April 26, 2012

WD3 Notebook: 'Wells 10' Won't Back Down

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Despite starting and finishing games two-players down, Courtney Grosser (46 goals, 19 assists) and the Wells Express drew rave reviews from officials and opposing teams during a 3-13 season.
© Wells College 

Looking back, Wells College women's lacrosse coach Kim Morris was able to find some humor in her team playing most of its season with only 10 players.

"We would get small buses so it didn't look silly," Morris said. "We would take big buses and they'd get lost. And of course [the kids] all sat in the back. We only needed four hotel rooms. So we saved some money."

But a situation that could have turned comical ended up downright inspirational at Wells, a liberal arts school of 630 students on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake in Upstate New York.

Due to a variety of factors - graduations, a coaching change, lack of recruiting, small school size - Wells began the season with 11 players. An early injury whittled that number to 10. Yes, Wells began almost every game down two players before the opening draw.

The Express finished at 3-13, but that doesn't begin tell the whole story.

"We've had officials tell us this is the best Wells lacrosse team in all the years they've been officiating," Morris said.

A rival coach called the effort of the Wells 10 one of the best things he'd ever seen on a lacrosse field.

How does a permanently shorthanded team draw rave reviews from officials and coaches alike? Never mind that, how does a team like that even practice? Forget seven-on-seven, Wells was often scrimmaging four-on-four.

"Our biggest thing was we had to face reality," Morris said. "We really couldn't get a whole lot done because we didn't have the numbers. We had to alter every drill. Practices were crazy. The first three weeks were just basics. Teaching them how to cradle. We can't learn the offense yet because we have to learn to pass and catch first. Things you would spend one day on we took a month. Our first couple of games were ugly."

That was to be expected. Half of the team had never played lacrosse before.

"[Those] five I kind of begged into playing," Morris said. "More or less said 'We need players, who wants to play?'"

It took all kinds. Morris, who was hired in July, turned to Wells' cross country team, its field hockey team, its soccer team and its basketball team for reinforcements.

Early practices were heavy on the fundamentals. But Wells was not entirely made up of new players. How would its veterans react to daily doses of Lacrosse 101?

"That was one thing I was worried about at the beginning," Morris said. "Are they just going to be bored? They adjusted very well, working with the girls outside practice. They were great."

In fact, Morris said a few weeks of basic training allowed the returners to refine their games too. The efforts of the veterans were recognized at the end of the season when Sarah Allen, Madeline Bass and Shelby Moszkowicz were all named first-team All-NEAC.

Progress was made with the newcomers as well. Defender Brittany White, a basketball player, was named to the NEAC's third team.

"It's hard to put into words," Morris said. "I wish you could have seen the beginning of the season and then our last game. At the end of the season I said to a couple of them, 'You are now a lacrosse player.'"

Wells lost its final seven games, and finished one game out of the NEAC playoffs. Last week it nearly defeated Medaille (8-7) before falling 22-21, and Canton (2-8) before falling 23-21 in overtime. That's 10 players scoring 21 goals in back-to-back games. Ten players playing straight through until overtime without a break.

"They jogged off the field," Morris said. "We were in such good shape. They were exhausted. A couple said after the game 'I've never played so hard in my life.' I've been coaching for a while. This is the first team I've seen where there were times I just wanted to pick them off the field."

Next year will be easier. Morris plans to have everyone back plus a full batch of recruits. For the first time many of Wells' players will have to compete for playing time.

"It's gonna be a huge adjustment," Morris said. "We're having end of season meetings right now and that's one of our main topics. You have to come in ready to fight for everything next year."

That won't be a problem.

"That makes you work harder knowing you can come out of the game," Morris said. "These girls worked hard even knowing that they were going to play every minute. That's something you can't teach."

Morrisville Shakes up NEAC

There was a change at the top of the NEAC this week as Hillary Hartnett had four goals to lead Morrisville past Keuka, 13-10, on Sunday. It was the first NEAC loss for Keuka since 2010.

Morrisville's victory becomes even more impressive when you note that Keuka (10-2) is currently third in Division III in scoring defense (6.08) and sophomore Maggie Bonafede is fifth in goals per game (3.48).

The NEAC women's lacrosse teams play as associate members of the North Atlantic Conference. With the victory, Morrisville (11-4) earned the right to host the NAC Western Division playoffs. Morrisville will host either Medaille or Penn State-Abington on Saturday. Keuka plays Cazenovia right after. The winners face-off the next day.

The NAC East and West winners will meet on May 5 for an NCAA tournament spot. Castleton State (8-6) is the East's top seed.

Skyline Finale Set

Elsewhere in New York, Farmingdale State (13-1) completed a perfect Skyline regular season Saturday with a 20-0 victory over Sage. The Rams kept rolling in Wednesday's Skyline semifinals with a 21-5 win over Keane.

Farmingdale advances to its first conference championship since 2009, where it will host defending champion Montclair State (12-4), which knocked off first-year program St. Joseph's, 19-9, in its semifinal. Farmingdale defeated Montclair, 13-7, on March 24. Montclair State is the site of this year's Division III Final Four, to be held May 19-20.

Empire Eight of Mind

The Empire Eight should provide plenty of drama in its postseason tournament.

Ithaca (11-3) can wrap up an unbeaten conference regular season with a win over Utica (8-5) on Saturday. There's also a good chance the Bombers enter the Top 20 this week, after their 9-8, non-league victory over No. 19 Hamilton on Tuesday.

Defending Empire Eight champion No. 18 Stevens (9-6) would certainly like another shot at Ithaca. The Ducks fell 8-7 to the Bombers on March 31. However, a Stevens/Ithaca rematch in the championship is not guaranteed. Red-hot St. John Fisher (10-4) has the inside track for the two seed. The Cardinals defeated Stevens, 8-6, on Saturday and have won eight of nine.

Whittier Pulls Upset, Then Pomona-Pitzer Does Too

Moving to the opposite coast, Whittier (6-11) pulled the West's biggest upset with a 15-14, overtime victory over Redlands (13-1). Brooke Winslow delivered the game-winner in the second overtime.

It was the first time Whittier had ever defeated Redlands, and it earned the Poets a home game in the SCAC play-in game against Pomona-Pitzer (7-9). Pomona-Pitzer won that game, 16-9, on Wednesday and will take on top-seeded Redlands on Saturday.

The winner of that faces either Occidental or Claremont-Mudd-Scripps for the SCAC title.

Wittenberg Claims North Coast Top Seed

Wittenberg, picked to finish fifth in the North Coast's preseason poll, earned the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history thanks to a 14-12 victory over defending conference champion Denison on Wednesday. It was Denison's first NCAC loss since 2010.

Alie Marousek had three goals and three assists and Francine Murzynski had three goals and two assists to lead Wittenberg (10-4), which also won 10 games for the first time.

Upsets All Around in Final NESCAC Week

The number of unbeaten Division III teams was cut in half this weekend as Redlands and Trinity both suffered losses. Salisbury (17-0) and Norwich (12-0) are the only remaining unbeatens.

Trinity fell, 7-6, to No. 9 Amherst on Wednesday. Allie Horwitz provided the game-winner on a free position with 3:47 remaining to lead the Lord Jeffs (11-3). Trinity (13-1) had already locked up the NESCAC's No. 1 seed and will host eighth-seeded Bates (7-7) on Saturday. Amherst earns the four seed and will host Bowdoin (10-5) the same day.

Williams (6-10) pulled off a NESCAC shocker on Wednesday as well, defeating Middlebury, 15-14. Emily Whicker won it with 2:16 remaining in the third overtime. It was Williams' second conference win and not enough to qualify for the NESCAC tournament.

Middlebury, which has lost two straight and three of four, had already locked up the NESCAC's third seed and will host Tufts (9-5) on Saturday. Colby (13-1), which only lost to Trinity, is the two seed and will host Hamilton (6-9).

Mark Macyk has covered Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.

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