hope usually gets a good turnout as it has the second oldest program (1974) in the state, behind Michigan. "We get guys from all generations," said Schanhals."

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