April 1, 2011

NCAA Division II Women's Lacrosse Notebook: Texas A&M Club Transfer Cooper Shines at Tiffin

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Former Texas A&M club player Melissa Cooper has helped Tiffin double its win total from a year ago already.

Tiffin graduate student Melissa Cooper has made a pretty good first impression in Ohio. With 19 points and 19 assists, the former MVP for Texas A&M's club team is tied for third in Division II in points per game. Tiffin made a bit of a different first impression on Cooper.

"When I first saw her, she said Ohio had a lot of cornfields," said Tiffin coach Colleen Dixon. "She took a chance coming here."

That chance is working out great for Tiffin (4-3), a second year program that has already doubled its win total from a year ago. Cooper has teamed up front with another attacker, sophomore Ali Quast, by way of the more traditional lacrosse training ground of upstate New York, to form Division II's highest scoring tandem. Quast has 32 goals in six games, sharing the Division II lead in goals per game with C.W. Post's Lauren Spagnoletta, and is tied with Cooper and Seton Hill's Ashley White for third in points per game at 6.33.

Quast's improvement is just as dramatic as Tiffin's. Last year she scored 17 goals all season.

"If we didn't have them, things would probably be a little more difficult for us," said Dixon, who took over the Dragons this season. "They're two huge players. Cooper is fun to coach because she has so much knowledge. Ali is so open to learning. I'll tell her something and she'll say 'Wow, that really works.'"

Dixon inherited the two stars from former coach Mark Schreiber, but plans to use the same wide-reaching recruiting philosophy as her predecessor. Tiffin has players from Ohio, New York, New Hampshire, Missouri, Michigan, Texas and Arizona. In building her first recruiting class, Dixon has been scouring tournaments from New York to Indiana.

"I'm trying to find that niche," she said.

Tiffin extended its program-record winning streak to four games with a 26-2 win over fellow Ohio newcomer Urbana last Saturday. Quast had 10 goals in that one, Miller four goals and four assists. Urbana, which has opened the season with 10 straight losses, could take solace in the team on the other side of the field. Last season Tiffin started out with 11 straight losses, never allowing fewer than 17 goals.

One year can make a difference. Five years even more. Tiffin's winning streak was snapped by Notre Dame (Ohio), 15-14 on Wednesday. It was the third straight victory for Notre Dame, which entered Division II last year, but in 2005 became the Cleveland area's first lacrosse team.

Playoffs could look different, but maybe not

While strides made by teams from Ohio to Florida to Colorado continue make the middle of Division II interesting -- and hold intrigue for a future expanded NCAA tournament -- the six teams left standing at the end of year could look very familiar. With conference play underway, here's a look at how the postseason is shaking out in the North.

No. 1 Adelphi (6-0) is the only lock. Barring a collapse, the Panthers' 11-9 win at Le Moyne, coupled with recent dominating wins over Dowling and Merrimack, should be enough to get them in, even if they stumble to C.W. Post, Stonehill or Le Moyne in the Northeast 10 tournament.

Much of the postseason landscape hinges with Stonehill. The sixth-ranked Skyhawks are 8-0, with close wins over Merrimack and Rollins. Stonehill has games remaining against Adelphi (April 9), C.W. Post (April 16) and Le Moyne (7-1), the top three contenders for the other two playoff spots. If the Skyhawks win any of these games, they'll head into the NE-10 tournament favored to reach the NCAAs, though Saturday's home game against New Haven (4-3) will not be easy.

C.W. Post rebounded from its 17-11 loss to Lock Haven with 24-0 thrashing of Bridgeport (0-5) in its ECC opener. The Pioneers lost to Lock Haven last year, but still earned the top seed in the NCAAs by defeating Adelphi and Stonehill. With Le Moyne in Division II this year, Post will likely have to defeat Stonehill or Adelphi again to get in. The Pioneers also have a chance to boost their strength of schedule against No. 7 West Chester on April 14. Staying unbeaten in the other games will be no easy task, with games against Bentley, New Haven, Merrimack, Molloy and Dowling looming. Still, Post has a very good chance at the playoffs.

No. 4 Le Moyne (7-1) is the most likely team to challenge the status quo. The Dolphins play at Stonehill on April 30, and assuming they can survive road trips to Merrimack and New Haven, that game could be win and in.

Merrimack (6-3) lost to Adelphi 25-5 on Wednesday. The Warriors, who lost to Stonehill by only a goal, still have a chance, but they need to treat every game like an elimination game, starting with Saturday's home contest with Le Moyne and continuing through the season finale at C.W. Post.

Merrmiack, New Haven and Southern New Hampshire (5-2) have the added bonus of the Northeast 10 tournament, where the potential for a long run and upsets of Adelphi, Le Moyne and Stonehill mean the playoffs are never out of reach.

Dowling (4-2) and Molloy (4-2) might finish the season ranked in the top 10 and could play spoilers this month. But barring something unexpected, they will be on the outside looking in come May.

In the South, No. 9 Rollins (7-2) has a chance to shake up the establishment when it heads to No. 2 Lock Haven (9-0) on Saturday, but as of right now the region's playoff teams look identical to 2010 with Lock Haven, Limestone (9-0) and West Chester (8-1) as the early favorites.

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