Weekender: Contribution Has Changed for Dowling's Crough
|Matt Crough has gone from the most important scout team player in the country to one of the deadliest scorers in Division II, and has Dowling eyeing a second national championship. (Dowling Athletics)|
The players that everyone remembers from Dowling's magical run to the national championship in 2012 were the guys who were on the field that Sunday afternoon when the Golden Lions took down Limestone. There was Vito DeMola and Louis Riley and Matthew Lauria and Ryan Dougherty and all the rest of the guys who showed up in the box score that day.
But there were other guys, toiling in the shadows, who made huge contributions to the title sprint.
There was a group of redshirts who were able to perfectly simulate what the opposition's attack was going to run every week, providing an invaluable resource for the starters. The leader of that group was a kid from Peterborough, Ontario, who had transferred in that spring from Onondaga Community College.
At the time, Matt Crough had committed to Dowling after breaking all the scoring records at OCC – all of which have since been shattered at the JuCo factory – but because of transfer subtleties in Division II, he had to sit out that first season in '12.
So he morphed into the best scout team player in the country.
"He did a great job of mimicking everyone's offense that year and it really helped us prepare for every opponent we faced," said Dowling head coach Tim Boyle. "But in particular, against Limestone."
The Saints were a high-scoring bunch led by the prolific Canadian duo of Shayne Jackson and Riley Loewen, and Crough and his scout team colleagues simulated the Limestone attack to the point where nothing came as surprise when the Lions hit the field on Memorial Day weekend.
It wasn't what Crough had envisioned when he came to Dowling, but he accepted his job.
"He's the type of kid who embraces everything lacrosse," Boyle said. "He would have liked to play, as anyone would have, but he embraced the role and maybe knew he was helping the program. We were clear and spoke to him often about how important that was to our success. You never heard him really said anything or show any frustration. That's not the type of kid he is."
"It was definitely frustrating a little bit because I love being out there and I love being on the field," Crough admitted. "But knowing that I could help the guys succeed and win the national championship, it felt real good. I gave myself a little pat on the back."
As enjoyable as the tangential role he played in the national championship was, Crough was ready to take his spot on the field, and there was little doubt that he would be among the starting 10 when the Lions started the defense of their title last spring. There was a learning curve for Crough, as their often is for Canadian JuCo players who have typically operated under four different systems by the time they reach the NCAA ranks, but he led the team in points and was named to the ECC honorable all-conference team.
Team-wise, the Lions didn't come anywhere close to matching the success of 2012. Dowling had opportunities in most of their losses, but a three-game skid to end the season left Boyle's squad with a 7-6 mark and no postseason chances.
"We had such high expectations in 2013 from the outside, but, unfortunately, there was only one way for us to go, and that was down," Boyle said. "Last year was hard on a lot of people because of the outside expectations and us not handling it well."
"It was definitely tough because we had some expectations to live up to and we didn't quite find our identity last year," Crough added. "I think this year, we've found it."
With Crough – one of a handful of ECC player of the year candidates – leading the way with 45 goals and 10 assists, the Lions have returned to the same lean look they had in 2012. Dowling is 11-2 and nearly a lock for the NCAA tournament, and the Lions have done it against one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
"Everyone looked at me and I looked at me and said, 'How dare you make a schedule like this?" laughed Boyle "I'm not going to take any credit for the way it went, that's for sure. It was all the kids."
One of Dowling's key to success has been an attempt to create a new identity for this team, and take a step away from the 2012 title squad. Instead of trying to become the second team to win a national championship, the focus is on becoming the first Lions edition to win an outright ECC regular season title, which will happen if they defeat LIU Post on Saturday.
"There has been a team before you that has been co-champion of the conference. And there has been a program that has won a national championship," Boyle said of his message to the players. "But there has never been a program at Dowling that has won the ECC regular season championship outright and never been a team that has won a conference tournament. These are two things with your identity that no one else can say that they have done."
"Last year was really a disappointment to us and that really motivated us this year," Crough said. "If we succeed and get that ECC title and then get the ECC championships, then two of our goals will be complete. The final goal is to win the national championship, and it will be right there in front of us."
One aspect of Boyle's approach that has remained constant from 2012 until now is the idea that everyone is contributor, from the last man on the bench to the parents at the tailgate to the administrators in the athletic department. It might not necessarily be the way they want to complement the program, but it is noticed.
"You can never tell with young men about how they feel about that type of thing. If I'm not between the lines, am I actually contributing? We were clear that year that everybody was contributing and we have kept that same mentality every year," Boyle said. "No matter where you are on the depth chart, you are contributing to our success because every day there are things that have to get done with the program. If you are contributing, you are a piece of it, but every young man has to realize that."
Crough did, and if the Lions end up where they hope to be at the end of the season, he'll be able to give himself a much bigger pat on the back.
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