April 13, 2010

Centenary: Operating With a Dose of Reality

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Kiti Ovaskainen (above) and Megan Mars give Centenary plenty of offensive punch, but it will be the Cyclones defense that will have to carry the heavy lifting against Cabrini on Wednesday.
© Centenary Sports Info

Centenary women’s coach John McCloskey is a realist.

Even though the Cyclones are 10-0 and 5-0 in the Colonial States Athletic Conference, McCloskey knows he’ll need a little assistance when Centenary hosts Cabrini – the reigning CSAC champion – on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ll play as hard as we can for 60 minutes, and that will be that,” said McCloskey, in his typically laconic way. “To say that we are talented enough to just slash it out with them wouldn’t be accurate. We’re going to need some help. We’re going to need them to be off their game.”

He’s right. While Cabrini is only 6-5 on the year, the Cavaliers have played a far stiffer schedule than the Cyclones. Cabrini easily has the potential to defeat Centenary by the same 23-10 score they did in ’09.

McCloskey is a realist because he’s been around long enough to realize what he has and, perhaps more importantly, what he lacks.

The head coach for the Lehigh men for 18 years, McCloskey ran into just about every situation a coach could face, racking up 136 wins along the way. In many ways, competing in the non-scholarship world of the Patriot League for so long has uniquely prepared him to build a program in women's Division III. While there are no scholarships in D-III, some schools operate with far more resources, tradition and academic prowess than others.

“I’m finding that recruiting in Division III is tough,” said McCloskey.

There are only 17 players on the Centenary roster with varying levels of lacrosse proficiency. The offensive end is in pretty good shape. Seniors Megan Mars (63g, 17a) and Kiti Ovaskainen (44g, 27a) have put up large numbers after just 10 contests. The defensive end has held up so far even though three of the four back-liners had never played the sport before arriving at the Hackettstown, N.J., campus.

Goalie LeslieAnn Pritchard is one of those neophytes. She came out for the team her sophomore year as a field player, but was converted to goalie last spring, where she finished with a 7-5 record. This year, in addition to the 10-0 record, Pritchard has a 5.86 goals against average and a 54.7 save percentage.

Those numbers will be severely tested by Cabrini, which will be followed by two other tough CSAC match-ups against Marywood and Gwynned-Mercy.

“That will be the tale of the tape for the next few games: how are defense holds up,” said McCloskey. “She was a starter, but she had never played the game before. We have a lot of kids that we just develop. It’s been the way it’s been going.”

Due to the low numbers and the relative inexperience of most of the players, McCloskey has altered his coaching approach.

“We don’t have a lot of kids, so when we go into practice we can’t scrimmage a lot,” he said. “You can only do so many drills over and over again. I haven’t tried to do too much and what we do, we do fairly well. Maybe in the past at different programs I had a little bit more to work with, but now we’re probably as basic and fundamental as I’ve ever been. We have a plan, but we’re just playing. I’m not over-coaching.”

Part of his minimalist tack is avoiding talk about the perfect start to the season.

“I don’t even touch it. I don’t even go there,” said McCloskey. “It has been a very peculiar season. We’ve kind of stayed with the same thing all the time and it’s worked. Sometimes coaches tinker with things and I haven’t tinkered with much at all.”

The decision to eschew talk about the 10-0 season is based on the fact it is unlikely to survive past Wednesday. It’s just being realistic. But being realistic means you don’t have to apologize for what you’ve accomplished.

"No matter what, 10-0 is 10-0,” said McCloskey. “The schedule is what it is. We’ve never purported to be The College of New Jersey. We play who play and we’ve done well with it.”

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