May 1, 2009

Leave Better: W&L Down to Last Chance

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Connor Locke and Washington & Lee are in a must-win situation on Sunday when they visit Roanoke for the ODAC championship game. That's okay with Generals head coach Gene McCabe. He knows his players will thrive under the pressure.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Every player who enters the Washington & Lee locker room must look at a sign adhered to the door reading, "Enter Good."

As he readies himself to depart, the same player is met with a sign plastered to the inside of the door demanding, "Leave Better."

"That's been a theme for us all year," said W&L head coach Gene McCabe. "I don't think we've played our best lacrosse yet and I think our kids are committed to that idea."

The motivational tools have served the Generals well this season: the program has racked up a 14-3 record and is about to take part in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title game on Sunday.

However, when the W&L players leave that locker room and depart for Salem, Va., to face Roanoke College, they might have to change the words on the departing sign to "Leave as the Best."

That's what it will take for W&L to beat the Maroons, the only undefeated team left in Division III and the No. 1 ranked squad in the country.

W&L enters the championship game with the solace that their ‘better' game was almost enough to take down Roanoke on its own field.

When the two teams met on April 15, the Generals held a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter and, even though the Maroons came back to tie the game heading into the fourth, McCabe's troops still possessed a 13-11 lead with 4:11 left in the contest.

Roanoke managed to keep its unblemished mark alive by scoring two goals over a span of 40 seconds to tie the game before winning it in overtime.

"Roanoke has the ability to score in droves and you really can't let up, particularly at the end of quarters and things like that," said McCabe. "You have to possess the ball to the best of your ability in those situations. We had a three-goal lead and I think if we could have taken care of the ball a little bit better and maybe not have been so quick to take the next shot, we might have been able to hold on to that lead and build on it.

"I think we felt good about the way we played the game, there were just a lot of things we learned from playing them the first time around that can help us the second time around."

The Generals need to utilize every tool they have because they need this win.

While a 14-4 record would be more than enough to snare a Pool C bid for a team coming out of the high-powered ODAC in most years, it will most likely leave the Generals just outside of an at-large tourney berth this spring.

This puts an exceedingly high amount of pressure on McCabe's team.

And the coach is just fine with that.

"When you have a younger team, and I've had younger teams, you do have to find a way to mitigate that pressure," he said. "Maybe take the focus of it being a must-win and put more of an emphasis on playing to the best of your abilities and focus on doing your job. Take the focus away from, ‘My God, this is such a huge game.'

"But I think we have the type of team that will thrive under that pressure. We have 10 seniors and a bunch of underclassmen who have had a significant amount of playing time under their belt, so for us, knowing that this is a must-win situation will help us focus."

McCabe is almost going out of his way to ratchet up the tension. Not because he believes his team is out of the running for an at-large bid - he is unwilling to concede that point - but because life is less stressful on Selection Sunday when you are swimming in Pool A.

"I think we understand that the only way to assure us that bid is to win the AQ," said McCabe. "We want to do everything we can to avoid having our fate in somebody else's hands."

Enter good, leave better. It's exactly what the Generals need to do on Sunday if they want to keep walking through that locker room door.

Other interesting games...
No. 4 Stevenson (14-1) at No. 11 Denison (12-1) - 1 p.m., Saturday
This is just a superb game at a fantastic time of the season. Both of these teams are of national semifinal quality and both of have a lot to play for. The Mustangs and Big Red are already in the tournament, but the winner could conceivably rise as high as a second seed in the South region. Denison has a juggernaut offensive unit, led by scorers Brady Burton (37g) and Emmett Jones (34g) along with playmaker Nate Hall (26a), but it will be interesting to see how they fare against a defense that has been tested by some of the top attacks in the country. I think the Big Red will get their goals, but I'm not sure if their defense can blunt the Stevenson offense.

No. 7 Cortland (14-2) at No. 9 Geneseo (13-1) - 1 p.m., Saturday
This is another game featuring a pair of teams that are already heading to the NCAAs, but are playing for a better seed and the SUNYAC title. In the regular season meeting, Geneseo had just 11 shots on goal, but connected on eight of those while Blue Knight goalie Dennis Costanza made 10 saves on the other end. Expect a better performance out Red Dragon keeper Matt Hipenbecker and Cortland to take the crown.

NESCAC Men's Tourney - at Middlebury, Vt.
No. 16 Wesleyan (12-3) at No. 2 Middlebury (13-1), 12 p.m., Saturday
No. 13 Tufts (12-3) vs. No. 18 Bowdoin (10-5), 3 p.m., Saturday
Championship game, 12 p.m., Sunday
It's a pretty good bet that the NESCAC is going to get the automatic qualifier and two at-large bids this year, and right now it looks like Middlebury, Tufts and Wesleyan will divvy up those three spots in some way. But what about Bowdoin? The Polar Bears beat both Wesleyan and Tufts during the regular season and lost by a goal to Middlebury. So Tom McCabe's clan winning their first conference title is not out of the question. And if they do? There will be a lot of once-confident Pool C teams feeling the collar tightening. Alas, I see Middlebury holding their seed, but it should be great lacrosse.

NESCAC Women's Tourney - Medford, Mass.
No. 15 Williams (11-5) vs. No. 5 Tufts (14-1), 12 p.m., Saturday
No. 9 Middlebury (9-4) vs. No. 3 Colby (14-1), 2:30 p.m., Saturday
Championship game, 12 p.m., Sunday
Three or four? That's the question as the NESCAC women settle things this weekend. Will they get the AQ and two at-larges or will it be the auto bid and three Pool Cs? Considering the competition level in WD3 this year, two is probably all there are available, but if Williams and Middlebury pull a pair of upsets and make it to the championship game, the committee will earn its paycheck. I think Colby and Tufts will probably play for the finals, but all the games should be close.

W: No. 1 Adelphi (15-0) at No. 2 C.W. Post (15-1) - 1 p.m., Saturday
These two teams were undefeated in D-II last year when they met in the regular season finale and it was Adelphi that took that meeting. It was Post, however, that had the last laugh, downing the Panthers in the NCAA tournament two weeks later. Saturday's game is again likely the first of two meetings, as both programs are ticketed to the postseason. The way Adelphi has been playing this season, it's tough to see them losing at all, but it's always better to lose the first one in this rivalry. I don't the Panthers will lose either.

McDaniel (10-5) at No. 8 Haverford (12-2) - 1:30 p.m., Friday
Conventional wisdom has Haverford meeting Gettysburg for the Centennial title on Sunday, and that may very well come about, but I think McDaniel is going to give the Black Squirrels a scare - or possibly beat them. The Green Terror knows they can play with Haverford after losing in overtime, 13-12, two weeks ago. Matt Hatton's troops will have to win it all to get a bid, but knocking off the Fords would be something to build on for 2010.

W: No. 11 Catholic (14-3) at Drew (10-6) - 1 p.m., Saturday
I think both of these teams are in through Pool B, but Drew would be wise to play this one as a must win. They already upset the Cardinals last weekend, and now the Rangers will try to reprise the accomplishment with the non-AQ Landmark Conference title on the line. Drew will have to play a better overall game if they want to beat the Cardinals instead of relying on goalie Rachel Hanley, who made 21 saves in the first meeting. Kate Robinson and the Cardinals will probably get the win, but I'm still sold on the Rangers making the tourney.

No. 18 Oregon (10-5) vs. No. 2 Simon Fraser (11-0) - 3 p.m. PDT, Sunday
This match-up is the presumptive PNCLL championship, which will determine the automatic qualifier to the MCLA tournament in Denver. At first glance, there's nothing special about this tilt considering the disparity in the rankings and the second-ranked Clansmen already beat the Ducks in the regular season. What makes this contest compelling is Simon Fraser is living dangerously. It wasn't their fault, but the Clan is short of the three out-of-conference games mandated by the association to be eligible for an at-large bid. At the start of the season Fraser was fine, but when preseason No. 3 Arizona State defaulted on its season because of a hazing incident, SFU was put on the razor's edge. So Fraser fans - and the MCLA as a whole - better be pulling hard for the Clan to beat the Ducks because it would be a second black eye for the association if it was missing another one of its elite teams for the tourney.


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