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posted 04.16.2012 at 10.02 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Monday Notebook: NCAA Division III

The fourth year is a big one for coaches. When they are in their fourth year, coaches have all of their players in the fold who are supposedly on board with all of the skipper's philosophies. As such, in the fourth year, all of the excuses go away.

Mike Caravana is currently in his second, fourth-year regime with Denison. His first was in 1994, but after leaving Granville for a three-year stint as the head coach at the Woodberry Forest (Va.) School, Caravana restarted the clock in 2009. Certainly with a pair of fourth years at the same school, Carvana knows the importance of this watershed season.

"I wouldn't be too quick to say that," warned Caravana.

It's not like he's struggling this season. The Big Red are 10-1, with the only loss being a 12-9 setback to the same Stevenson team that pushed Salisbury to the brink. They also own a No. 8 ranking. Carvana doesn't buy into the fourth-year theory because in marginalizes the role of a coach. Or at least marginalizes the role that Caravana believes he has with his program.

"It's not necessarily about your kids, it's about creating a certain mentality that you want with them," Carvana said. "We were very successful my first year. I think it stems from building relationships so that you are getting everybody on the same page. Each team is different. Kids are hearing the same thing over and over again for a period of time, but each team has its own personality. Each team has its own identity. Finding that out, communicating that and getting everyone on the same page – that's the challenge."

In essence, it's the coach's responsibility to maximize the talent he has, not just wait for the perfect set of circumstances.

So what is this identity of this Big Red edition?

"This team's identity has been more athletic," Caravana said. "We're pushing the ball more and it's a style different than we have had in the past. We feel like we have really good athletes and good enough players to play that way. If we can make it more of an athletic game, it fits this group better. I felt very early in the season we had talent, but we were a team in the making. I wasn't sure what our identity was, but if we could find it we could be pretty good. We've been fortunate that we've been healthy and we've played well enough in our bigger games to take of the business. We've had a very successful season."

While Denison has followed up with a comfortable win over NCAC foe Wittenberg, 16-5, the lone loss to Stevenson lingers. The Big Red were dominated in the first half as the Mustangs rolled to an 8-2 lead, but once they found their rhythm, they outgunned Stevenson, 7-4 in the final 30 minutes.

"We didn't take advantage of our opportunities, so we look at it as a little bit of a lost opportunity," Carvana said. "We felt like over half of the game, we could play with them, and play better than them at times. That was encouraging, but we weren't there for moral victories. We want be one of the better teams in the country and Stevenson was that gauge for us, and we were not able to meet that challenge. We're optimistic that if we get another shot at teams of that caliber, we'll be competitive, just like we have been in the past. It's no different that with RIT [last year] and other teams throughout the years. Our kids aren't intimidated by the opportunity and that's why I think they were a little frustrated."

There are only three games left on the regular season schedule, and all of them are almost slam-dunk victories. What does that mean?

It'll be the fourth one that is the most important.

- Stevenson-Salisbury is seemingly always a classic and Saturday night's edition certainly delivered what any fan could hope for. But the entertainment value aside, what should we take from this contest? An argument could be made that Stevenson is getting healther and more mature, reaching their potential at just the right time (although Paul Cantabene thought there were several inexperienced mistakes). Another could be made that Salisbury is vulnerable and the Mustangs revealed the game-plan for solving the Gulls.

My take?

I think Salisbury was bored. And I don't mean that as the "light-years-ahead-of-everybody-else" bored.

They certainly have earned the No. 1 ranking being an undefeated defending national champion, but relatively speaking, the Gulls' schedule just isn't that strong. Leading up to the Stevenson game, Salisbury has only played one Top 10 team (a comfortable win over No. 3 Lynchburg) and that was on Feb. 18. It's not necessarily the Gulls fault. Roanoke and Gettysburg are down, and W&L and Ursinus are having mediocre years. Still, there's no getting past the fact that it's been two months since Salisbury has had to ratchet it up, and the Gulls barely escaped from Owings Mills.

This presents a challenge for Jim Berkman. He longer has the Tufts loss as a motivational tool (although, in his defense, he says he never used that last year) and he has a more experienced team this spring. And Salisbury is now facing the prospect of four more comfortable wins (with all due respect) before being challenged by Stevenson again in the CAC finals. Can a team go through such dry spells and still be expected to ratchet it up during the second season?

We'll find out.

- Two years ago, Hamilton senior Jon Leanos scored 30 goals and dished out 34 assists for a career-high 64 points. This season, he'll finish well off that mark. Is the playmaker willing to give up a couple of points for the good of the team?

"He's always been that way, to be honest," said Hamilton head coach Scott Barnard. "Even though he had some really big points in past years, we've come a little bit further as a program where we have some guys who are taking the pressure off of him. All eyes were on him at the beginning of the year, which gave some other guys opportunities. He's probably appreciating that."

"I think our biggest win last year was the Skidmore game and I only had an assist in that game," said Leanos, whose father is the head coach at Drew. "I will gladly give up points for a win. We have some great talent in the midfield and on attack. Paul Armideo, who missed last year, is back. Brian Hopper, a transfer from Lehigh, is doing well in the midfield. Middie Luke Sadoff is playing very well. We have a way more balanced attack this year.

"I like it because if teams are sliding early, I can find other guys, like Andy Burchenal on the crease. It takes some pressure off me and it makes us hard to scout. We have so many weapons that it can hurt teams. We can come from all different areas, including production from the midfield. The fact that it is spread around has shown in the last couple of games."

- Robby Maddux scored six goals for Gettysburg against Eastern – the most any Bullet has scored in a game in nine years...RIT senior Tyler Russell scored his 100th career goal in the Tigers midweek win over Ithaca...Middlebury has lost seven consecutive games for the first time since 1952, when the Panthers finished the season at 0-7...keep an eye on Roger Williams as a potential spoiler in the CCC. The Hawks lost to Western New England 6-5 midweek and then knocked off Endicott over the weekend, 11-7.

- Union goalie Sean Aaron made 20 saves in the Dutchmen's 6-3 victory over RPI. He's really good...Colorado College is running roughshod over the SCAC once again. The latest victim was Hendrix, 17-2...Albright is still rolling. Now 2-0 in the MAC after beating Etown...Geneseo finally picked up its first win, a 20-6 triumph over Oswego...Skidmore's gonna need a miracle to make the Liberty tourney...with the win over F&M, all of a sudden, Haverford is looking good for the Centennial tourney. Definitely not a team to be taken lightly.