May 10, 2009

The Key to Pulling a Tourney Upset

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Brady Burton and Denison already have one upset under their belts. It will take even more confidence and a solid game plan if the Big Red are going to pull this one off.
© Laura Mexicott

What allows an underdog to pull off the tournament upset?

A couple of fortuitous bounces? Perhaps a hot goalie? Maybe a bizarre game plan that baffles the favorite for a long enough period of time?

If Saturday's upsets in men's Division III are any example, it boils down to some circular logic.

To pull the upset, you have to believe it isn't an upset.

"I don't know what people think of us, but we think we're one of the better teams in the country when we play," said Michael Carvana, Denison's head coach, after his team stunned Roanoke, the former No. 1 team in the country, 14-7.

"Tufts is a good team and they beat us the first time, but we knew we could play with them," added Western New England head man John Klepacki following the Golden Bears, 12-9 victory against the Jumbos.

It's tough to assess which was the bigger upset.

Regardless of the their resumes, Pool B teams rarely get much benefit of the doubt, and the Big Red was given little chance of going to Roanoke and beating the Maroons. I certainly didn't think they'd do it.

I knew the Denison offense - led by Brady Burton, Emmett Jones and Dan Maude, who combined for 11 of the 14 goals on Saturday - could get their numbers against most teams, but I wasn't convinced the Big Red defense, anchored by freshman goalie Greg Shannon, could withstand an onslaught of Roanoke proportions.

I wasn't, but Carvana was.

"I've been told we have the second-ranked defense in the country and we've played some pretty good games against some good teams, so it doesn't surprise us that we can play that well," he said. "Obviously, holding a team like Roanoke, the former No. 1 team in the country, to seven goals was pretty good, but we have a confidence in what we do and we have a very unique style of defense, which seems to help us at both ends of the field."

WNEC heading to Medford and humbling Tufts was definitely a huge upset when one considers the result of the first meeting between the two teams on April 7. Despite statistics that were relatively even, the Jumbos disposed of the Golden Bears easily, 15-4.

"We were coming off our biggest game of the season," said Klepacki, referring to WNEC's win over Commonwealth Coast archrival Endicott three days before the first engagement. "You can't take anything away from Tufts - they beat us - but we felt we didn't show what we are capable of."

It was clear from the start that WNEC would not be reprising its role as a nail to Tufts' hammer. Neither team managed to build more than a one goal lead until the fourth quarter, and the Jumbos needed a hat trick from its fifth-leading scorer just to keep the game tight early on.

And unlike the initial enounter, when Tim Santye and Brody Savoie were held to two goals combined, the WNEC duo amassed six goals and an assist to help the Bears pull away late in the game.

"We have players who like to play in the big games," said Klepacki. "They love a challenge."

If they do, then they're in luck because WNEC, as well as Denison, have each earned the right to accept another, probably even tougher challenge.

And wear the underdog label yet again.

WNEC must travel to Cortland - the team that handed the Golden Bears their other loss this season, 15-7 on Feb. 28 - on Wednesday to face a Red Dragon program that not only expects to beat WNEC, but has made the national championship game a vacation home for the last three seasons.

Denison will hit the road for the third time in a week to face Gettysburg, the second-seeded team in the "South" end of the bracket, and one of the hottest teams in the country right now.

Perhaps because he still has the game in front of him, Caravana is taking a more humble tact with the Bullets.

"We're looking forward to playing Gettysburg and hopefully we can compete in that game," he said.

Competing is the goal of every underdog - whether it's the Big Red, Golden Bears or the rest of the lot. But the teams who actually spring the upset don't hope for anything.

They know.

A Quick Look at Wednesday
We're down the final eight teams in men's Division III and all of the games have a compelling angle, which I'll look at on Tuesday. Just so you can mark your calendars, here are Wednesday's games (times won't be cemented until Monday).

Western New England at Cortland
Middlebury at Wesleyan
Salisbury at Stevenson
Denison at Gettysburg

Three of the four games are rematches, and two of them - Middlebury-Wesleyan and Stevenson-Salisbury - will be meeting number three of the year. WNEC and Cortland have met just once, on Feb. 28 with the Red Dragons pounding the Golden Bears, 15-7.


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