March 29, 2012

WD2 Notebook: Shepherd's Aggressive Offense Paying Off

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Nicole Ruane leads Division II in goals and points through Sunday as the top threat in an offense that has topped 20 goals five times.
© Shepherd 

After Meghan Keelan was tabbed to lead Shepherd's flock in September, she met individually with every player on her new team. She asked each Ram where they thought they were as a player what they considered their strengths.

Keelan took particular interest in the answers of Nicole Ruane, a junior who had finished second on the team in goals, points and assists in 2011.

"She was one of those people who sold herself short," Keelan said. "I said, 'Do you want to be an All-American?' She laughed and said, 'I guess.' I said, 'Seriously. You can do it. But not if you coast through. I'm going to be harder on you than anyone.' She's absolutely stepped up and come through."

That's for sure. Through Sunday, Ruane leads Division II in goals (47) and points (56). In a season-opening 20-19 victory over Division I Howard, Ruane had six goals including the game-winner in overtime. In the next game, an 8-7 victory over Shenandoah, Ruane again had six and the game-winner.

"She really put the team on her back," Keelan said.

Shepherd (8-3) opened the season with eight straight wins, including one over Millersville, and threw itself into the South Region's wide-open playoff race. Recent losses to Seton Hill and Shippensburg have effectively eliminated the Rams from the playoff conversation, but the third-year program will be an impact player whenever Division II's playoffs expand and possibly sooner.

That begins at the top. Keelan's experience is all at the Division I level. She coached at Bucknell and played at UMBC. In her first season she's brought some D-I strategy to Shepherd.

"We play a pretty aggressive offense," she said. "It's not something you see too much in Division II. I really wanted them to embrace that they're all athletes. That's our biggest gift. We can take chances."

That was clear early, as Shepherd topped 20 goals five times.

Sometimes those risks don't pay off. Shippensburg defeated Shepherd 21-5 on Wednesday, dominating on draws, 17-10, and shots, 31-16.

Still, Shepherd has a solid young base to build on. The Rams have no seniors and four juniors, including Ruane and Krista Tippett (28 goals this year). Sophomore Christina Ferrara has 16 goals and 17 assists. Freshman Georgia Karr has exploded onto the scene with 32 goals and 16 assists.

Shepherd will look to get back on track Saturday at West Virginia Wesleyan. No matter the result the rest of the way, the season is a success. The new playing style has helped the Rams match last season's win total already.

"I said right from the get go. Things are going to be different," Keelan said. "It's whether you buy-in or give it a try.' There was definitely a little bit of hesitation [at first] because everyone has a perfection complex."

Which is funny because, for the first month of the season, Shepherd's new style had led to perfection.

New Haven Charging Toward Playoff Spot

For the past couple of years multiple Northeast-10 coaches have mentioned New Haven as a team to watch out for. On Wednesday the ECC learned that as well when the No. 8 Chargers defeated No. 3 C.W. Post, 18-17, in overtime.

The win pushes New Haven to 7-0. C.W. Post is 4-1.

Post led 17-15 early in overtime but New Haven scored the final three goals, tying it after Ashley Ferrandiz scored on a free position and then assisted on a goal from Natalie Lieberman. Kathryn Campbell won it with 57 seconds remaining off an assist from Ferrandiz.

Sarah Magnone led New Haven with six goals, Ferrandiz had four goals and five assists and Alexis Gabbe had four goals and two assists.

New Haven led 5-2 early, but C.W. Post led by as much as 9-5 before the first half ended knotted at 9. No team led by more than one in the second half. C.W. Post's Nan Mayott scored with seven seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. Ashley Olen led the Pioneers with six goals.

New Haven hosts another huge game on Saturday against No. 8 Stonehill (6-1). Post hosts Seton Hill (7-1) the same day.

Queens (N.Y.) Still Unbeaten

C.W. Post's loss leaves Queens as the ECC's only remaining undefeated team. Meghan Monahan, Heather Rosen and Sarah Boucher each scored for goals for the Knights (5-0) on Monday, who defeated Dominican 18-5.

Through Sunday, Rosen leads Division II with 4.75 goals per game.

Queens, which opened the season with a win over No. 15 Saint Anselm, faces its biggest test yet on Saturday at No. 14 Dowling (3-3), the defending ECC champion. Dowling won its ECC opener 10-9 over Mercy on Wednesday.

Lenoir-Rhyne Rising

Here's a trivia question. As of Thursday morning, which two Division II teams have the most wins? The first team is pretty easy. Rollins is 11-0 and has wins over Limestone, Lock Haven and Stonehill.

The second team might come as a bit of a surprise. Lenoir-Rhyne improved to 11-3 on Wednesday with a 20-5 victory over Lees-McRae. The win comes four days after the Bears handed No. 12 Florida Southern its second loss of the season, 20-16.

The second-year program out of Hickory, N.C., has won 10 of its last 11 games with the only loss coming to Rollins. The Bears host Belmont Abbey on Wednesday.


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