April 14, 2010

UnCensered: Alumni Bromance Only Goes So Far

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

Arriving at the Haverford-Dickinson game a couple hours early two weeks ago,  you might have wondered  why these dudes with burgeoning love handles, corporate haircuts and practice pennies were on the field playing lax.

Weren’t two top-20 Division III squads supposed to be duking it out? Had the number of teams joining the sport’s largest division so diluted the talent base that even players in the better programs couldn’t string together two passes in a row?

Of course, if you gave the game more than a cursory glance, you would quickly realize that this was no normal mid-season Centennial Conference throwdown, but instead the second-annual Dickinson vs. Haverford alumni game.

And it was pretty much what you’d expect from a bunch of guys whose skill sets have deteriorated and who stay coordinated by managing multiple Internet tabs and data on Microsoft Excel. Lots of dropped balls and missed passes. The defense talking less about who was the second slide and more about how awkward it was hanging out on campus the previous night. Not to mention everyone calling out that one guy who was going a little harder than everyone else.

Not surprisingly, the alumni experience is different than the four games I played against the Red Devils as a Haverford undergraduate. I mean, conference rivals that recruit the same kids and whose games are usually decided by a goal or two just aren’t going to get along on the field. I vividly remember during my sophomore year, when a teammate of mine made a gas-pumping gesture at some Dickinson defenseman who had hit him a little high, playing up the fact that Haverford was ranked a couple spots ahead on some arbitrary computer-generated college ranking.  A year later, I checked a Dickinson attackman long enough after a play that he called me some names that would make Rick James blush.

But here we were now, willing and eager to drive the couple of hours down the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Haverford -- getting all nostalgic about watching "Vision Quest" on that roadtrip one year -- to play the Dickinson alumni and relive our glory years together.

Regardless, we had a blast. This happened despite the fact that of our 10 players, just two were offensive threats (although I will give a shoutout to Matt Handel, a lifelong d-mid who managed to hit top shelf on an EMO), and we were unceremoniously crushed. By the end of the game, though, the two teams took pictures together, filled each other in on what we were all doing, and exchanged tips on the Carlisle grub scene.

That’s the nature of our sport. Call some kid a punk during a heated game, and the next thing you know, you’re sitting across from him at a desk or reminiscing about the same recruiting trip you took as high school seniors. And I know this is also the case for lacrosse players in every division and from every conference. I’m sure you could make an All-Ivy team from just about every Wall Street bank in New York. And I’ve heard coaches amicably joke about plays that they ran before I was born.

But as enjoyable as the alumni game was, when Haverford and Dickinson suited up for the main event, the alums went their separate ways to root for their respective squads. Why ruin a good thing? We were going to cheer for our team, they were going to cheer for their team, and no amount of alumni goodwill was going to change that.   

It was certainly painful to watch Haverford squander a four-goal lead in the fourth quarter to a very good Dickinson team with a great faceoff guy and goaltender. (I think when I announced around a bunch of Dickinson parents after star junior attackman Max Hjelm’s second goal that he had his own apparel line, it upset our collective karma.) Still, the loss didn’t bother me as much, because I knew I was surrounded by former teammates to commiserate with—teammates who in the end have made the time I’ve spent on and around this game worth it.

And maybe because I knew those Dickinson guys probably felt similarly.
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Odds and Odds

Have to admit I was pretty pumped for No. 1-ranked Virginia against No. 2-ranked North Carolina this past weekend. I can’t remember the last time I heard the lacrosse media so giddy about a potential one-on-one battle than the Billy Bitter-Ken Clausen duel. (I’m still partial to the John Glatzel-Connor Gill ’02 tussles. Seriously, when I turned on my TV last Saturday, I half-expected to see Ali-Frazier with sticks.

Alas, one plodding defensive game and a blowout later, I guess you could say I was bit…deflated?

I’ll say this about Virginia. They are supremely talented at every position, and downright scary when they are clicking. I also think Virginia’s defense played solid, and I liked how when they guarded Bitter, they let him move up the field instead of letting him inside roll. (They did this with Josh Coffman and Mikey Powell at Syracuse back in the day).

Still, the Cavaliers have problems putting an entire game together. I don’t know whether it’s a lack of a leadership or discipline on offense, a fatigue issue, or something else, but I have a feeling it could to catch up with them sooner or later. And if Bitter’s head hadn’t met Bray Malphrus' stick, this game may have been different.

As for Carolina, the Tar Heels’ defense is really, really good. Keeper Madalon impressed me. Flanagan is arguably the best defender in the game. And if I’m going to channel Jay Bilas, “I like Jarvis’ length.” UNC’s other defender, Charlie McComas, is also really talented, but might have had some cobwebs after he got hit in the first quarter. (I mean, why overplay Stanwick in transition and get ESPN’d?) On offense, I think Dunster is as good a dodger as there is in Division I, but with senior midfielder Sean Delaney (shoulder) and Bitter out of the lineup, it showed. Opportunistic attackmen can only take you so far against a team like UVA. Michael Burns impressed me at the faceoff "X."

Man, I thought Princeton played Syracuse exactly the wrong way. There’s three things you have to do if you’re playing the Orange: guard picks well from behind the cage, not give up too many unsettled  situations to Jeremy Thompson off a faceoff, and make the Orange really earn its points in six-on-six. No one has the sticks to compete with these guys in a full-field transition game. I thought the Tigers were completely outclassed in this regard. Offensively, I know the Orange defense is stingy, but I’ve never seen Jack McBride (and cousin Chris for that matter) shut down like that.

I’m tired of talking about Syracuse six-on-six woes. They shut me up for the week and are playing inspired, aggressive and confident on both ends of the field.

Joel Censer is a 2008 graduate of Haverford College, where he was an All-American defenseman and helped lead the Fords to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament. We found the photo (above right) courtesy of HaverfordLacrosse.com. Those were the days, Joel. Those were the days.

Comment below and check LMO each week for more "UnCensered" musings.


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