March 18, 2011

Dowling Finds Place in Long Island's Crowded Division II Landscape

by Mark Macyk |

Cassandra Cronin, an All-American last year, has 14 points in two games, both wins for 10th-ranked Dowling.

Long Island is 118 miles long. Dowling has proven that's enough space for three top-10 women's lacrosse programs.

Adelphi and C.W. Post sit atop the latest IWLCA Division II poll. This tends to happen. They've combined to win six of the last 10 NCAA championships. But when C.W. Post took home its last title in 2007, Dowling didn't even have a team. Now the Golden Lions are ranked No. 10.

"It's tough being on Long Island and having a lot of talent and starting it up and competing right away," said Dowling coach Kerri McCabe. "You bring them in and tell them they can be the foundation of something big. We can make ourselves a name behind their names. "

Dowling, now in its fourth season, is making a name for itself. The names behind that name have been along for the entire ride, freshmen who took a chance on a new program four years ago and now find themselves as seniors on a team with a growing national reputation.

Cassandra Cronin was an All-American last season; she's started the year with 14 points in two games, both Golden Lions' victories. Kelly Cefalu came back from an ACL injury and already has seven goals. Brianna Falese, now a grad student, was second in Division II in draw controls last season and already has 35 this season. They've all started since they were freshmen.

Dowling's growth has not been typical. The Golden Lions went 10-5 in their inaugural season, then 9-4 and 11-6. This season, expectations are higher than ever.

Goalie Rachel Goldstein, another four-year starter, has been blogging the season on Dowling's website. On it she summed up the team's ultimate goal, the NCAA championship, comparing it to knight's quest for the Holy Grail.

The quest has gone smoothly so far. The Golden Lions followed a season-opening 23-10 victory over Saint Anselm with a 22-12 win at Georgian Court. The road gets treacherous from here.

"Hopefully we're gaining confidence," McCabe said. "Our team has always been kind of humble. I have to reinforce that you guys are good and have to get some swagger."

Dowling has a chance to earn some swagger with four straight Northeast 10 games, beginning Friday at Merrimack and continuing with games at Bentley, home for Adelphi and at New Haven.

Dowling lost to Merrimack by one last season, the first of three one-goal losses against ranked foes.

"Those tend to haunt you," McCabe said. "This day and age, you lose one or two games and you're out."

Lucky the seniors have some help. Junior Brooke Witowski has seven goals and nine assists and was just named the ECC Player of the Week. Nicolle Moran transferred from Division I Stony Brook and had four goals and two assists in her debut. Freshman Samantha Stavish had three goals against Georgian Court.

Said McCabe: "Now people know about us, and we're on the map. Now I'm getting those recruits I wasn't getting four years ago. It's, 'Alright, maybe you can come in and maybe we can beat Post, Adelphi. Be the first to do that.' It's tough."

It won't get easier. Dowling takes on West Chester and Stonehill in April.

The crazy thing about Dowling's schedule is it might actually hurt the teams' dream of the NCAA tournament and a shot at the title game. Only three teams from each region qualify, so a non-league loss to a team like Adelphi or Stonehill could be devastating. The Lions aren't looking to soften the schedule.

"You've got to beat them to get in," McCabe said. "We don't need any cakewalks. If we lose to Stonehill, then Stonehill deserves to go. If you lose a big game, you've got to win a big game somewhere else. We're at the point where every game is big."

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