April 16, 2012

Making Sense: Hamilton Earns NESCAC Respect

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Sophomore attackman Paul Armideo (above) has added to the offensive depth for Hamilton, allowing the Continentals to stay in the hunt for the NESCAC tournament in their first season in the power conference.
© Michael P. Doherty

The 'No Respect' card is a timeless classic. It's on every coach's short list of motivational ploys when the team needs a lift.

Pointing out a lack of respect produces a visceral reaction among humans. While it has most certainly been overplayed, especially in the athletic realm, it still strikes a cord. It has the potential to make a player run a little bit faster, shoot slightly harder and battle for a ground ball even more relentlessly, if only for a chance to show up an opponent.

This tactic can also be extremely counterproductive.

Hamilton realized this after starting the season with a 1-4 record and an 0-4 mark playing in the Continentals' new league, the New England Small College Athletic Conference. In hopes of quieting the Greek chorus – this writer among the choir – foretelling of an embarrassing season ahead for Hamilton, the players came out wild-eyed in hopes of silencing the critics.

The result was three consecutive losses to Tufts, Wesleyan and Colby with a fourth conference loss coming soon thereafter to Bowdoin.

"In the first couple of games, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make a statement right away," said Hamilton senior attackman Jon Leanos. "Looking back, that kind of hurt us. We confused playing with enthusiasm with playing smart, because we were playing stupid and undisciplined. We were taking quick shots; we were flustered."

Playing Tufts and Wesleyan on back-to-back days to open the season is a tough task – "One is like a tornado coming through your town and the other has the stingiest defenses in the country," said Hamilton head coach Scott Barnard – but the Continentals acquitted themselves well. They led the Jumbos at halftime and had possession late in the one-goal setback to the Cardinals.

It's just that there was a lack of consistency from one play – or quarter – to the next. Barnard says you don't need superstars or flashy plays to win in the NESCAC, he just needs a level presence.

"If you give me some consistency, now I can do some game-planning," Barnard said. "Things like that have really tried to dominate our mindset instead of who we're playing against and what they do, because you can drive yourself insane."

There were also some shooting issues. In the 11-10 loss Colby, which dropped Hamilton to 0-3, the Continentals out-shot the White Mules 21-3 in the fourth quarter and held a commanding 54-25 advantage for the game. The margin was narrower (35-32), but the Continentals also out-shot Bowdoin, but lost to drop them to 0-4 in the league.

"Larry Bird said it well," said Barnard. "If you're not hitting your shots, you can't stop shooting. You've got to keep shooting, right? You can't lose confidence in what you're doing. You have to stay true to your values. Once in a while, there are times in life where you get good looks and you're having good opportunities and you don't capitalize on them. You've got to keep working hard, keep that faith and keep that confidence that it is going to happen."

It did finally happen, and it came against the most recognizable name in the conference. Hamilton raced out to a 5-1 lead against Middlebury, only to see the Panthers rally and tie the game in the fourth quarter. Instead of wilting, the Continentals remained calm and pulled out the 7-6 victory for their inaugural conference win.

"We played good teams at the beginning of the season and we had a trial by fire," said Leanos. "The Middlebury game was the first game where we relaxed, took things in stride and didn't put too much pressure on ourselves. That really helped. The opening season losses put things in perspective and showed us that we didn't have to force things. We could just let the game come to us."

"For [the players] to win at home against such a quality opponent was a tremendous mark for them," said Barnard. "They saw at that point that we just need to keep doing what we do and take care of ourselves. We went into Amherst with the same mentality. Worry about the things you can control."

Trailing 6-5 against Amherst, ranked No. 3 in the country at the time, the Continentals blanked the Lord Jeffs in the second half, coasting home for a 12-6 win. Wins over Oneonta, Bates and Skidmore pushed the winning streak to five games. Hamilton lost over the weekend against Conn. College – part of what Barnard calls the "NESCAC chaos" – but it won't impact the approach to the season.

"It keeps us humble and it keeps us hungry," said Leanos. "We have a lot left to prove. We haven't earned anything yet. Our goal is to make the NESCAC tournament and win a NESCAC championship. The fact that we're staying under the radar is perfect for us. We like the underdog role and we like surprising teams."

"It's our first year in the NESCAC and we're just trying to keep our head down and trying to stay quiet," said Barnard. "We're just trying to work hard and compete. Be consistent with our emotions. That's a really big thing. Not have that wave."

With two league games left in the season, the Continentals are close to their goal of making the eight-team conference tournament, but they'll need at least one win in their final two – against Williams and Trinity. The Ephs, which are currently in last place, just beat No. 5 Union, and the Bantams are the top team in the league. Nothing is certain.

Junior middie Michael Clarke is one of the unsung Continental players who have made victories over Middlebury, Amherst and Bates possible.
© Michael P. Doherty

There was another goal, perhaps unstated at the first meeting of the season, that has also permeated the Hamilton program this spring.

"We wanted to show and prove that we belonged in this league and we weren't the whipping boys for the NESCAC," said Leanos.

The Continentals have done that, meaning they now have the respect they wanted.

Game Balls

Ryan Clarke, Jr., Midfield – Salisbury
With the Sea Gulls trailing 9-5 heading into the fourth quarter against Stevenson, Clarke scored two goals and set up two others – including the game-winner with 11 ticks left – to lift Salisbury to the 11-10 win.

Kevin Dargin, Fr., Attack – Franklin Pierce
The Ravens posted their first win over a ranked opponent – an 11-10 triumph over No. 9 St. Anselm – thanks to the play of Dargin, who finished with a hat trick.

Josh Fagan, Soph., Attack – Concordia
In a key SLC clash with Cal State-Fullerton, Fagan scored six goals as the Eagles dropped the hammer on the Titans, 15-7. Fagan has 58 goals in 14 games.

Jon Nessa, Soph., Attack – Roger Williams
The 6-foot-4 Nessa scored four goals and assisted on four others, helping the Hawks hand Endicott its first conference loss of the season, 11-7.

Michael Pecchia, Sr., Goalie - Catawba
The Indians won their second-straight Deep South Conference title thanks to Pecchia's stellar play. He made 25 saves in the semifinal win over Mars Hill and followed it up with 17 more in the championship game against Florida Southern.

Jordan Richtsmeier, Jr., Attack - Davenport
Richtsmeier, who set up the game-winning goal in the fourth overtime of last year's national semifinal over Grand Valley State, scored the game winner with just 11 ticks left in this year's OT thriller with the Lakers.

Caldwell Rohrbach, Sr., Attack – Gettysburg
Rohrbach scored a key second half goal and set up his teammates for three more markers, helping Gettysburg pick up a clutch, Centennial road victory over Washington College.

Jason Smith, Sr., Midfield – NYIT
After scoring 13 points all of last season, Smith posted a seven-point afternoon in the Bears' road win over No. 8 Seton Hill. He had four goals and three assists in the important ECC triumph.

Chris Williamson, Sr., Goalie – Bowdoin
The Polar Bears were outshot, 45-16 by Wesleyan, but Williamson was up to the task. He made 17 saves, including 13 in the first half, helping Bowdoin escape with a key, 7-5 victory.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Mercyhurst (10-0) – The Lakers make their way to NYC for yet another key Central region clash. If they can beat NYIT, 'Hurst will host an NCAA semi.
2. Le Moyne (12-0) – Kam Bumpus (13-for-17 faceoffs, 12 GBs in win against Bentley) is such a huge weapon for the Dolphins.
3. Dowling (9-1) – The Lions cleared their penultimate hurdle by downing Chestnut Hill. The last big test is Limestone on May 6.
4. Limestone (12-1) – Pfeiffer held Riley Loewen and Shayne Jackson to a combined one point, taking the Saints to overtime. That's the blueprint.
5. NYIT (11-2) – The Bears were left for dead in early March, but now they are an upset victory over Mercyhurst from backdooring their way to the tourney.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (12-0) – The numbers don't lie. The Dragons have played the toughest schedule around and have earned their way to the top spot.
2. Salisbury (15-0) – If the Gulls think they can make a comeback from a six-goal deficit against a defense like Cortland, they are sadly mistaken.
3. Lynchburg (14-1) – In the last five games, the closest competitor has been nine goals back. We'll see whether that hurts the Hornets in the postseason.
4. Tufts (10-2) – The Jumbos are rounding into form, and at just the right time. Amherst is stumbling, but Tufts completely dismantled the Jeffs.
5. Dickinson (10-2) – The overtime loss to WAC raises some questions, but there are very few candidates remaining for this spot.

MCLA Division I
1. Cal Poly (14-1) – Things look well in hand for the Mustangs. They can start scouting their first round opponent (cough...Duluth...cough) now.
2. Brigham Young (13-2) – There is still something unsettling about the loss to Colorado, but there's no other spot for the Cougars at this point.
3. Colorado State (10-2) – The Rams have still yet to allow double-digits to an opponent this season – a trait that should serve them very well in Greenville.
4. Chapman (13-3) – There will be plenty of good teams in the tourney this spring, but this is the squad you don't want to see in your half of the bracket.
5. UC Santa Barbara (11-1) – The Gauchos have won the games they've needed to, but I wonder just how battled-tested they are. We'll find out on Saturday.

MCLA Division II
1. Davenport (9-4) – If the Panthers were going to make another run, they needed to get their act together. The GVSU win is a very good sign.
2. St. Thomas (8-1) – The loss to archrival St. John's will sting, but the Tommies can live well knowing they'll get another crack at their nemesis.
3. Grand Valley State (10-1) – The Lakers beat Davenport twice last year before losing the one that counted. Maybe they can flip the script this spring.
4. St. John's (6-2) – The Johnnies will have to deal with the Tommies at least one more time, but Saturday's win will pay off big-time in the seeding.
5. Westminster (13-1) – Just a "friendly" with BYU next weekend is left on the regular season schedule. Griffins should get a very nice seed regardless.

Monday Notebooks

NCAA Division II: Things were looking rough for NYIT, but now the Bears are back and control their own destiny.
NCAA Division III: Denison has found its identity this spring, and has high expetations despite the Stevenson loss.
MCLA Division I: Kansas is the lone undefeated team in MCLA Division I, and the Jayhawks have high aspirations.
MCLA Division II: Davenport needed to make some changes, and they appear to have paid off against Grand Valley State.


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