Can St. Mary's Keep the CAC a 2-Bid League?
The Capital Athletic Conference has been a two-bid league to the NCAA men's tournament for years. Ever since 2009, when Villa Julie metamorphosed into Stevenson, the Mustangs and Salisbury single-handedly turned the CAC into a power conference. But what now?
With Stevenson gone, it appears that the CAC is destined to revert back to its former role of being simply an AQ league. Or is it? Could St. Mary's be ready to step into the void left by the Mustangs?
The Seahawks play a non-conference schedule that is quietly one of the best in the country. It starts Sunday against No. 11 Roanoke, but then continues with contests against No. 8 Dickinson, No. 15 Washington College, No. 10 Denison, Ohio Wesleyan and Goucher — the last five of which were tournament teams in 2012.
Seahawks head coach Chris Hasbrouck certainly knows there are no guarantees.
"Just because Stevenson moved on, it doesn't mean the door opens wide for us to step through," he said. "We've got to be ready and prepared for every game."
Still, there's a belief within the St. Mary's program that the Seahawks could move up the pecking order. Not only did they record a comfortable win over Dickinson last year, but led Denison in the fourth quarter before falling by a goal. St. Mary's also was tied with Stevenson in the CAC semifinals in the final frame before succumbing by two.
"We've been building for several years since I got here to not be satisfied finishing in the middle of the league," Hasbrouck said. "The goal from day one has been to win the conference and advance to the NCAA tournament. I feel, and the team feels, that we're getting closer every year. That goal itself hasn't changed. We were close last year and we certainly want to win more games than we did the year before. That sort of sets the tone for us."
Entering Sunday's Roanoke game, the Seahawks have all the ingredients to put a dent in their stiff schedule. Senior attackman Patrick Mull (14g, 34a) is an accomplished quarterback and classmate Taylor Cook (28g, 4a) is a weapon out of the midfield. The entire close defense is back, spearheaded by senior Justin Harty, who Hasbrouck feels is perpetually underrated. The St. Mary's coach is also bullish on senior long-stick midfielder Dalton Yohn, who is expected to fill the role of departed All-American Pete Windsor. Do-it-all middie Albert Mitchell, another senior, returns to take faceoffs (54.8%).
The one big question mark is in the cage, where the Seahawks will no longer have the services of three-year starter Stu Wheeler. There is currently a quartet of netminders vying for the starting spot — seniors Ben Wheeler and Scott Marsh, junior Zack Blewett and rookie Joey Casey — but the decision won't be made until game time.
"That is something that we're working on right now," said Hasbrouck. "It's been an open competition and it has been a spirited battle. We have all the confidence in the world in all four kids. Whoever is in the goal will make all the saves they have to make and it's also nice to have the three starting defensemen back to work with the new goalie."
Will the talent be enough to get an at-large nod out of the CAC this spring, or, dare we say, supplant Salisbury?
"I've told everybody: we haven't really earned it yet, quite honestly," Hasbrouck said. "We don't feel like we've been snubbed. We've had a couple of dynamic wins and we've had a couple of close losses with great teams. We have to finish those games."
If the Seahawks can finish Roanoke, the CAC just might remain a two-bid league.