February 25, 2011

Weekender: Tufts Needs No Wake-up Call

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

Matt Witko and the Jumbos may have needed an afternoon nap, but when they have to be on the bus by 5 a.m., they show up 15 minutes early. They feel that's part of the repeat process.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

There's no cure for 4:30 a.m.

It doesn't matter how soon you get to bed the night before, the feeling at that time of morning will always be the same: a mix of tiredness, aching and anger for having to get up that early.

For Mike Daly, the head coach at Tufts, the early wake-up call wasn't optimum, but since it was Feb. 16 -- the second day of permissible practices in the NESCAC -- there was a slightly perceptible spring in his step as he met the facilities guy outside the Harvard bubble at that ugly hour.

Even though the concept of playing outside during the second week of February in Medford, Mass., is a cruel joke, Daly was already worried about his guys being cooped up inside. So the Jumbos decided to rent full-field indoor time in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the only open time was from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. Daly headed over early to help turn on the lights and get the place ready for the second practice of the year.

Fifteen minutes later, Daly's cell jingled. That's weird, he thought. The bus wasn't supposed to leave until 5 a.m., so what's the problem?

"Brett Holm, our assistant coach, called and said, 'Hey, Coach, they're all on the bus now. Should we just come now, or what?'" Daly later recalled. "It's pretty darn impressive that 50-something 18-to-22-year-olds were sitting on a bus at 4:45 a.m. ready to go."

It would appear that Daly's goal of erasing any vestige of Tufts' magical run to the national title from the players' collective consciences and egos has been successful.

"We're just being on the overkill side of things to make sure we scratch any of the good feelings and feelings of contentment out of our team," Daly said. "We know we're talented, and we've got a real great opportunity. But if we don't show up against Amherst College [in the first game of the season March 12], they'll humble us real quick. We're trying to do it now as opposed to reacting to a loss or some sort of adversity later. We're trying to be as proactive as possible."

As stringent as Daly and the Tufts staff has been on the Jumbos, they take a measure of pride in how the team has responded in the first week. Four days after the first practice, Tufts again traveled back to Harvard, this time for an outdoor scrimmage with the Crimson.

"I was pretty darned impressed for our guys just to get out there on a full field for the second time," Daly said. "To be outside for the first time with the wind and everything, our guys did a real nice job. They got out of the gates pretty quickly, and we're pretty blessed with the experienced group of guys who are back. Our senior leadership right now is great. We're still constantly trying to improve and make sure our guys are still in the hunter role."

If it seems impossible for a national champion to the hunter, Tufts' players don't operate under conventional wisdom. Daylight doesn't even seem to be an issue.

"We're definitely focused, and we're definitely hungry," Daly said.

Now it's time for the contenders to get some sleep.

Dragons' bad feelings burning


The folks gritting their teeth the hardest after reading the above story are the Cortland players. You put the Dragons in front of a microphone, and they'll tell you that Tufts did what they needed to do to win in last year's national semifinal. But in the depths of their souls they know they let one slip away.

It was a game that Cortland led, 7-3, early in the third quarter and was still tied with under four minutes to play. But the Jumbos got the last goal for the 10-9 win. It hurt then, but it provides the Dragons with incentive-laden flagellation now.

"I don't think it's a terrible thing to have some of that bad feeling -- some of that burning inside you -- as you prepare for the following season," said Cortland head coach Steve Beville. "Just knowing that you probably let one slip away, there's probably a little bit of that in there."

Earning a rematch with Tufts, or whoever comes down the pike in the NCAAs, is a subject for another day, however. Cortland has its usual contingent of non-conference testers to worry about, and it starts with Widener this weekend. Despite its status as a near-perennial NCAA participant out of the MAC, the Pride is always overlooked.

That won't happen on Saturday.

"With the success that we've had, the point we've tried to make to our guys is you better be ready for everybody," Beville said. "People are going to be coming at us, and for them, it's going to be one of their biggest games -- if not the biggest game of the year -- so we're pretty guarded against not being excited for any opponent. We know Widener has a good, solid program and a good coach. They've had a lot of success in their league and have been to the NCAAs, so we're certainly not going to look past them."

Widener could be the first to feel the burn.

Nazareth's perfect script

Some teams talk about having a tough schedule, telling us how tough things are as their non-conference slate is littered with second- and third-tier teams. The tough guys fill every slot with contenders. Nazareth has always been a tough guy, and it proved true again this year.

"You like to think that you're going to be battle-tested. Win or lose, you like to think you are going to ready to go into the conference," said Naz coach Rob Randall. "With Springfield, Geneseo, Scranton, WNEC, Bowdoin, Cortland and St. Lawrence, I'm not sure if there are too many other teams who have a tougher March than we do. We want it that way."

While this is relatively standard fare for the Flyers, the excitement in Roch-Vegas is not based on the schedule, but rather what is coming back this season. With an attack comprised of senior Joe Jacobs-Ferderbar (35g, 30a ), C.J. Estes (35g, 17a) and potentially Monroe CC transfer Nate DeLone and a midfield paced by senior Scott Castle (25g, 11a), Naz is going to be an offensive juggernaut.

"I do like our attack," Randall said.

The defense has some experience, but there will be a new face in goal after the graduation of Todd Dermody. Vying for the spot are junior Grant Williams and sophomore Tim Doyle, a transfer from conference rival Alfred.

"They are paying well," Randall said of his goalie duo. "From a defensive standpoint, we have some experience there. We have those three guys on offense, but we've got some new guys, and we hope they are as good as we hope they are. We hope that translates into the games, as well."

It won't take too long to find out. Nazareth travels to Springfield on Saturday to play a team that the Flyers have beaten six straight years, but always pushes the Flyers to the wire. Don't worry about the result, though. With Naz's perfect schedule, there's a long way to go.

Slides & Rides

- Brian "Doc" Dougherty, one of the heroes of this past summer's U.S. World Games victory, picked up his first triumph as the coach at Chestnut Hill. The Griffins played Lees-McRae in Charlottesville, scoring six goals in the first quarter on their way to a 12-5 triumph. If Dougherty goes 2-0 to start his career, it will be a heck of a story – Chestnut Hill travels to two-time defending champion and ECC foe C.W. Post on Saturday.

- It's spring break time, and three-time defending MCLA D-I champion Michigan is heading to SoCal for a trio of games over eight days. It starts Friday night with a game against Oregon, a contest that has lost its luster, to say the least, and then continues Wednesday against Loyola Marymount – another contest that is now missing any sizzle after the Lions' mediocre start. The closing game is worth making the trip, however. The Wolverines and Chapman renew a rivalry that has defined the MCLA for the past three years next Saturday (March 5) at 1 p.m. Pacific. The week-long trip will cost a pretty penny, but the Extra Man Club (boosters) and the UM Alumni Clubs are defraying some of the food costs with special functions. It's good to be king.

- Don't think that Nazareth head coach Rob Randall doesn't keep track of his former players. I mentioned to Randall just seconds after it was announced that former Flyer Ryan Hotaling was named the NLL's transition player of the week, but he already knew. "Isn't that's awesome?" Randall asked. The coach was also thrilled about the induction of former Naz player Jeremy Hollenbeck into the Rochester Knighthawks Hall of Fame.

- The biggest game of the MCLA Division II season happens Friday evening in Charlotte, N.C. As part of the Faceoff Against Autism weekend hosted by Elon College, No. 1 St. Thomas will square off against No. 3 Dayton. With the Tommies coming off two straight national championships, this is a referendum on their ability to pick up a third. Dayton is deep, talented and more than eager to make up for their championship game loss to St. Thomas in 2009.


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