June 1, 2014

Adelphi Crown Marks End of Era in Women's DII

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Adelphi's NCAA title win over Lock Haven marked the end of an era in D2 women's lacrosse, with players like Panthers Devan Crimi and LIU Post's Jackie Sileo all graduating after this spring. (Keith Lucas)

This weekend marked the end of an era in Division II women’s lacrosse. And not just because after two straight years of LIU Post dominance, the title shifted 10 miles down the road back to Adelphi.

Next season will mark the beginning of a very different D2 world. Program-defining stars like Jackie Sileo at LIU Post, Devan Crimi at Adelphi, Chelsea Borrino at Lock Haven and Sarah Oor at Limestone, said goodbye to their college careers during this NCAA tournament. Le Moyne has officially been in Division II long enough to have four year players graduate without playing Division I. Lindenwood no longer has any players from its club team left.

And, yes, Adelphi, the team with more NCAA titles than any Division II team, won it all again. But the Panthers’ toughest game did not come in the Northeast-10 tournament or the North Region finals, it came against a pair of South Region teams - Lock Haven and Lindenwood. That’s different.

The North Region has won 12 of the 14 Division II championships, but the gap is closing. Aside from Adelphi being on top, much of the Division II landscape, which now sees contenders stretched from the North Atlantic to South Florida to the Rocky Mountains, would be unrecognizable to a time traveler from 2008. Things are only going to get weirder moving forward.

Way Too Early Top 5 for 2014

1. Adelphi

Was Sunday the dawn of a new Adelphi dynasty? It’s certainly possible. The recruiting classes that Rob Grella has brought in so far have been fantastic and the success on that front should only continue. The Panthers proved plenty this weekend. They left no room for an LIU Post comeback, and even put the two-time defending champions in running time during the second half. Then showed they could handle a close game the next day when they held off Lock Haven. It could be the first of many.

Question: How many can they win in a row?

It’s unfair to compare this Adelphi team to the dynasty of a few years ago, but not because of any difference in talent. The Division II that Adelphi dominated this year was way more competitive than the Division II it dominated six years ago. Adelphi will continue to reload, but so will a dozen other contenders that past juggernauts didn’t have to worry about. With players like Alexa Froccaro, Danielle Jaycox, Jackie Jahelka and Meg Brown returning, this  may indeed be the dawn of another Adelphi dynasty. But it may be the dawn of a new era of Division II parity.

2. Lock Haven

The Eagles were within one goal of Adelphi with five minutes remaining in the NCAA title game and put a scare into the Panthers for the first time since March. Next year, the team that won 17 of its final 18 games might return more firepower than any other in D2. The Eagles graduate just two seniors. The 2012 ACL injury to Jessica Pandolf now kind of looks like a blessing in disguise and their redshirt star cements the Eagles' status as No. 1 contenders for the Division II crown.

Question: Can They Get Back to the Postseason?

Like the rest of the PSAC, Lock Haven is always going to enter the season at a disadvantage in the South Region because of the Pennsylvania winter. In early March, when key non-league games are usually played, teams from Florida and the Carolinas often have five or six games under their belt, while teams like Lock Haven barely have that many outdoor practices. Early-season losses did not disqualify the Eagles this time around, but they could moving forward.

3. Lindenwood

Lindenwood advanced all the way to the NCAA semifinals in its first full season in DII. How can the Missouri program continue its development in 2015? (Lock Haven Athletics)

The Lions were two minutes from the NCAA championship game on Saturday, with the lead and the ball. They ended up turning that ball over and Lock Haven rallied to win in overtime, ending LU’s magical season. But maybe there is a silver lining.That final sequence mirrored what happened to Adelphi in the 2013 NCAA semifinals. Everything turned out alright for the Panthers the next time around.

Question: How can they top Year 1?

From hanging with Adelphi at the beginning of March, to sweeping through Florida at the beginning of April, to knocking off Limestone at the beginning May, Lindenwood left its mark everywhere it went this year. Teams aren’t supposed to have that kind of success in their first full NCAA season. They logged more time in hotel rooms than any group probably should and will likely have to hit the road plenty in 2015, but the whole of Division II will be certainly be looking toward St. Charles, Mo., to see what the Lions do as an encore.

4. LIU Post

Two weeks after losing a game for the first time in two years, the Pioneers were eliminated from the NCAA tournament for the first time in two years, on Saturday by Adelphi. And while they graduate a veritable all-star team -- including Sileo, Katie Hannan, Katie Rotan, Sam Losco, Melissa Rohr and Morgan Chiarenza -- Post is never down for long. Coach Meghan McNamara says that each new group of players brings a new identity to a team, te Pioneers will need to find that identity in a hurry to avoid being lost amongst the horde of up-and-coming teams lurking behind in the rankings.

Question: Where will the offense come from?

Yes, LIU loses Sileo, the NCAA’s all-division point leader, but it’s more than that. (And at least Sileo will still be around as a graduate assistant coach.) Four of Post’s Top 5 scorers are gone. Current freshman Stefani Vagelatos will pick up much of the slack and LIU always mines Long Island for a few gems hidden away, but the days of beating teams by 10 goals seem to be over.

5. Mercyhurst

The Lakers did not reach the NCAA tournament, but won 15 of their final 17 games, with both of the losses coming by two goals to Lock Haven. They graduate just four seniors and their dominating 15-person junior class, which includes the trio of talented transfers from St. Bonaventure - Taylor Ventre, Jenna Schlagenhauf and Mackenzie Jordan -- and leading scorer Becca Himes, will be back for one more go around.

Question: Can they survive their conference?

Even with an early non-league loss, Mercyhurst could have punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament by running the table in the PSAC. Lock Haven had something to say about that. The same will likely need to happen next year, but Lock Haven, and West Chester, and IUP, and Seton Hill, and Bloomsburg, and the rest will be happy to thwart the Lakers’ playoff hopes.

Knocking on the door (in alphabetical order): Florida Southern, Limestone, New Haven.

A Future Five

Three members of last year’s Future Five cracked LM’s final Top 15 (Lindenwood, Saint Anselm, Regis), another spent most of the year on the verge of it (Philadelphia) and the fifth (Grand Valley State) won 13 games.

This year’s five will have a tougher time breaking into the national rankings because Lindenwood, Saint Anselm, Regis and Philadelphia aren’t going anywhere soon. But here is a look at five teams currently on the outside of the national conversation, capable of pulling a Lindenwood and jumping into the NCAA tournament as soon as next year:

Fort Lewis

While its predecessor, the WILA, was always a two-team race, the RMAC proved in its first year that the west is wide enough for three top programs. The Skyhawks boasted Division II’s No. 15 defense and proved their mettle with close regular season results against Lindenwood and Regis and a win over Rollins. Teams will travel to Durango, Co., at their own risk going forward.

Grand Valley State

The only repeat member on the list won 13 games for the second straight season this year. The more telling number may be GVSU’s five losses, four of which came against NCAA tournament teams. The Lakers’ original recruiting class will be seniors next season and, if they keep playing the same sort of nonleague slate, 2015 could be the year the perennial GLIAC champions extend their dominance beyond the Great Lakes region. As Lindenwood and Philadelphia University proved this year, good things happen to teams that schedule well.

Rollins

This is cheating, obviously, because Rollins was two minutes away from the NCAA championship game in 2013. But the Tars lost five of their final six games this year, stumbled to an 8-8 record and fell completely out of the national rankings. The Tars suffered through a ton of injuries this year, and next season will bring the first batch of recruits that committed after Rollins’ recent NCAA tournament runs to Winter Park. They’ll be back in the hunt in the South.

Seton Hill

One thing that got lost amidst Seton Hill’s tragedy was that the Griffins were one of Division II’s most promising up-and-coming teams. They quickly reminded everyone of that this season. SHU won 13 games and reached the conference quarterfinals in its first PSAC season, and showed true grit by winning seven of its final eight games, including two in overtime. As normalcy returns to the Pittsburgh-area program, postseason play could also become the norm.

St. Leo

Is St. Leo the next Sunshine State success story? Perhaps. The Lions ended their season on a two-game winning streak, including a three-goal victory over Rollins in the season finale. With a prime location in Florida and a new turf field to lure in recruits from all over the country, St. Leo, which has increased its win total in each of its first three seasons, could make a leap right into the Top 15.

A Sweet 16

The NCAA tournament provided some great games and some genuine upsets but, in the interest of science, here’s what a 16-team tournament might have looked like:

South: 1 Limestone,  2 Lock Haven, 3 Pfeiffer, 4 Lindenwood, 5 Florida Southern, 6 Mercyhurst, 7 Indiana (Pa.), 8 Regis.

There is not a bad matchup in that first round. IUP beat Lock Haven during the regular season and it also would have finally given the world the Limestone vs. Regis matchup that was washed away in March; settled the PSAC vs. Pfeiffer debate on the field; and offered a rematch of a great Lindenwood/Florida Southern game.

North: 1. Adelphi, 2. LIU Post, 3. New Haven, 4. St. Anselm, 5. Le Moyne, 6. Stonehill, 7. Dowling, 8. Philadelphia.

The 1 vs. 8 game would be a mismatch, but every team in the North was mismatched against Adelphi this year. In two of the other games (Post/Dowling, St. Anselm/Le Moyne) the lower seeded team pulled a one goal victory over the higher seeded team during the year.

Sure, the eight-team tournament is a vast improvement over six and 12 in the future would be great. But 16 would be pretty sweet.


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