March 25, 2011

NCAA Division II Women's Lacrosse Notebook: Rollins on Track to Become Major Contender

by Mark Macyk |

Rutgers transfer Marissa Giannerini, now a fifth-year senior, is a two-time Division II All-American for the young Rollins women's lacrosse team.

The latest team to crack the IWLCA's top 10 is also the Division II poll's newest program. No. 10 Rollins has only been a full varsity team since 2008.

Rollins' (6-2) only losses have come to a pair of undefeated teams, top-ranked Adelphi and No. 6 Stonehill. Against Stonehill, the Tars led early in the second half before eventually falling 11-9. It's the third straight season Rollins has hosted Adelphi; Stonehill came down for the second straight year. The Tars' schedule reads like a who's who in Division II. They'll take on Lock Haven, West Chester and Limestone over the next few weeks.

The program's fast growth should come as no surprise. Yes it's eight hours from Limestone, its closest D-II lacrosse foe, but it's 25 minutes from Disney World. While the Northeast was still getting snow this week, it was 80 degrees on Rollins' campus.

"If we can get a kid to visit, we have an excellent shot," said Rollins coach Dennis Short. "Outstanding academics. Our campus is drop-dead gorgeous. We haven't had any kid tell us they didn't like it."

The roster has seen a good deal of turnover -- just three players remain from the inaugural squad -- but Short has built programs before at Albany and Ohio State. He said the third year is when things tend to level off.

Players are showing up in a variety of ways. Take sophomore Sarah Ann Showell. Her classmates at Worcester Prep in Ocean City, Md., Sophie and Anna Tonwnsend, were recruited to Rollins, but the staff hadn't seen her play. Showell came down, loved the school and walked on. She started every game as a freshman.

Graduate student Marissa Giannerini transferred from Rutgers two years ago and showed up in Short's office one day.

"A lot of times you'll know a good one on the first impression," Short said. "I didn't know anything about her, but I could I could tell she was an athlete."

Giannerini entered 2011 as a two-time All-American and scored 97 goals in her two seasons. She leads the team this year with 26 goals and 35 points. Katie Palasz transferred from New England College this season and could become the school's second All-American.

The 2011 roster features players from as far north as Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio, but boasts six Floridians.

"That was part of the five-year plan," Short said. "To make sure we recruit the kids that are here and develop the local and club teams. Our fan base is really our local high school teams. They're outstanding. Sometimes people are a little surprised at our local turnout."

Lacrosse should get much more local for Rollins in the coming years. St. Leo and Florida Southern start Division II play next season. Tampa and Florida Tech are adding men's programs. It's only a matter of time before they have the required four schools to be sanctioned by the Sunshine State Conference, where Rollins' other sports compete.

Said Short: "We're hopeful at least another two will add within another year. ADs are just waiting to see how we do. I think they're nuts. How much more are they waiting to see? You can be pretty competitive in a short amount of time in Division II."

Until then, the Tars will remain competitive on their national schedule, which has them making two trips to Pennsylvania in the next month, to Lock Haven on April 1 and West Chester on April 23.

"No disrespect to the southern teams, but we want to play [the PSAC schools]," Short said. "We want to play the best. From a perception standpoint, it's important to play against those PSAC schools... We take a lot of pride in that we're not traditional. I think it's important for the growth of the game we get teams that aren't from traditional areas. My only concern is if there comes a time where maybe we get too strong, and some teams say they don't want to play us. I hope that doesn't happen, but that's my concern."

NE-10 getting crowded

Rollins moves its attention toward the PSAC, but the two teams to beat the Tars hail from the Northeast-10. Both are unbeaten. Three more NE-10 teams have lost only to unbeatens. Le Moyne has only lost to Adelphi. New Haven only lost to undefeated Limestone, by one goal. Merrimack lost to Limestone and Stonehill, by a combined four goals. Franklin Pierce was unbeaten until Wednesday's NE-10 loss at Bentley.

Adelphi and Stonehill both reached the NCAAs last season and there's a good chance two, and maybe three, conference teams will return. Which teams will become a bit clearer this week. Le Moyne faced its biggest test since moving to Division II and gave Adelphi its tightest contest in 11 months, keeping it close before falling 11-9 on Wednesday.

Merrimack defeated then-No. 10 Dowling last Friday and gets a good conference test Sunday at New Haven. Stonehill and Adelphi both might be undefeated when they meet April 9 on Long Island.

C.W. Post still in control despite loss

C.W. Post remains the favorite to be the North's third playoff team, but after Sunday's 17-11 loss to Lock Haven, the postseason is no longer a slam dunk. Post lost to Lock Haven last year, but rallied to defeat Adelphi and Stonehill and earned the No. 1 seed. With Le Moyne looking formidable, Post will likely need to beat at least one of those teams to ensure a return to the playoffs.

The Pioneers' postseason fate likely hinges on a brutal stretch in late April that features a trip to Stonehill and home games against West Chester, Adelphi and Merrimack, though they can't ignore conference foes Molloy and Dowling.

PSAC powerful

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference has dominated the early polls, with four teams in the top 10. Lock Haven backed that up with its 17-11 victory over C.W. Post on Sunday. It was the first victory in four tries against ranked opponents for the four ranked PSAC schools. West Chester, Mercyhurt and Gannon all fell at Limestone.

The win makes Lock Haven the early favorite in the PSAC. The Eagles enter the bulk of their league schedule this week with trips to East Stroudsburg, Bloomsburg and Slippery Rock before briefly breaking it up to host Rollins on April 1. But Limestone maintains the inside track for the South's top seed.

With Conference Carolinas play about to start, Limestone very likely will not be tested until its April 23 trip to Lock Haven. If Lock Haven survives its league schedule intact, no easy task, a No. 1 seed and first round bye should be on the line in that game.

Of course, Lock Haven won't look past its conference. Last season the Eagles beat C.W. Post for the first time, then fell at Mercyhurst by one goal in overtime a week later. They still entered the tournament as the South's No. 1 seed before falling to West Chester again by one goal in overtime.

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