April 16, 2009

Fairfield, Canisius Play for MAAC's No. 1 Seed

by Ken McMillan | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Chelsea Martinez has 15 goals in the last three games for surging Canisius.

This lacrosse season has shaped up pretty much as Fairfield women's coach Mike Waldvogel envisioned from the start.

"We were expected to do pretty well,'' Waldvogel said. "I thought we would end up playing Canisius for the regular-season championship, and then Marist and Manhattan in the final four."

Fairfield (11-2) and Canisius (8-7) are both 4-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with two weekend games remaining. The winner of Friday's 3:30 p.m. matchup in Connecticut will clinch the regular-season title and top seed in next week's MAAC tourney. The defeated will lose critical momentum but may have another crack at the champ in the playoffs.

Both teams are playing well of late. Fairfield has won six in a row and 11 of its last 12 -- only Ivy League teams Yale and Dartmouth have handed the Stags losses this season. Canisius has won three in a row and four of its past five, and comes off a nine-day break prior to the MAAC showdown on Friday.

"Things are going well right now,'' said Canisius coach Scott Teeter. "We're finally peaking and I think we're peaking at the right time. I think the big difference now is we're scoring goals. We've been a little bit up and down this year, playing for the whole 60 minutes. If we played for a whole 60 minutes, we will be successful.''

The Stags own the top offense (15.5 goals, sixth in nation) and defense (9.9 goals, 27th in nation) in the league. Canisius has the second-best defense (10.5) and fourth-ranked offense (11.9), although the Griffins are averaging almost 19 goals over the past three games.

Fairfield has two of the finest goal scorers in the nation in Rebecca White (43 goals) and 2008 MAAC Offensive Player of the Year Kristen Coleman (40), but the Stags also have more balance with seven players producing at least 14 goals and 20 points. Erin Rigby has 27 goals and 10 assists.

On defense, Lauren Chatnik has a 9.29 goals against average and .449 save percentage, numbers Waldvogel argues would be better if he hadn't turned his lineup over to reserves once Fairfield get comfortable leads.

"Everyone is contributing and playing their role," said Waldvogel, a Hall of Famer who is at the helm of his first women's team after a career spanning three decades as the men's coach at Yale. "That's what we talked about, playing as a team rather than individually.''

Canisius also has some scoring depth. Chelsea Martinez has 15 goals in her last three games to reach 48. Ashley Gray also has 15 goals in the last three outings and four assists, raising her totals to 39 goals and 52 points. Bret Poissant has earned the hot hand with nine goals in the last three games.

Canisius is healthier than at any time of the season. Taylor Gray has played in the last seven games since ACL surgery, with a goal and 11 assists in the past three games. Brianne Laffey had seven goals and 25 points before breaking her foot -- she met with doctors Wednesday

The offensive surge has been helped with a defense that has held the last three foes to 25 total goals.

"Our team defense has stepped up," Teeter said. "We're still dominating the draw circle and we're getting the 50-50 balls. We can take care of the ball better."

The game features two teams that like to get the ball up and down the field fairly quickly, though you could expect Canisius to play a little more deliberately at times with set plays. Fairfield likes to play more zone defense and force its foes to alter its offensive style. Like Fairfield, Canisius likes to play aggressively on defense -- the Griffins force 11.8 turnovers per match; Fairfield causes 9.8.

Both coaches agree the game could turn into a bit of a chess match with changes in personnel and style throughout the contest.

While the impending MAAC tournament will determine which team moves on to the NCAA tournament, both teams want that MAAC regular-season title as well.

"I think it's real big," Waldvogel said. "It's big for our momentum. The goal from the beginning was to win our championship, get into the [MAAC] tournament and get into the NCAAs. We're moving in that direction."

"We're going to throw everything at them," Teeter said. "To win the MAAC championship, someone has to beat Fairfield. I think our nonconference schedule -- we played four teams that have been ranked at one time or another in the top 20 -- will prepare us for this. Fairfield won't give us anything we haven't seen this year."

Canisius closes the season at Marist on Sunday, while Fairfield hosts Niagara. Iona College, in New Rochelle, N.Y., will host the MAAC tournament April 24-26.

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