November 5, 2010

Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.

With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.


Dolphins' Move to Division II Opens Doors

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Le Moyne midfielder Nerissa Barzee secures possession off the draw in a 2009 game against Oregon.

© Greg Wall

For the Le Moyne College women’s lacrosse team, reclassifying from NCAA Division I to Division II had to be the right decision. How did they know?

No one left. Not for lacrosse, anyhow.

Nine women arrived at the Syracuse, N.Y., campus as freshmen in 2007-08 ready to join a team coming off its fourth NCAA Division I tournament appearance in five years. And though Le Moyne has since lost its associate membership with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), changed head coaches and officially ended the debate about going Division I in all sports, eight of those women -- now seniors -- reported in the fall.

One player left after her sophomore year for art school. Everyone else stayed.

“Our team is very unified,” said co-captain Katlin Walker, the team's top defender. “I was not surprised that no one decided to leave.”

Thanks to an NCAA waiver that will make the Dolphins postseason-eligible in 2011, Walker and senior classmates Rebekah Elmer, Nerissa Barzee, Mia Valletta, Leah Lazarz, Maureen Golembiewski, Michelle Phillips and Lauren Crary return as the core of a team that’s ready to contend immediately for a Division II championship.

A team that just last spring played the likes of Stanford, Florida and Boston College.

“I never looked at it as though we were changing divisions,” Walker said. “Division II has just as good players as Division I. Being able to compete for a championship of any sort is definitely something I’m looking forward to.”

Although Le Moyne has operated at the Division I level since starting women’s lacrosse in 1994, the college decided after a three-year exploratory period to align all of its sports (including baseball, the only other Division I program) with Division II and the Northeast-10 Conference.

The Dolphins soon got over the perceived competitive stigma of the move and embraced the doors it opened. They were, after all, the only non-conference-affiliated team left in Division I.

“We were competitive in Division I and we were happy in Division I,” said second-year head coach Beth Hewitt, “but the fact that we were playing independently was always a struggle.”

Le Moyne went 9-6 in 2010. But ever since the MAAC outlawed it as an associate conference member in 2007 (a new policy required that associate members have Division I membership for their entire sports programs), each season met an uninspiring end.

“It’s not fun knowing you don’t have playoffs. It just gets old after a while,” said Barzee, the team’s other captain and a defensive wing. “We want to be able to push ourselves for playoffs. We usually ended in April. I want to end up in May.”

Le Moyne dabbled in the Division I discussion beginning in 2008. The debate went national when the Dolphins’ men’s basketball team stunned then-No. 25 Syracuse in a November 2009 preseason game that set the blogosphere on fire. But fiscal and competitive concerns prevailed over sentiment.

“Freshman year, when all this started happening, we had team meetings about whether we wanted to be Division I or Division II. Coming out of high school and thinking we were going to compete in a conference as D-I, we wanted stay Division I,” Walker said. “But after going through three years being a Division I independent team, we realized being Division I isn’t the most important thing. Going to Division II is good for our program.”

Le Moyne need not look far to know just how good it can be in Division II. The Dolphins’ men’s lacrosse team has won three NCAA championships since 2004 with a similar makeup of almost entirely Central and Western New York players.

Two-time-defending NCAA Division II women’s lacrosse champion Adelphi, meanwhile, realigned with the Northeast-10 last year. Just as Panthers head coach Joe Spallina has excelled in providing opportunities for standout players from Long Island to stay close to home and be big fish in a small pond, Hewitt, a Liverpool, N.Y., native, hopes to mine big-time talent from her backyard.

“We are definitely still going after Division I-caliber athletes,” Hewitt said.

Le Moyne has already become a haven for former UMass player Brittany Brigandi. A high school standout for Christian Brothers Academy, Brigandi earned first team All-CNY honors while setting Section III records for goals in a game (12) and season (121). She had 10 goals and four assists as a freshman at UMass in 2009, but wanted to try a school that was smaller and closer to home.

Brigandi transferred to Le Moyne and had an immediate impact. She led the Dolphins with 29 goals in 2010, despite missing six games due to a broken bone in her right foot.

More upstate New Yorkers will see Le Moyne as a viable alternative, Walker said, with conference and national championships within grasp.

“Division I or Division II,” she said, “a lot of players will realize Le Moyne has a lot to offer.”


Team: Le Moyne
2010 Record: 9-6 (Division I)
2010 in Review: Beth Hewitt, a former All-American player at the University of North Carolina who came to Le Moyne after a three-year stint as an assistant coach at Oregon, led the Dolphins to a 9-6 mark in their last Division I campaign. It included a midseason, seven-game winning streak.

Goodbye… Jackie Lundblad (19g, 5a), the only significant contributor not returning for the Dolphins, who bring back nine of their top 10 scorers from 2010.

Hello… Victoria Nies and Kathleen Conese, two CNY standouts who figure to push for playing time in the spring. “Tory Nies is a local kid from JD (Jamesville-DeWitt), a midfielder who’s really, really strong physically,” Hewitt said. “Kathleen Conese is another local kid who’s going to be an attacker for us. They’re both really athletic kids. Both of them could absolutely be playing Division I, but wanted to stay closer.”

Offseason Developments: The NCAA waived the standard two-year reclassification period in August to allow Le Moyne to compete for postseason championships in its first Division II campaign in 2011. “We have a chance now to make a name for our school and program, our players and coaching staff,” Hewitt said. “We want a shot to get more national exposure, have a shot at a conference championship year in and year out and, hopefully, a bid to NCAAs.”

Big Question: Where will Le Moyne fall in the Northeast-10 Conference pecking order? Adelphi figures to roll out a squad that’s potentially better than the one that has dominated Division II the last two seasons. Stonehill took the Panthers to OT in the NE-10 final. Merrimack went 12-3, losing only to Stonehill (twice) and Adelphi. If the Dolphins are serious about winning now, they’ll need to steal a win or two from the conference frontrunners. (Detroit Mercy is the only Division I opponent on Le Moyne’s 2011 schedule.)

Fall Schedule: Le Moyne has concluded the competitive portion of its fall schedule and will continue individual workouts until preseason. The Dolphins scrimmaged Division I foes Colgate, Albany, Binghamton and Niagara. “We were stronger than ever in fall ball,” said senior midfielder Nerissa Barzee.

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