March 17, 2014

MD3 Notebook: Sewanee In Pool B Driver's Seat

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

Michael Morris has been one of the best players for Sewanee since he showed up as a freshman, but he is on pace for a monster senior season. He'll play a key role in how far the Tigers go in the NCAA tournament. (Sewanee Athletics)

Marty Watters seems like a guy who doesn't rattle easily. There aren't many highs or lows with him. Everything is on an even keel.

When you ask him to get excited about Saturday's convincing, 18-7 victory over conference rival – and '13 NCAA tournament participant – Centre, he talks about how the Colonels were missing their best player. Pump him up about finally getting an AQ to the tournament next year when the Southern Athletic Association becomes eligible and he'll tell you that life in the independent world is a plush gig considering the five slots available in Pool B.

Even when his kids yell at him to get off the phone on a lazy Sunday morning at home, Watters takes it all in stride.

In reality, Watters should be excited. The win over Centre, combined with the victory over Colorado College to start the season, has Sewanee on the fast track to the tournament once again. The Tigers would have to completely crater at this point to not be among one of the five teams out of Pool B.

"Especially with such a young team, my job is managing those expectations and the confidence," Watters countered. "Division III lacrosse is more and more like the NFL. The elite teams are very rarely going to lose to the next tier down, but on that next tier down, anybody can beat anybody. It comes down to who showed up on any given day and it's not something you want to gamble on. It's also a match-up game. We matched up well with Centre and we always have."

Watters knows about the importance of match-ups. While Sewanee has Centre's number, the Tigers struggle with SAA rival Berry. They lost to the Vikings during the regular season last year and needed double overtime to defeat them in the conference championship game.

The one match-up that Watters is confident in is senior attackman Michael Morris against any opponent's defender. Morris torched Centre for four goals and five assists, and after six games, he is averaging five points per outing (14g, 16a).

Morris arrived with a lot of promise – "The first practice in the fall of his freshman year, he was the most talented kid on our team," Watters said – but had a slow start to his career. He was limited to mostly man-up his rookie year because of an illness that sapped his body of 15 pounds, but he had rebounded enough by last spring to earn SAA player of the year honors, a feat he's likely to reprise this spring.

"He hasn't been a surprise to me, but he might be a surprise to people on the outside looking in," Watters said.

As Watters alluded to, Sewanee is a young team. Other than Morris, close defender Brandon Barrett, goalie Tommy Healey and a couple of middies, frosh are prevalent. Two rookies – Matt Striefel and Hayden Byrd – start on attack next to Morris and there are three freshman starting on defense. The callowness is likely the cause of Watters' overall cautiousness.

Caution will be thrown to the wind on Wednesday when Sewanee makes a return trip to Washington & Lee, however. It was in Lexington, Va., where the Tigers had their '13 campaign unceremoniously ended via a 19-6 thrashing at the hands of the Generals.

"We still have a lot of kids on our team who played in that game or were on the team," Watters said. "That's a game they've had circled for a while. Even the freshmen who have come in recognize this as a great opportunity. We're very excited about it. In a big picture sense, we don't have much to lose playing them. If we win our conference, regardless of whether we beat W&L or not, we'll have a good shot at those NCAA bids. The upside is getting a win against a program of notoriety and it might give us a little leeway if we don't win our conference. Pool B is a huge goal, but it's secondary to winning our conference."

If the Tigers beat W&L and get a bid to the NCAA tourney? Maybe then you'll see Watters get excited.

Amherst Gaining Momentum

Heading into Friday night's game against a ranked Endicott squad, the question was which Amherst defense was going to show up? Was it the one that allowed Bowdoin to post 17-15 victory just weeks earlier, or would it be the backline that set up a 17-1 win over Eastern Conn. just days before?

As Lord Jeffs head coach Jon Thompson contemplated the question on his drive home from Endicott in the wake of Amherst's 11-10 victory over the Gulls, he was leaning toward the latter.

"Quinn is such a special player. He's better than he was last year and it's not close. He's significantly better and he's gaining confidence in himself. We lean on him a lot." - Amherst head coach Jon Thompson on the play of sophomore Quinn Moroney. (Amherst Athletics)

"More than anything, there was a level of accountability that the guys wanted to hold each other to," Thompson said. "It's never fun to lose a game, but as a defensive group, it's never fun to lose a game 17-15. I think there was a little bit of embarrassment and a chip on the shoulder. I was sure as heck proud of the defense for responding tonight."

Against Endicott, the defense wasn't really the issue. The offense, which was averaging over 16 goals per outing in the first three games, had managed to score just four goals in the first 40 minutes of the game against a stout Gulls defense. Trailing 7-4 in the third, the Jeffs were on the brink.

It all started to click late in the third, however. Amherst rattled off seven straight goals bridging the final two quarters to take an 11-7 lead with five minutes to go in the game. Endicott made a charge at the end, but could never find the equalizier.

"Once our guys were able to figure out how to diagnosis Endicott's defense, we saw more success," Thompson said. "But give Endicott credit, they were doing a really nice job of pressing out and making the game a scramble-style game. We're comfortable in that scramble style, but we're more comfortable dictating pace. For the first quarter and second quarters, they dictated pace, but in the third and fourth, we dictated. That for me was a changing point: when we started determining our own fate."

The key player in the Jeffs run was sophomore quarterback Quinn Moroney. He had a goal and three assists in the seven-goal string alone, and finished with two scores and five dimes. Moroney is used to being a playmaker – he had a team-high 37 assists last year – and has formed a dangerous duo with senior sniper Devon Acton.

"Quinn is such a special player," Thompson said. "He's better than he was last year and it's not close. He's significantly better and he's gaining confidence in himself. We lean on him a lot. It's sort of a neat two-headed monster down there with him and Devon. Teams have to figure out who they want to put their number one guy on because one does one thing really well, and the other guy does another thing really well. They are both learning from each other – one is learning to feed and the other is learning to finish. The mentorship between Devon to Quinn, and now Quinn to Devon, has been really fun to watch."

Amherst sits at 3-1 heading into its three-game trip to Florida for spring break where Western New England, league foe Hamilton and MIT are on the docket. Thompson is hoping the comeback win against Endicott is a sign that this team has the ingredients to get back to the postseason.

"Amherst teams have typically had the ability to come back," he said. "I was proud of this team to come back and get a win. It's easier to dig deep and make it a game and tie it, but a lot of times you run out of gas putting so much energy into tying it. The balloon deflates a little bit. This team, whether its maturity or age or whatever it may be, they believe in each other, they play for each other and I think that one-goal game is a testimony that somebody will get it done."

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Eddie Vita, Sr., A - Denison
The Big Red found themselves in a shootout with Stevens down in Towson, and Denison needed every one of Vita's seven goals to tame the Ducks, 19-17. "Eddie was been really sharp with his overall play and his shooting this season from day one," said Denison head coach Michael Caravana. "He clearly is one of the best finishers and attackmen in the country. But his leadership has also played a very important role in our team's success this season."

Honor Roll
Caleb Abney (York), Kyle Aquin (RIT), Stefan Basile (Union), Bobby Bleistein (Conn. College), Nick Bologno (Richard Stockton), Colin Cederna (Vassar), Steven Cragen (Geneseo), Corey Elmer (Cabrini), Kyle Dahlen (Fontbonne), David Deschenes (Becker), Grant Ferguson (Eastern), Will Franken (Messiah), Dylan Freudenberg (Mass. Maritime), Andy Grabowski (Williams), James Gundling (Otterbein), Tyler Haines (Frostburg State), Cory Hall (Berry), Mike Hanna (Roger Williams), Eric Hanover (Cazenovia), Connnor Haran (Mt. St. Mary), Nick Hermes (Hanover), Rodrigo Henriques (Anna Maria), Jake Holland (Bethany), Chad Hollandshade (Salve Regina), Maxwell Jones (Whittier), Sam Kennedy (Wesley), Austin Lein (Susquehanna), Stephen Link (Benedictine), Mat Livermore (Bard), Robby Maddux (Gettysburg), Brett Mangan (Montclair State), Matt McCaffer (Lycoming), Jack Meachum (Carthage), Quinn Moroney (Amherst), Michael Morris (Sewanee), Aaron Murphy (Lynchburg), Timothy O'Shea (Thiel), Nick Pappas (Virginia Wesleyan), Noah Parson (Vassar), Collin Peters (Mount Union), Alex Peyreigne (Merchant Marine), Tanner Pratt (SUNY Canton), Andrew Preiser (Swarthmore), Bo Prozinski (UMass-Dartmouth), Tyler Refice (Farmingdale State), Andrew Reynolds (Misericordia), Matt Speciale (Kean), John Uppgren (Tufts), Matt Ward (Cabrini), Chris Wenger (Elizabethtown), Patrick Wolfe (Univ. of New England), Jakob Works (Huntingdon), Mickey Zaverucha (Trinity).

Pool Duty

Pool B
1. Sewanee (4-2)
2. Eastern (5-2)
3. Otterbein (3-1)
4. Colorado College (3-4)
5. Whittier (1-0)

Pool C
1. Union (4-1)
2. York (6-1)
3. St. Lawrence (2-1)
4. St. Mary's (3-3)
5. Bowdoin (4-1)

Slides & Rides

- As noted above, Sewanee is good shape in its Pool B quest, but the same can't be said for Colorado College. The Tigers undoubtedly play the toughest schedule among the independent contenders, but they've already lent their strength of schedule to both Sewanee and, after this weekend, Eastern. The Eagles beat CC on Friday, 11-9, to make life uncomfortable for the Tigers. With only five games left on the Division III slate (they play two D2 schools), Colorado College probably can't lose any more games, and must beat Otterbein on Friday and Whittier at the end of the season.

- Backed by five goals and two assists from junior Dylan Freudenberg along with seven points (3g, 4a) from classmate Drew Prowse, Massachusetts Maritime defeated SUNY Maritime, 15-11, to capture the inaugural Maritime Cup. Hosted by Maine Maritime, the three-team Maritime Cup culminated on Sunday with the hosts playing SUNY Maritime, both of which were defeated by the Buccaneers. In addition to the hardware, Mass. Maritime is off to the first 3-0 start in the program's history. They'll put it to the test on Tuesday when Plymouth State comes to town – part of a 10-game home stand.

- For the teams in the Midwest, especially the relatively new ones, the measuring stick is the NCAC. As the conference with the most success and longstanding tradition in the area, it members are considered benchmarks. Since its inception last year, Mount Union has taken four swings at the established NCAC programs and come up short each time (they did beat Hiram in '13, but it was a start-up, as well). On Saturday, the Raiders finally broke through, handing Kenyon a 6-4 loss. Collin Peters made 17 saves in the win and Mount Union scored two goals in the final two minutes to break a tie.

Realistically, Brian Stewart and the Raiders aren't going to be in the mix for a Pool B this year, but for a second year program the win over Kenyon is something that should be embraced. It showed the program is moving in the right direction and, perhaps, has the foundation in place to become a Midwest power along side the NCAC.

- Congrats to Lynchburg head coach Steve Koudelka for notching the 200th win of his career in the Hornets, 10-9 win over Colorado College on Sunday. His 199th win on Saturday ended Guilford's 6-0 start...as usual, the Landmark looks to be completely wide open...two of the best faceoff men in the country squared off on Saturday when Nazareth's Drew Simoneau and Cabrini's Anthony DiNenno went head-to-head. The draw battle was essentially a push – Simoneau went 15-for-31 while DiNenno was 15-for-29 – but the overall war wasn't close. Cabrini rolled, 20-11.

- A leftover from Wednesday: Augustana's Andrew Miller set the record for goals (7) and points (10) in the Vikings' 20-1 victory over Dubuque...Mary Washington ended up losing in double overtime to York, but the Eagles proved themselves in the loss. I was skeptical of MWU's 6-0 record heading into the contest, but they proved they are legit...Salve Regina improved to 6-0 with a road win over Wesley. The Seahawks could very well be 10-0 heading into April...after allowing three goals in the first quarter, Union chewed up Springfield, allowing just one goal over the final 45 minutes – helped by 14 saves from Stefan Basile – for a 10-4 win. The Dutchmen are scary.

- The Tufts-Keene State and Bowdoin-Amherst games have been wildly entertaining because of their high-scoring nature. Denison and Stevens joined the party with their 19-17 game in Towson. The FOGOs got a workout with 40 total draws...Williams improved to 4-1 with a 7-6 win over Conn. College. The Ephs are going to be a thorn in a lot of sides this year...Hamilton can't catch a break...John Carroll keeps cruising along in its first season. The Blue Streaks are the poster child for the benefits of having an MCLA team before going varsity.


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