May 8, 2009

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For the second straight year, No. 5 Ithaca upended No. 2 Cortland, 11-8, in a battle of unbeatens. © Greg Wall.
For the second straight year, No. 5 Ithaca upended No. 2 Cortland, 11-8, in a battle of unbeatens. © Greg Wall.

Coyne: The Calming of the Coaches

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Has Tim Santye and the rest of the WNEC team made enough adjustments to overcome the 11-goal deficit from the first time they met Tufts? See predictions below.
© WNEC Athletics

There's a peaceful vibe for coaches the week after Selection Sunday.

They've been grinding away for four months just to see their program's name appear on the television screen as the talent talking over the graphic pretend they know something about Division III. After that happens, there's an overall calmness evident when you talk to coaches.

The usual angst has melted away literally overnight.

Sure, they're concerned about their NCAA tournament games, but that's the fun part of coaching.

It's the payoff for all the travel plans, budget concerns and whiney parents. It's the reward for not receiving that phone call early on Sunday morning informing you that one of your players did something stupid the night before.

So it's fun to just shoot the breeze with coaches during this time. I enjoy speaking with coaches during the season, as well, but usually they are preoccupied with film or other duties, meaning often times they are just trying to answer the questions and get back to business.

The week before tourney games they'll explore wider topics.

Prior to his loss to St. Lawrence on Wednesday, Rob Randall, the head coach of Nazareth, expounded about his concern about Ithaca's omission from the tournament. He talked about the strength and depth of the Empire 8 and how it stacks up with any league, the NESCAC included. While the respect is always there, often times you don't hear heated conference rivals sticking up for each other until the competition has been put to bed for the year.

Michael Caravana, Denison's head coach, spoke about rivalry games - he was heading into Wednesday's clash with NCAC foe Ohio Wesleyan, which the Big Red won handily - and at length about the importance of having an experienced team. It might have been a bit too esoteric for the casual lacrosse fan, but I found it fascinating.

We've spoken on the topic before, but Steve Colfer, the Cabrini head man, and I prattled on about the maturation of the Colonial States Athletic Conference - formerly the PAC - and how only two of his opponents have managed to stay within 13 goals of the Cavs since late March. Does that impact how he ramps his team up for the tournament? If he did, it worked, as Cabrini rocked Montclair State, 17-3 in the first round.

Nothing had changed, however, when I spoke with Jim Berkman at Salisbury. He's as sanguine in April as he is in May - eight national championships will do that for you - but he still provides interesting insights, such as the impact of travel on a team and why the Capital Athletic Conference plays its tourney so early.

I sprinkle the information I receive in my write-ups and predictions because there was not enough for an entire story this time, but hopefully it helps me paint a picture for you. Because as calm as the coaches are in May, the opposite is true for those of us trying to cover the sport.

Saturday's Games in Three Sentences...
Springfield (12-6) at Cortland (15-2), 1 p.m.
This is a very similar scenario to last year, when an 11-6, but battle-tested Springfield team was tied with Cortland with six minutes left in the game. The Red Dragons eventually pulled it out, 12-9, but one could argue this year's Pride team is better than last year's and Cortland doesn't have the experience of the '08 squad. Ultimately, the game will be close again, and with the same order of finish: Cortland 11, Springfield 9.

Western New England (16-2) at Tufts (13-4), 1 p.m.
Despite only out-shooting WNEC, 48-43 in the first match-up on April 7, Tufts blasted the Golden Bears, 15-4, taking advantage of seemingly every opportunity. Is it possible to chalk up a convincing win like that to a couple of bounces, which the WNEC staff will likely do as it pumps its kids up for the contest, or is there something more fundamental that needs to be retooled? I'm guessing the later, and it's a little too fundamental: Tufts 10, WNEC 7.

St. Lawrence (13-3) at Middlebury (13-2), 1 p.m.
The Panther defense is competent, but it's nothing like the Midd defenses of old as we saw all too clearly in the NESCAC semifinal loss to Wesleyan. This makes the Panthers susceptible to trouble if they run into a really good defensive team, and that's exactly what St. Lawrence is - the Saints stifled a pretty decent Naz offense on Wednesday. This one should be low-scoring and tight, but I see an upset brewing: St. Lawrence 8, Middlebury 6.

Eastern Connecticut (15-3) at Wesleyan (14-3), 1 p.m.
This is when the Wesleyan zone can be a bear: a non-conference team sees it for the very first time and must try to prepare for it. Even good teams - and make no mistake, EConn is a good team - can't replicate what they are going to see in such a short time frame on the defensive end, not to mention trying to stop a Cardinals offense that is playing sublimely right now. The Warriors will get a feel for the zone at some point, but as is common against Wesleyan, it'll be too late: Wesleyan 14, Eastern Conn. 7.

Cabrini (15-3) at Stevenson (15-1), 1 p.m.
Stevenson is the No. 1 team in the country and the No. 1 seed in the tournament - a pair of honors they've certainly worked hard to achieve - but we're in the money rounds now. As talented and well-coached as the Mustangs are, they are still NCAA tournament novices going against a team that is not only a tourney staple, but familiar with battling high-end programs with everything on the line. Stevenson will win this one, but they'll have to earn every one of the 60 minutes: Stevenson 15, Cabrini 13.

Salisbury (15-3) at Haverford (13-3), 1 p.m.
Jim Berkman thought the Gulls had a shot at a home seed in this one, but he's comfortable with the pairing, especially since he was able to take a peek at the Black Squirrels during the Centennial tourney. Catching the Salisbury coach's eye was Joe Banno, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound Haverford goalie who alters every angle he plays. Throw in the fact that the Gulls are on the road and you can almost convince yourself that the defending champs are underdogs: Salisbury 13, Haverford 8.

Denison (13-2) at Roanoke (17-1), 1 p.m.
What kind of mentality does a team have when it wins its first 17 games of the season, but loses the last one heading into the NCAA tournament? I'm guessing it will be one of a team that really wants to get back on the field and reconnect with its winning ways, even if it's against a team as dangerous as Denison. I don't doubt the fact that Big Red's dynamic offense is going to get its points; I just don't think it will get enough: Roanoke 16, Denison 13.

Washington & Lee (16-3) at Gettysburg (13-3), 1 p.m.
This game is as much a referendum on how good FDU-Florham - the team that got no respect and still took W&L to overtime in the first round - is as much as it is about the Generals and Bullets. Putting that aside, Gettysburg has to feel pretty good about playing at home against a team unable to tame a second-tier conference champion. That will come pretty close to costing them a victory, but they Bullets will figure it out just in time: Gettysburg 11, Washington & Lee 10 (overtime).


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