Coyne's Picks: Men's D-III First Round
During his 24 years at Herkimer, Paul Wehrum (above) won eight JuCo national championships, so he's no stranger to the pressure of postseason play. Union, however, is making its first-ever trip to the dance on Wednesday when it travels to Nazareth for the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Can Wehrum impart enough of his knowledge to lift the Dutchmen? Jac Coyne doesn't think so.
It's time for the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament, so that means it's time for me to pick the winners from Wednesday's 10-game slate.
Ohio Wesleyan (10-3) at Denison (10-3), 2 p.m.
For the 88th time since 1958 and the ninth time in NCAA history, these NCAC rivals square off. It seems like the committee tries to pair off at least two of the Pool B entrants from Ohio every year, and for the third time since '06, it will be the Big Red and Battling Bishops. In '06, Denison won, 10-9 and in '09 it was a 12-2 drubbing by DU. I'm guessing this third meeting will trend toward the latter result.
Denison received a relatively pedestrian effort out of goalie Nick Petracca (3 saves) in the regular season meeting won by the Big Red, 12-6, but the Bishops only managed to get nine of their 29 total shots on cage. It's a good bet that OWU will concentrate on minimizing Emmett Jones, who scored four in the first meeting, but Denison has enough residual firepower in Tanner Smith (16g, 23a), Kyle Brown (21g, 13a) and Colin Molloy (22g, 4a) to make up for any loss of production from Jones (26g, 6a).
It was a solid first season for OWU's rookie head coach Mike Plantholt, but he'll have a hard time getting the better of Mike Caravana this year. Denison, 10-4.
Scranton (9-7) at Gettysburg (11-6), 2 p.m.
A first-time program with a first-time head coach visits a legendary program with a legendary coach. That first sentence does not sound very promising for Scranton, but if there's one thing in the Royals' favor, it's this isn't your father's Gettysburg team. The Bullets have been prone to sizeable offensive droughts -- they've scored six goals or fewer six times this spring -- although their defense has been outstanding, as usual.
When I spoke with Scranton coach Jim Rogalski on Monday, he said the Royals are hoping to level the field experience-wise by leaning on their faceoff man, Pat Cefalu, and an experienced goalie platoon. These will certainly help (although Gettysburg's Nick Avedisian will provide a challenge at the 'X'). And remember, Scranton has played Nazareth and Stevenson this year, so they won't be in awe of the Bullets. Further, Goucher proved last year that the Landmark wasn't the minor leagues when it traveled to Middlebury and made the Panthers work.
Gettysburg will win this game, but the NCAA experience will be invaluable for a Scranton program with a lot of potential. Bullets, 11-4.
Union (12-4) at Nazareth (11-6), 3 p.m.
Nazareth head coach Rob Randall told me that the Flyers are exhausted from having to play three games in a six-day span, but so does Union, so that should be a wash (although the Dutchmen typically play a pretty short bench). Both were also on edge until Sunday before they found out they were in the tournament. Considering where each team is at this point, this might be the best match-up of the first round.
Union coach Paul Wehrum has plenty of experience earned during his 24 years as head coach at Herkimer, including eight national titles, but this is the first-ever trip to the NCAAs for the Dutchmen. That's important, especially since the Flyers were last in the tournament in '09 and have been 19 times in total. Not that those 19 have any bearing on this year's team, but it establishes a certain program-wide expectation level. I think that will ultimately prove too much for Union. Sean Aaron (6.92 GAA; 61.7 Sv.%) will keep this game closer than it should be, but the Dutchmen's offense won't be able to keep up with Naz. Flyers, 11-8.
Castleton (12-7) at Middlebury (12-4), 3:30 p.m.
A slam dunk, right? Don't tell that to Middlebury coach Dave Campbell. "Castleton played tough with Colby [losing, 9-6] and Colby gave us everything we could handle, that's for sure." Middlebury is the better team, and the Panthers duo of 6-foot-4 starting attackmen Dave Hild and Griff McGoldrick (along with 5-foot-10 Mike Giordano) will give the Spartans trouble. The risk-taking Panther defense is also something Castleton will have to be cognizant of.
The Spartans do have Craig McDerment, who is running at a 70.7 (208-for-294) clip at the dot, which happens to be an Achilles heel (44.3% as a team) for Middlebury. And while it has come against a relatively weak schedule, Castleton does have some scorers, including six players with at least 25 points. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Spartans jump out to an early lead -- Midd has a penchant for playing down to its competition at times -- but Middlebury's skill players won't allow them to keep it. Panthers, 13-6.
Springfield (11-5) at Endicott (15-4), 4 p.m.
To guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament, Endicott coach Sean Quirk had to vanquish one of his best friends. If he wants a shot at beating Salisbury in the NCAA second round, Quirk will have to oust his mentor. That's the scenario for Quirk and the Gulls as they entertain Springfield on Wednesday. Quirk's win over former teammate and current WNEC head coach John Klepacki in the CCC finals sets up a confrontation with Keith Bugbee, the Pride's long-time head coach and Quirk's former coach. The funny thing is, neither of those guys will be playing on Wednesday.
That will be taken care of by an Endicott team that has shown it can play with the best teams in the country and a Springfield squad with a lot of promise, but none of the results to show for it. The Pride outshot Endicott in the first meeting on March 2, but Mike Klein made 14 saves to be the difference in the Gulls' 9-6 victory. I don't think Klein will be quite as hot, but he won't need to be. Endicott is an experienced team with a lot of confidence. The hosts should win this one relatively comfortably. Gulls, 14-9.
Keene State (13-2) at Amherst (13-2), 5 p.m.
Last year's NESCAC break-out team, Conn. College, finagled a first round bye after their quarterfinal exit in the semifinals and two losses, but Amherst wasn't so lucky (thanks, primarily, to RIT's undefeated season). Even more unlucky for the Lord Jeffs is they were dealt a talented and confident Keene State team to kick off the tournament.
If both teams play their best games, Amherst wins, but if the hosts are off even a tick, they could be in trouble. While the Little East is a secondary league, the Owls boast the offensive player (Griffin Meehan; 61g, 25a), defensive player (Sean Leblanc, close defender) and rookie (Andrew Fazio) of the year from that conference. Fazio is a revelation playing LSM at 5-foot-1.
There is no question that Keene State is a confident bunch.
"We saw these guys in early February when we had a scrimmage together," said head coach Mark Theriault. "Just seeing what they had, watching a bunch of game films and talking to a bunch people, we match up really well against them."
I'm figuring there is going to be at least one upset in the first round, and I think this will be the one. Amherst has loads of talent, including Sam Jakimo in net and the dynamic freshman duo of Devin Acton and Aaron Mathias on offense, but they are young. Too young to handle the bright lights, at least this year. Owls, 13-11.
Widener (15-2) at Cabrini (12-5), 6 p.m.
The so-called "Battle of the Blue Route" is unearthed as these neighborly schools tangle for the 11th time overall (the series is tied) and second time in the NCAA history (Cabrini is up 1-0). If everything follows the plan, this should be a low-scoring affair.
In year's past, that was atypical of a Cavalier team -- they loved to score as much as possible with the likes of Casey Grugan. While Cabrini still pounded its CSAC opponents, it transformed into a grinding defensive team when it needed to against high end opponents. The Cavs also played within a goal of Haverford (6-5), Gettysburg (9-8, ot) and Roanoke (14-13), while notching its biggest win against Hampden-Sydney (12-10), which was ranked No. 11 in the country at the time.
The defensive acumen will come in handy against Widener, because the Pride's entire identity is based on chiseling down its opponents on the back end. The 13-0 loss to Cortland to start the season aside, the most goals allowed this year was nine to Dickinson, which is currently the third seed in the South. Jamie Lockard runs a goalie platoon of Mac Nestler and Bobby Schluter, who have combined for a GAA below 6.00. The Pride may not score a lot of goals, but they're just looking for one more than you're team.
In this case, I see Widener scoring two less goals than its opponent. It ain't gonna pretty, but it'll be Cabrini, 6-4.
Adrian (15-2) at Wittenberg (13-1), 7 p.m.
The temptation is to give a long look at Adrian in this game, but I've already learned my lesson with Wittenberg this year. I've doubted them against W&L, as well as Denison, and the Tigers always prove me wrong. It is those two games that will serve George Harris' team well as the pressure gets ratcheted up in the tourney. Wittenberg will win.
There is some danger involved, however. This game is gravy for Brendan Hayes and the Bulldogs. They had their eye on next year when the Midwest Lacrosse Conference grabs an AQ for the first time, so getting a jump start on the NCAA experience is playing with house money. As a result, the carefree Adrian squad may keep it closer than the first match-up on March 26, won by the Tigers, 16-9. It'll be Witt, 12-7.
Colorado College (15-0) at Roanoke (14-2), 7 p.m.
"They only allow 4.4 goals a game," said Roanoke head coach Bill Pilat about Colorado College's defense. "They are definitely stingy at that end, which is kind of interesting because we try to score as much as we possibly can."
Whether or not Colorado College should trust a GAA built via a weak conference schedule against the avaricious Maroon offense is the dilemma Tiger coach Guy Van Arsdale is undoubtedly dealing with as he flies across country on his way to Roanoke Regional Airport, which can sometimes be confused for a strip mall adjacent to a big parking lot.
The Tigers have also know how to score in a very...well...Roanoke-type of way. They have cracked the 20-goal barrier six times, including a pair of 28-goal performances. But do they want to open it up against 'Noke. "You can do it one of two ways," said Pilat. "You can roll the dice and say, 'Let's go with what got us here,' or let's change some things." You can bet CC will be changing some things, but not enough. Maroons, 16-6.
Montclair State (10-6) at Stevens (15-2), 7 p.m.
It's always dangerous playing a team riding pure emotion. That's been the case for Montclair State all year. They've been using the death of former coach John Greco as a catalyst all season, most recently by upending top-seed Farmingdale to win the Skyline AQ. When I spoke with Redhawks interim head coach, and Greco's best friend, Adam Torrisi in February, he knew it could be a powerful fuel for his team.
"Once we started talking about lacrosse again -- it was probably about a month after [John] passed -- everyone came to the agreement pretty quickly that we had the opportunity to have a really special season this year," said Torrisi. "Whatever that means, it means, but we know we have the opportunity to do something very special in his memory."
That's one emotional Mack truck you don't want to step in front of, especially when you're the egghead Jersey school playing against a bunch of blue-collar Garden Staters. So you can bet Stevens coach Gene Peluso will be letting his kids know that they're going to get buzzed from the opening whistle, and if they don't handle it well, the Ducks are in trouble. I think they will handle it, however, and close out the Redhawks, 15-8.