October 3, 2013

30 in 30: Will Engineers' Labor Pay Off in 2014?

by Mark Macyk LaxMagazine.com

In the spirt of Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, which calls its teams the Engineers, do the math.

RPI coach Leslie Delano has an almost five-month old daughter sitting at home. On May 11, RPI, which had never even reached an NCAA tournament when Gettysburg won it all in 2011, shocked Gettysburg in the NCAA second round. One day later, on Mother’s Day, RPI nearly did it again before falling to Middlebury in the quarterfinals.

That would make Delano, according to the coach herself, “12 months pregnant” that weekend. She was joking, but was indeed approaching her due date. Still, had her team knocked off Middlebury and crashed the Final Four, there was no way she'd miss it.

Delano had scheduled a Caesarean section for the day after the quarterfinals, just in case the Engineers needed to make the trip down to Stevenson. They nearly did. RPI led, 6-5, at halftime, before Middlebury, the experienced postseason team with five NCAA championships, rallied to reach its second straight final four.

“The Middlebury coaches were telling me they had a great have a hospital around the corner,” Delano said. “It didn’t take anything away from the game. I don’t get nervous about surgeries.”

That they were still playing so close to the due date was a surprise, but not really to the team. It was a culmination of a process. Each year the Engineers built on the season before it. Goals got loftier. The team got better. Delano attributes that to personal maturity on her end, and the dedication of the players allowing her to be more discerning while recruiting.

The players have a different theory: Pregnant coaches are magic.

Being Engineers, they had evidence to support this claim.

RPI finally reached double digit wins in 2011, completing its best season four months before Delano gave birth to her son. They returned the next fall hoping for more.

“My kids are like, ‘Coach are you gonna get pregnant again?’” Delano said. “I said, ‘No you guys are gonna have to do it on your own.’”

Which they did. The 2012 season brought RPI its first-ever Liberty League title and its first trip to the NCAA tournament, where the Engineers lost to Messiah by 10 goals.

“We didn’t really lament that loss,” Delano said. “It was a driving force the next summer. In that huddle we said, ‘Screw it. We’re going further next year.’”

Which, of course, they did, going 16-4, with a pregnant coach roaming the sidelines. But, regardless of what the players think, it wasn’t magic.

“The amount of work they do in the offseason equates to any Division I program,” Delano said. 

RPI’s players are constantly watching film, not just of themselves or their opponents, but of Division I men and women, looking for ways to improve.

That’s why even though Delano is not with child this fall, and even though RPI graduated a talented senior class, led by All-American goalie Allie Arnal, the goals are higher than ever.

Arnal spent much of last season making sure the transition to goalie Erin Amarello, aka "Ammo," would be as smooth as possible.

“Allie would come to me if we get up by a certain amount and say, ‘Can you pull me and put Ammo in,’” Delano said. “[Arnal]’s graduation changes the way we play, but it doesn’t diminish anything.”

And on offense the Engineers will offer a tough equation for defenses to solve. Meg Colitz, RPI’s leading scorer from 2011, is back from an ACL injury. Erin Riley, who transferred in from UMass before last season, is looking even better this fall. Rachel Scofield, RPI’s single-season assist leader, and a player who has “many tricks up her sleeve,” is also using that RPI trick of getting better eacg year.

That’s why RPI’s chalkboard, which in recent seasons read: “Win the Liberty League” or “Make the NCAA tournament,” now shows just two words: “Final Four.”

It’s a realistic goal. Magic baby or not. 

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