M. Scoop: Can the Saints Survive?
|If St. Lawrence is able to continue its run as the top
dogs in the Liberty League, much of the credit will likely go to
Trevor Scoon (above) and the Saints defense.|
© Tara Freeman
The Liberty League is one of those conferences you don't
typically hear about, and it's due to one reason.
There's no drama.
Not only has the league title never been in questions since 2006 - St. Lawrence hasn't lost in the conference regular season or the tournament since the second year of the conference's existence - but there has never really been a legitimate Pool C team since the Liberty's inception in 2005.
The 2010 campaign could bring a lot more uncertainty.
In their four-year run, St. Lawrence has always graduated good players, but managed to restock - really, that's what good teams do. But there's something different heading into this year. The Saints aren't just missing a couple of pieces; they're almost unrecognizable at this point.
Alex Slauson (35g, 16a), Peter Carroll (30g, 21a), Collin Moon (29g, 11a), John Allen (16g, 4a), Carl Festa (best pole), Chris Farr (two-year starter on D), Thomas Hollingsworth (12-4, 7.67 GAA) and First Team All-American face-off man P.J. Santora (232-for-360, 64.4%). That's eight of the 10 starters and they're all gone.
"You certainly can't downplay the fact that we've lost some quality guys to graduation," admitted Mike Mahoney, the Saints 13th-year head coach. "We probably took more of a hit to graduation than maybe we have in the past, but at the same time, that's what makes college athletics kind of fun - the opportunity to see who will step up and fill some of those holes as we move forward."
It may be fun during the preseason, but these holes will undoubtedly chum the waters for the rest of the Liberty League, especially those programs like Union and Skidmore who have been circling for their chance. The Dutchmen lost in overtime in the regular season to SLU and Skidmore also lost a hard-fought game, and both of those teams are bringing back a lot more talent this spring than the Saints.
Mahoney understands that the rest of the Liberty will take a big step closer in 2010, but he also believes his charges have handled it in the past.
"Most of my kids are a lot smarter than I am, so I think they know we graduated some key performers and I think when you win a few championships in a row, the bulls-eye gets that much bigger," said Mahoney. "I don't think we've taken anything for granted. At this stage of the game we're looking less about where we're going to be in May and more toward getting the season off on the right foot and prepare properly. We're going to try to get some of these young guys game ready as we move closer to the season."
If there's one bright spot for the Saints, the defense is probably in the best shape of all the units. Trevor Scoon is an All-American caliber long pole (he was an honorable mention in '09) and goalie Andrew Cochran picked up some quality playing time in goal behind Hollingsworth. Combine this with Mahoney's recruiting philosophy - recruit the best player, but make sure the defense is settled before turning an eye toward offense - and the backline shouldn't be the issue.
"You'd like opportunity to be explosive offensively and to run-and-gun a little bit and we try to take advantage of those situations, but at the same time if we can hold our opponents in that six-to-eight goal range, which is where we've been the last few years, each time you go out there you give yourself a chance to win even if offensively you're not clicking on all cylinders that particular day," said Mahoney. "We do make it a focus."
Offensively, Mahoney will count on sophomore attackman Caldwell Rohrbach (24g, 5a) and senior middie Scott Smith (11a, 8a) to carry the load.
"Smith played on our first midfield last year and maybe statistically he didn't jump out at you like Slauson did last year, but he's a very intelligent player," said Mahoney. "Rohrback had a real nice freshman year and I see him doing him more of the quarterbacking of our offense. He's worked very hard in the off-season and I expect him to pick up right where he left off and bring along the young guys."
It may be a tall order for St. Lawrence to continue its dominance in the Liberty, but if the Saints can pull it off it will take a dramatic effort.
While I was putting together my story about Will Keigler emerging from his Hall of Fame father's shadow at Washington & Lee, I also asked Keigler and head coach Gene McCabe about expectations this year.
With the loss of Harry St. John and nine other seniors, most of whom played key roles, conventional wisdom would say the Generals might take a step back in 2010. McCabe believes the desire of Keigler and his classmates to put their own stamp on the program will keep the trend moving upward.
"I think these seniors, led by Will, are invested in writing their own story and continuing on what we've accomplished in year's past," he said.
Keigler says the optimism is running high, but concedes that there are some serious question marks heading into preseason.
"I think the expectations are high but there is still an unsure feeling because we lost 10 seniors, all of whom contributed a lot," he said. "At the same time we feel pretty good about the season because we had three kids who went out with ACL tears and two of those kids are coming back this year and will contribute a lot. Those are weapons we didn't have last year. We've got a lot of young talent who didn't get a lot of chances. The expectations are high, but we really don't know what to expect from these unproven players."
In perhaps a bit of scheduling genius, McCabe will be easing his inexperienced team into the season with games against Birmingham Southern (Feb. 23), Sewanee (Feb. 24), Wittenberg (Feb. 27) and Greensboro (March 3) before hosting WAC on March 6. The first Top 10 test for the Generals comes on March 23 when W&L faces Gettysburg in a game to be played at Georgetown.
Slides & Rides
- I've got to assume that the director of lacrosse operations at Notre Dame was a dream job for Kevin Dugan because I'm quite surprised he stepped down as the Scranton head coach. I don't think any less of him - I've spoken with Kevin in the past and he's a good man, and his missionary work to Africa over the past couple of years has been inspiring. I'm just surprised he left Scranton after what he sacrificed to build that program.
With the Landmark operating as a non-AQ conference, the league members were battling for Pool B slots the last two seasons, yet Dugan essentially forfeited a shot at those bids by compiling a stiff non-conference schedule in order to make sure his team was ready for this year when the AQ finally kicked. And when he finally gets a chance to put his plan in motion, he leaves. I have to believe it was an agonizing decision. While it's MD3's loss, I wish him the best of luck.
- Tim Marshall will be taking over as the interim head coach at Scranton.