April 27, 2009

Making Sense of It All - April 26

By Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Kristin Joyce has been the main cog in the Union offense with 53 goals so far, but she has received plenty of help as the Dutchwomen are on the cusp of grabbing one of the four NCAA regionals in women's Division III.
© Trent Hermann, Carlyn Studios

Who do you have winning the NCAA Women's Division III national tournament?

The safe bet is to tick off one of the usual suspects: Salisbury, Franklin & Marshall, TCNJ or Hamilton. Maybe even Colby this year.

All good teams to be sure, but the best team in the country right now is Union.

The Dutchwomen have rattled off 11 consecutive wins - including a most impressive weekend sweep of No. 6 Hamilton, 14-5, and No. 14 William Smith, 11-5 - and are a lock to earn a bid to the tournament regardless if they win next weekend's Liberty League tournament or not.

You should probably pencil them in to win it because Union is operating on all cylinders right now. The team has used a rash of midseason injuries - there were five starters in street clothes for the Dutchwomen's win over Cortland - to increase its depth and strengthen an on-field rapport that was lacking at the beginning of the season.

"At this point, we've played so many different people," said head coach Jessica Critchlow. "If you look at our stat sheet, we're playing everyone on our roster. I think we took some hits with that in some games, but at this point we have a whole unit that is comfortable playing together. Everyone kind of has a job or role and our on the field chemistry is very good. We have a good sense of ourselves and this is the time you want it."

Despite their recent dominant play, which has also included a rout of Nazareth and a comfortable win over Middlebury, Critchlow had some trepidations heading into this past weekend when she had to face two of the nation's elite teams in less than 24 hours.

"Looking at that at the beginning of the season, you say, ‘Geez, that's tough. Those are two of the biggest games of the year and to play them back-to-back is a rough weekend,'" she said. "Everyone gets a fair shake with the conference and each year you have to deal with those set-ups, and this was our year to take the bullet."

The Hamilton game was a microcosm of what is making the Dutchwomen so successful this season.

The Continentals held Kristin Joyce, who leads Union with 53 goals, to just one marker in the first 40 minutes of action, but other players managed to fill the void. Chelsea Charette posted a natural hat trick in the first half and even defensive midfielder Tory Arnold, who hadn't scored a goal in the first 13 games of the year, netted a pair.

"This is a total team offense and we really don't care who scores," said Critchlow. "The balance is huge because if one team wants to take a player out of the game, you have to have three or four other options."

Beating Hamilton also emphasized what Union has as its last line of defense.

Last year, Cat Ruggiero played in just five games before being sidelined by a severe concussion, but this year she is back at full strength. She made 10 saves against the Continentals, allowing the Dutchwomen to build a 13-1 lead before cruising to the 11-goal win.

"There are three types of goalies out there," said Critchlow. "There are goalies who are going to lose games for you, there are goalies who are going to be neutral and play how your teams plays, and there are goalies who are going to win games. I think Cat falls into the latter category for us."

Union has been particularly strong at home - the losses to F&M and Williams both came on the road by a total of three goals - and should it navigate its way to the Liberty crown, it's a sure bet they will host one of the four NCAA regionals.

If that happens, you better add the Dutchwomen to your short list of title contenders.

Tickets Punched
As this blog goes up, we have five teams who have punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament. On the women's side, Salisbury (CAC), Christopher Newport (USA South), Roanoke (ODAC) and Franklin & Marshall (Centennial) have their orders in hand. On the men's side, Salisbury is the lone team so far with an automatic bid.

Shout Outs
- To Buffalo State for beating Cortland and locking up the host seed for the SUNYAC tournament. The Bengals are now 14-1 and the worst case scenario for them is finishing at 16-2 and being thrown into the at-large pool. They'd be hard to keep out of the NCAAs with that record. And in case you forgot, Buff State lost to the aforementioned Union team by a goal on the road and defeated Division I Niagara. The question will be how a relatively young team can handle the bright lights of the postseason.

- To the McDaniel men. At first glance, the Centennial tourney race appears to be a two-horse one (Gettysburg, Haverford), but don't count out the Green Terror too quickly. Matt Hatton's troops lost in overtime to Haverford, who they play in the first round, 13-12 and also took Washington College to extra time. While they haven't won that one big game yet, they've been darn close on a couple of occasions and could be a spoiler.

- To the Stevens women. With one game left in the regular season on Tuesday, the Ducks are still perfect at 15-0 after dispatching RIT and Alfred this weekend. The lone contest left? It's against Stevens' only ranked opponent: No. 5 College of New Jersey. This intrastate "friendly" will give us a good indicator of how the Ducks might fare in the tournament, but the unblemished mark to this point is worthy of praise.

- To the C.W. Post men. Despite getting over what must have been a rather large mental hurdle by beating NYIT a couple of weeks ago, the Pioneers have not let down. Last week, they posted a workmanlike, 10-5 victory over Mercyhurst and followed that up on Saturday with a 16-5 triumph over No. 7 Molloy. Only No. 9 Dowling remains between Post and a sure-fire NCAA tournament berth.

- To the Drew women. One of the long-shot scenarios I wrote about in my Decoding Pool B blog on Friday was Drew earning one of the independent berths. It involved beating No. 10 Catholic twice in the span of one week. Well, the Rangers are off to a nice start. Drew snapped the Cardinals' 12-game winning streak with an 11-8 win, likely setting up a rematch with Catholic on Saturday. Regardless of the Landmark title game's outcome, I've changed my mind about my previous selections: I think Drew is in and Colorado College is out in Pool B.

- To long-time Richard Stockton coach Dick Rizk. After 18 seasons coaching the Ospreys and over 40 years of teaching lacrosse, Rizk is stepping down at the end of the season. Posting a 137-114 (.546) record at Stockton, Rizk made 11 ECAC tournament appearances in the last 15 years, including a Metro title in 2002. The Ospreys could send Rizk off with something he's never had - an NCAA tourney berth. Stockton is the second seed in the Skyline Conference tourney with a 5-1 record, and its only loss came by a goal to top-seeded Montclair State. Regardless of the outcome, a hearty thanks to Rizk for his contributions to the sport.

Slides & Rides
- The Lock Haven women managed to navigate the PSAC minefield to win the conference title on Saturday, downing defending conference and national champion West Chester in the finals, 13-10. The PSAC was the toughest conference in women's Division II, boasting four ranked teams, which will undoubtedly serve Haven well in the NCAA tournament.

- With the Conference Carolinas title in their pocket and a head-to-head victory over St. Leo, the winner of the Deep South, it's tough to think the Men's NCAA Division II South bid can go to anyone but Limestone. This hasn't been the Saints most dominant season - they have losses to Belmont Abbey and Wingate on their record - but they won the games they needed to. And there will be no surprises if/when Limestone is paired up with Le Moyne in the first round: the Saints lost a neutral site game to the Dolphins, 8-4, on March 7.

- It's been a little while since I've caught up with the MCLA, but it is starting more and more to look like last year: Michigan and everyone else. BYU stunned Chapman two weeks ago and Simon Fraser, currently ranked No. 2, wasn't overly impressive in its win against league rival Oregon. This is going to be a very difficult first go around for the MCLA selection committee as there are some very odd scores (especially in the SELC) and some traditionally strong teams with an unusually high number of losses (UCSB, Colorado State).

- Keep an eye out on Wednesday or Thursday for my first mock bracket for men's and women's Division II and Division III...the Dickinson women gave F&M a good run in the Centennial semifinals, but they peaked at the wrong time. Switch around a couple of early season losses and they'd be contenders for a bid...even with a bunch of quality contenders from numerous conferences, don't be surprised if the NESCAC gets two at-large bids again. The numbers are stacking up very well for them so far...some team other than Ithaca will have to win the Empire 8 for that league to get two bids. I don't think Stevens has enough...Greensboro's loss to Wesley on Saturday may be all she wrote for the Pride in terms of a Pool B bid...What happened to the Messiah men? There was a stretch there when they were always at the top of the MAC and giving strong non-conference teams a run. This year, the Falcons didn't even make the MAC conference tourney...congrats to Castleton for winning in the inaugural NAC women's championship.

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