May 2, 2014

NCAA Notes: Bulldogs Shine Despite Injury-prone Season

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Part of a potent 1-2 scoring punch with fellow attackman Conrad Oberbeck, Brandon Mangan has helped Yale thrive despite injury woes. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

No. 14 Yale has been hit hard by injuries this season, especially among its attack and midfield. But coach Andy Shay, who was preparing the Bulldogs for their fifth straight trip to this weekend's Ivy League tournament as the no. 4 seed, said Yale (9-4, 3-3) has played through the pain impressively.

That is probably a product of the winning habits that have been created in New Haven under Shay. Yale has taken the past two Ivy titles and won a school-record 12 games last spring.

"We've had a revolving door at a couple of positions, but it's a total, next-guy-up mentality around here," Shay said. "I think the guys have handled this better than I have. We're in a position to play meaningful games in May again, and it doesn't feel like that is good enough."

The Bulldogs, who face top-seeded Harvard in the tournament semifinals on Friday, have absorbed the graduation losses of defensive stoppers Peter Johnson and Michael McCormack effectively enough to remain the league's top-ranked defense.

Yale also has a rock-solid, scoring combination with attackmen Brandon Mangan (22g, 21a) and Conrad Oberbeck (35, 12) and senior faceoff man Dylan Levings, who continues to be one of the top specialists in the nation. Luckily, those three have been healthy for most of the season.

If Yale gets past Harvard, it would face the Cornell-Penn winner in the final, with a chance to earn its third straight AQ. But a Harvard victory might be just good enough to land an at-large bid for the Bulldogs.

High-flying Pioneers Maintain Scoring Reputation

In terms of program identity, one consistent feature of Denver lacrosse has been high scoring and accurate shooting. Under fifth-year coach Bill Tierney, the third-ranked Pioneers (12-2, 6-0 Big East) have maintained that tradition through another successful regular season.

Heading into yesterday's Big East tournament semifinal against no. 4 seed Rutgers, the top-seeded Pioneers were tied for fourth in scoring (13.36 goals per game) in Division I and ranked second in shooting percentage (.384), barely trailing Fairfield.

"The credit goes to [offensive coordinator] Matt Brown, and to these kids who genuinely get excited about hockey assists and don't care who scores," Tierney said.

Denver's unselfishness and scoring balance should make it a tough out in the NCAA tournament. Juniors Wes Berg (33 g, 15a) and Erik Adamson (33, 7) and sophomore Jack Bobzien (34, 17) and freshman Zach Miller (28, 12) combined to shoot 45 percent in the regular season, while senior midfielder Jeremy Noble (27 assists) has been outstanding as a feeder.

No. 1 Greyhounds Looking for Another Rare Win Over Rival Blue Jays

Top-ranked Loyola (14-1) has a 4-47 record against no. 6 Johns Hopkins (10-3). The schools will extend the Charles Street series at Ridley Athletic Complex on Saturday. Hopkins likely needs a win to secure a home game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Loyola, which has won a school-record 14 games in a row, can make it two straight over the Blue Jays, following last year's 8-4 whipping at Homewood Field, a decision that effectively ended Hopkins' 41-year NCAA tournament streak. The Greyhounds also beat the Blue Jays in back-to-back years (1998-99) under former coach Dave Cottle.

Two years ago at Ridley, the Blue Jays scored the first five goals before escaping with a 10-9 win in overtime – Loyola's only blemish in an 18-1 season capped by its only national title. Hopkins must solve a Loyola defense that has allowed nine goals in its last eight periods against the Blue Jays.

Since the start of the 2012 season, Loyola's 43-7 record (.860) is the best in the NCAA. Unless Blue Jays attackmen Wells Stanwick, Ryan Brown and Brandon Benn can find some cracks in Loyola's stout, six-on-six unit, the Greyhounds' winning percentage figures to improve.

Ohio State Battled Through Injuries as Well

The Ohio State Buckeyes have been a study in endurance in 2014.

During the preseason, the Buckeyes lost midfielders Tyler Pfister and Jake Sharick to season-ending knee injuries. Five games into the year, attackman Adam Trombley (five goals) went down with a broken foot. One game later, during a 9-5 loss to Denver, senior goalie Greg Dutton's career ended prematurely after he suffered another concussion.

Eight games into 2014, the Buckeyes – a year removed from reaching the NCAA tournament quarterfinals as ECAC champions – stood at 2-6. Their beefed-up, non-conference schedule had yielded losses to Johns Hopkins, Hofstra, Denver and Notre Dame.

With all of that in mind, unranked Ohio State (6-8) was feeling pretty good about itself as the ECAC tournament unfolded on its Columbus campus on Thursday. The Buckeyes earned the No. 2 seed, thanks to a 4-1 record in conference play. Their only blemish was a 7-5 loss to regular-season champ Fairfield last week, when the Stags earned the no. 1 seed in the tournament.

(Editor's note: Ohio State lost in the ECAC semifinals to Air Force)

"The team's morale was down [at 2-6]. I kept telling our guys we're not that far away," said Ohio State coach Nick Myers, whose team drew third-seeded Air Force in the conference semifinals.

"We knew we were not going to be an at-large team [in the NCAA tournament], but we were getting better, and we had to keep getting better. Just to be 6-7 and feeling like we had a shot [at an AQ] says something about these guys."

The best story behind Ohio State's regrouping might be senior goalie Scott Spencer, a transfer from NYIT who originally had planned to redshirt and use his final year of eligibility in 2015. After Dutton, a four-year starter, went down, Spencer approached Myers about taking over in goal, rather than pressing freshman Nick Doyle into service.

"I wanted Scott to think [more] about losing that redshirt year, but he felt the team needed him right now," Myers said.

Spencer has been a calming influence on the defense. After Doyle earned a win in his only start, Spencer (.567 save percentage) finished the regular season with a 4-2 record by allowing 7.35 goals per game.


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