December 1, 2011

Fall Ball Brief

SCAD Hoping for Bus Ride to Nationals

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Senior Derek Shurson missed a chunk of the 2011 season with a broken collarbone, but still managed to post 19 points out of the midfield. He'll move back to attack this spring for SCAD and will be expected to match his 50-point freshman and sophomore seasons.
© Steve Sanner Photography LLC

You can ask just about any lacrosse player or coach about bus trips and you won't receive much positive feedback. Trapped for long hours on a loud, slow vehicle in uncomfortable seats is no way to spend a weekend. Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) will be bucking that trend this spring.

The Bees are already looking forward to a lengthy bus ride at the end of the season.

With the MCLA tournament moving from Denver to Greenville, S.C., this year, SCAD won't need to fly across a majority of the continent. Rather, they'll just have to rumble up Interstate-26 in a charter bus. Not only would the itinerary be a breeze for SCAD coach Mike Cummings, but his program would be able to highlight how far competitive MCLA lacrosse has come in the Deep South.

"A four-and-a-half hour bus drive to play in the national tournament would be ideal," said Cummings. "As everyone knows, the sport has exploded in the Southeast and I hope that SCAD can continue to represent the area and our conference."

As the defending champion of the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) in MCLA Division II and the preseason pick by the conference coaches, it's a solid bet that SCAD will indeed be making that trip. The Bees still have some work to do when they get there – their highest seed in their two trips to nationals was ninth last May – but with a talented team and some home-cooking, this could be a breakout campaign for the program.

- Fall Ball Priority: It sounds kind of weird, but the SCAD coaching staff decided to take itself out of the mix this fall, with the hope that the players would be able to prove to themselves that they could be self-reliant if the offense or defense broke down.

"We simply swallowed our whistles and let the guys mix it up, putting less focus on running designed plays," said Cummings. "We have always provided concrete sets, plays, etc., but some players become so reliant on the Xs and Os in their playbook that they fail to be creative. The best teams that we played in 2011 – Grand Valley, St. Thomas, Westminster and North Dakota State – had athletic players with [high] 'Lacrosse IQs,' and they seemed to recognize opportunities, even if the window was open for a split second. Just letting the guys play, getting to know the personnel and getting the timing down, provided them with an avenue to figure things out on their own."

- Know this Name: Derek Shurson. The senior, known as "Baby D" by his teammates, missed the first half of the 2011 season with a broken collarbone, but when he returned he managed to post 19 points (10g, 9a) in 12 games running at midfield for the Bees. He'll return to his natural attack position in 2012, and hopes to match his numbers from his freshman (30g, 23a) and sophomore (24g, 31a) campaigns.

"We hope to see 50-60 points from him," said Cummings.

- Road Warriors: Over the past three seasons, the Bees have been making a concerted effort to beef up the schedule in order to prepare for the national championship. In the short term, it has been working. SCAD was a No. 11 seed in 2010 while last year they managed to jump up to the No. 9 slot. They've got another solid slate this spring, but they'll have to do it all on the road.

There are three key match-ups against Top 6 seeds from last year's tournament. The Bees face Dayton in Kennesaw, Ga., and travel to Long Island to face Briarcliffe and Davenport. Throw in another neutral site game against an up-and-coming Indiana Tech program that finished the '11 season ranked No. 23, and there is plenty of heft to SCAD's schedule.

"Play the best to be the best," said Cummings. "Getting out during the regular season to play the top out-of-conference teams has been a goal of ours the last few seasons. We shoot to be a Top 5 team every season. Getting our name out there and traveling to the top teams and areas is what we need to do to get recognized."

- Getting that First Win: Being the top dog in their own conference provides a certain level of confidence for the Bees, but that accomplishment was nothing like beating North Dakota State, 10-8, at nationals for the program's first tourney win.

"Believing that we can do it helps instill confidence in the team," Cummings said. "Our back-and-forth battle with North Dakota State was when it really registered that we can play with the top teams, and that SCAD belongs at the national tournament. Ultimately, getting that first 'W' at nationals was what the Bees needed to get over the hump. Teams are now hunting for us, so we need to retain our confidence and play smart lacrosse."

- Verdict: The Bees will be taking that bus ride to Greenville. They'll get some competition for the SELC crown from the likes of Elon and Kennesaw State, but SCAD should get a bid via the AQ or an at-large. The challenge for the Bees will be to grab a workable seed when they arrive. They have the schedule to do that, but it will involve pulling an upset or two.

- News & Notes: SCAD, like several programs in the MCLA Division II (Westminster, Tennessee Wesleyan, Indiana Tech, etc.), is an NAIA varsity program...The defense will be hurt by the graduation of Dan Comite, but Cummings is high on junior poles Cody Hoerauf and Erik Elmquist...Senior Shelton Polka (39g, 20a) and Mike McQuaid (18g, 2a) will be key cogs in the Bees' midfield...Cummings has a Master of Fine Arts degree from SCAD in illustration and was an adjunct professor for four years before becoming the team's full-time coach.

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