April 20, 2012

MD1 Notes: Bucknell Seeks Must-Have Patriot League Title

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

The Bison hope they celebrate at the end of next week's Patriot League tournament because that will mean Bucknell is assured an NCAA tournament bid. An 0-3 start to the season has hurt its at-large chances.
© Kevin P. Tucker 

When 18th-ranked Bucknell stumbled out of the gate in 2012 by losing its first three games to Delaware, Massachusetts and Villanova, there was never a sense of panic among the Bison.

Bucknell had taken a sizeable graduation hit from last year's 14-3 squad, and senior midfielder Charlie Streep, one of its prominent performers and leaders, was rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee.

Without Streep, who is done for the year after suffering a rehab setback, the Bison did what they usually do under sixth-year coach Frank Fedorjaka. They hung tough, grew up and stacked some victories, eventually stretching out an eight-game winning streak. And not even a pair of one-goal defeats to Army and Lehigh in April have damaged Bucknell's confidence, as it prepares for its regular-season finale against visiting Colgate on Friday. The all-important Patriot League tournament is coming next week.

The Bison (9-5, 3-2) already know they have no chance of hosting the PL tournament. They also know their only path to the NCAAs is to win it, thus securing an automatic bid to the big tournament.

"The 0-3 start kind of made sense," Fedorjaka said. "We lost a lot of seniors, and we were affected by not having our only returning All-American [Streep] in there. We had to switch our first midfield around because of that. We were young enough that we really didn't know how to play at the highest level. I like where we're at now.

"We've shown we can play really good defense and really good offense. We've shown we can be tremendous in man-up and man-down. We just have to put it all together. We also know the only thing that matters is two days [of conference tournament play]. We've shown we can play well when our backs are against the wall."

Bucknell's first midfield of senior Nick Gantsoudes (19 goals, seven assists), sophomore Peter Burke (19, 8) and especially freshman David Dickson (13, 22) have rounded into a consistent group that keeps opposing defenses from paying too much attention to attackmen Billy Eisenreich and Todd Heritage, who have combined to produce 101 points. Gantsoudes has stepped up in the face of a LSM in most games.

The defense, which lost four of its top six players to graduation, has matured in the season's second half by holding seven of Bucknell's last eight opponents in single digits.

Whether or not Bucknell survives the Patriot League scrum, you can bet the Bison will be a tough out. After all, this team, which has lost first-round NCAA tournament games in overtime the past two years to eventual champions Duke and Virginia, never goes quietly.

Bucknell has lost its five games in 2012 by a combined six goals, including three in a combined four overtime periods. The last time the Bison lost by more than two goals was in 2009.

Penn State Lurking as Tournament Sleeper

Another sleeper lurking in the upcoming postseason tournament scene is No. 16 Penn State – a sleeper based on its overall 7-5 record, that is.

After tinkering with the roster somewhat extensively, second-year coach Jeff Tambroni has the Nittany Lions playing well. Penn State (3-1, second place in the Colonial Athletic Conference behind UMass) has won four of its last five games by an average of four goals, after a three-game losing streak had the Lions reeling with a 3-4 record.

By that point, a series of position moves were beginning to yield fruit. Senior Matthew Mackrides (22 goals) overcame a nagging injury and shifted back to attack, while sophomore Shane Sturgis (18 points) shifted from attack and shored up the first midfield. Sophomore Steven Bogert moved back to his customary LSM spot after filling in on close defense for Tyler Travis, a redshirt sophomore who came back from two knee surgeries.

Through it all, sophomore goalie Austin Kaut (7.48 GAA, .608) has been rock steady in the cage.

"Each position has gone through a minor reconstruction," said Tambroni, whose Lions end the regular season with home games against Delaware and Hofstra. "When you're going through growing pains and losing three in a row [including a 9-8, overtime loss to UMass], you can lose your confidence. Our guys went in the opposite direction."

Although Penn State has suffered no "bad" losses, the Lions most likely must win the CAA tournament in two weeks to grab an AQ to the NCAA tournament.

"We know one thing. We have to keep winning," Tambroni said.

Loyola, UMass Strong Second Half Teams

One key reason that Loyola and UMass are the top two ranked teams and the last two unbeaten schools in Division I is both the Greyhounds and Minutemen have yet to wilt in crunch time.

UMass has outscored its 11 opponents after halftime by a combined total of 71-39, including a 33-17 edge in the third quarter. The Greyhounds have been even more impressive late against their 11 victims. Loyola has won the second half, 67-34, including a 37-12 bulge in the third quarter. In addition, the Greyhounds have outshot their opponents in the third quarter, 123-54.


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