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January 28, 2011

The Weekender: Springfield Plays on Borrowed Time

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

Springfield is so deep in their midfield this year that Mike Delia, who Pride coach Keith Bugbee says is his best lacrosse player, will be moving up front to quarterback the team's offense. This moves leaves little doubt Springfield will make the NCAAs, but will its weak conference allow it to avoid another second round exit?
© Roy Chambers

There was a time when the Pilgrim League was the second-best Division III men's lacrosse conference in New England. A league comprised of teams that have no organic conferences of their own, the Pilgrim had a strong blend of teams from all over the region.

But now, the league is crumbling.

Not only has the competition level dropped dramatically due to conference migration and a general downswing by many members, but now the Pilgrim is faced with NCAA insolvency. Norwich and Lasell left for the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC), giving the Pilgim just six programs – one less than the minimum to keep an NCAA tournament automatic qualifier.

Fortunately for Springfield, the lone remaining shining star in the league and the recipient of the last three Pilgrim AQs, there is a two-year grace period through 2012 before the league – and the Pride – has to make some important decisions.

"We could add to the Pilgrim or we could move to a different league. It's kind of up in the air," said Keith Bugbee, who enters his 28th year as Springfield's head coach. "Or we could become an independent."

While this uncertainty will be in the back of Bugbee's mind – as well as Springfield assistant athletic director Craig Poisson, who is the commissioner of the Pilgrim – it could be overshadowed by the promise the Pride has for the 2011 season.

"I think this could be one of my better teams," said Bugbee, who has a career record of 232-139, 13 NCAA tournament appearances and one national championship. "We have a lot of depth, more than we've had for a while. We're really veteran in the midfield, which will be pretty strong, and we're pretty veteran at the close defense and d-middie positions. In the middle of the field we're good."

Bugbee believes one of the key moves this season will be pushing junior Mike Delia -- a former high school All-American out of Shoreham-Wading River -- from midfield to attack. Delia, whom Bugbee called his best lacrosse player, had 15 goals and 18 assists in 2010.

"I think Mike Delia is going to be excellent," Bugbee said. "He's going to be the quarterback of our offense."

The Pride lost its top two scorers on the attack unit, but Bugbee is confident he has the horses to fill that void. The only real question mark is in goal, where four freshmen will compete for the starting spot.

With all of the pieces in place for a strong season, Springfield shouldn't be too worried about making the NCAAs. The Pride is once again prohibitive favorites to win the Pilgrim, although it must get past an ascendant Wheaton team. But the path from there could be perilous.

The last three seasons, Springfield's second-round opponent has been either Cortland (twice) or Salisbury, which resulted in prompt postseason exits.

"I'd like to see them after one more round," Bugbee said with a chuckle.

To do this, Springfield not only needs a decent schedule, but also win several of those clutch games that will move them down the bracket and away from the big dogs. This is where the Pilgrim dilemma comes in.

Because the league games aren't going to register well with the ranking committee, the Pride needs to stack its non-conference schedule. Since most teams move to their conference slates later in the season, this forced Springfield to front-load its schedule. This season, Bugbee has lined up No. 15 Nazareth, No. 18 Endicott, No. 5 Middlebury and No. 19 Bowdoin, all before April.

"That's why I've always tried to play Western New England late in the year, as late as possible, and I've got Bowdoin and Amherst sprinkled in there a little bit," said Bugbee, who will play WNEC on April 5 this season. "Certainly Babson and Wheaton give us good games, but there are a couple of others that aren't as tough. It's a little challenging."

They are not alone in the challenge. Cabrini is another team that battles the same issue in the CSAC – a strong early-season slate that transitions into a relatively weak conference season. Like Cabrini's plight, until the Pilgrim gets stronger or the Pride sweeps up its non-conference schedule, it will be difficult to earn a seed that doesn't have a huge obstacle waiting in the second round.

"Four years in a row we play to a one-goal game with Nazareth early in the year," Bugbee said. "We've had a lot of one-goal games with Endicott, and last year was a one-goal game with Middlebury. If we can win a couple of those games and win the league, we're just hoping we'll help ourselves when it comes to the seeding."

If not, the clock could be ticking on the Pilgrim League.

Changes haven't dampened Duluth's aspirations
Not only has Minnesota-Duluth lost two first team MCLA All-Americans, but the architect of the entire program, Rob Graff, has retired to family life. Surely this has to be a transition year for the Bulldogs.

"You can think that," said new Duluth head man Frank Clark, somewhat defiantly. "I hope everybody thinks that."

As much as Graff's ample presence will be missed on some levels, it's not as if Duluth is starting from scratch. Clark has been the offensive coordinator for nine years now, and defensive coordinator Sam Litman has been around for three. Just because he's calling the shots doesn't mean Clark has any intention of re-inventing the wheel.

"There are a lot of dynamics and variables that change every year, and this is just another variable that is changing," Clark said. "You might see different approaches, but I think the captain and leadership change will have just as much impact on our program. If we totally cleaned house and had a new coaching staff, this would be a completely different conversation. But we're not going to change it just for change's sake."

Not to say Duluth will attempt to stay completely static.

Brandon Nispel will take the reins of the midfield from All-American Dan Pitzl, and Clark said the unit is deeper than the program has had in years. The graduation of All-American Charlie Nesser on defense leaves a void, but rookie Kyle Mork – who hails from the same high school (Totino Grace, Minn.) as Nesser – can soften that loss. Ryan Butts, who transferred in from Sacred Heart, should help on attack.

"There are a few things that we're tweaking, but we always tweak things every year," Clark said. "You can't stay the same and keep growing. As far as culturally, I won't expect too much of a change there."

We'll find out in Denver.

Games this weekend

After a one-game appetizer last weekend, the MCLA expands its schedules this week. Below is a list of the action, highlighted by No. 5 Florida State against No. 20 Texas in New Orleans on Saturday night.

FRIDAY

Harding at Centenary, 7 p.m. CST
No. 20 Texas at LSU, 8 p.m. CST

SATURDAY

Georgia Southern at Kennesaw State, 12 p.m.
Trinity (Texas) at St. Edward's, 1 p.m. CST
Reinhardt at North Florida, 1 p.m.
Harding at Tulane, 1 p.m. CST
Occidental at Pepperdine, 1 p.m. PST
Concordia (Calif.) at Cal Lutheran, 2 p.m. PST
Baylor at Rice, 3 p.m. CST
Texas State at TCU, 4:30 p.m. CST
UC Davis at UC Santa Cruz, 7 p.m. PST
No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 20 Texas, 7:30 p.m. CST (at New Orleans)

SUNDAY

Tulane at Centenary, 11 a.m. CST
Citadel at Furman, 2 p.m.
No. 5 Florida State at Auburn, 3 p.m.

Slides & Rides

- When I spoke with Geneseo coach Jim Lyons this fall, he pinpointed the void created by All-American goalie Dennis Costanza as a question mark this spring. It appears he has gone a long way toward erasing that punctuation. Lyons confirmed that Ryan Zaremba, a former high school All-American out of West Islip who played at Army Prep last year, has enrolled at Geneseo for the spring. Zaremba was ticketed to play for West Point, but opted out and headed upstate. "I think he could be an All-American as a freshman," said Lyons, who has three other Division I transfers coming in this year. It's good news for the Knights, but another question will continue to linger over the program: can Geneseo beat Cortland?

- If you didn't see it earlier this week, I posted a lengthy story on Dayton head coach Charlie Mark...The kick-off for the MCLA pick 'em contest with Nick Schooler will be on Feb. 9...Michigan defensive coordinator Ken Broschart and wife Keekan welcomed daughter Hadley Emma Broschart earlier this week.


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