Monday Notebook: NCAA Division II
It was March 10, and the members of the NYIT were staring off the edge of a proverbial cliff. The only thing down there was a lost season and the sad refrain of "Wait 'til next year." They had just lost to ECC foe Dowling, giving the Bears their second loss of the season and a 4-2 record. Sure, one was a non-region loss to St. Anselm, but as Le Moyne found out last year, those things have a way of catching up with you.
NYIT head coach Bill Dunn was hoping it didn't go this way, but wasn't completely surprised.
"I just knew that playing freshmen and sophomores early in the year that, even though we were upset by St. Anselm, we were going to improve," Dunn said. "There was such a large margin for improvement that I knew that we would get better and better."
Dunn also knew that it would take a little time for his two star freshman transfers – Brandon Gamblin from UMass and Luke Miller from Stony Brook – to get acclimated to the school and the program after signing up for the second semester. The two players, who ran on the same line at the Empire State Games and several club teams, provided the Bears with talent and depth.
"Having Miller and Gamblin come in January kind of solidified the whole freshman class," Dunn said. "We needed a couple of go-to guys and both of those guys have served in that capacity for us. They've made the other freshmen and sophomores around them better."
Gamblin has remained at his natural midfield position and leads the team in goals (29), but Miller has bumped up to attack after the need for a lefty opened up. He's responded with a team leading 27 assists and 44 points, with his assists mark tied for tops in the ECC.
As important as the rookies and sophomores are for the Bears, there's only one straw that stirs the drink, according to Dunn.
"As good as those guys are, it all starts in goal with Billy McGee," said Dunn of his senior netminder. "He has been playing great in goal and it's the best he's played in four years. Just look at his goals against average and his save percentage. The way he plays will determine how far we're going to go, and I'll just leave it at that."
After having a couple of rough games early in the season, McGee has been lights out. He is second in the conference in save percentage (64.6) and goals against average (6.01), and has been the key in the Bears current seven-game winning streak, including Saturday's impressive, 13-6 road victory over a tough Seton Hill squad.
The Bears still have those two losses on the resume, but they also have their fate in their own hands, which is what any Division II team can hope for at this point of the season. It all comes down to this Saturday's game against No. 1 and defending national champion Mercyhurst at Old Westbury.
A win and the Bears will be a difficult omission from the four-team NCAA field. A loss and they're done. With such a young team, Dunn isn't worried about the pressure.
"The older players know what's going on at this point, but the younger players don't know anything different," Dunn said. "They kind of understood it, but they don't get that if you lose two games, how can you get in to the playoffs? They just keep playing."
- Just when Limestone thinks it's in the clear in the South region, another hurdle arises. This past weekend, the Saints needed to beat Pfieffer in order to kill off any Falcons' hopes of winning the regional bid. Limestone managed to do it, but it wasn't easy. They needed an overtime strike from Jackson Decker with 1:20 left in overtime to snag the 8-7 victory, after Riley Loewen and Shayne Jackson were held to a combined one goal (by Jackson).
In the wake of Catawba's Deep South Conference championship, Limestone now has another bullet to dodge. The Saints will have to travel to the Indians (14-2) on April 28 with the very real possibility that a loss could bounce them from the tournament. Assuming Limestone can navigate the Conference Carolinas tourney unscathed – a big 'if' considering a likely rematch with Pfeiffer – a loss to Catawba would leave them 14-2 record heading into the Dowling game while the Indians would be 15-2. Spooky stuff.
The bright side? If Limestone can navigate all of these challenges with victories, they are going to be battle-hardened for the playoffs – something that was lacking last year. That could pay dividends all the way to Foxboro.
- Franklin Pierce not only defeated St. Anselm on Friday, but established a program first. The Ravens triumph was the first over a nationally-ranked team, as St. A's was slotted at No. 9...did you know that the last time NYIT beat C.W. Post in a season was back in 2008, which happens to coincide with their last national championship...Dowling gained a measure of revenge – and remain atop the Wild Card sweepstakes – with its 9-4 victory over Chestnut Hill. The Griffins dealt the Lions a deathblow last spring...Seton Hill and Saint Rose are regarded as pretty solid teams. Merychurst has hung 19 goals on each of them...no one will be cheering harder for Southern N.H. on Saturday against Dowling than Merrimack...combined record of Le Moyne's remaining opponents is 14-16...this is the second-straight year that Catawba has won the Deep South tourney.