March 7, 2013

Chapman's Club-to-D3 Jump Off to Great Start

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Chapman junior Tori Wilkinson was an WCLA All-American last year and leads the Panthers with 25 goals in their first season in NCAA Division III.
© Larry Newman

It's no surprise to see Chapman hovering near the top of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) standings in its first Division III season. The school is located five miles from Disney Land. Somewhere along the line the women's lacrosse program must have hitched a ride on the back of a monorail, because, from Day One, they've forged ahead at an accelerated pace.

In 2007, Chapman had no women's lacrosse program. Then they were one of the worst club teams in the country. By 2011 they were undefeated WCLA Division II champions. Last year they were highly-competitive in WCLA Division I.

Now they're tied with Occidental for second place in the SCIAC. The Panthers are 5-2 with both losses coming to 2012 NCAA tournament teams, Redlands and Occidental, by a combined three goals.

The man at the wheel for this whole ride has been Brian Eisenberg, who grew up in Baltimore, played at Chapman and built its women's program from the ground up. The vast majority of his first team had never picked up a stick before, but Eisenberg saw the success the men's program had and thought he could follow its blueprint on the women's side.

"I had a vision," Eisenberg said. "But I never dreamed it would happen this quick."

They're used to quick transitions, on and off the field. So far in Division III, the Panthers have outscored opponents by an average score of 16-11. And the transition to Division III has been even smoother than expected. There a couple of rule differences, some new rivalries, but, overruling all of that, the team doesn't have to pay dues this year.

And they're taking their club experience and making an NCAA impact.

Tori Wilkinson, who transferred to Chapman from Louisville before last season, led the team in scoring last year. She currently leads the Panthers with 25 goals. Nine players return from the 2011 championship team including midfield grinder, Lauren Mah, and rotating goalies, Kara Podesta and Anjali Thota.

The Panthers will need to draw on that championship experience because the SCIAC is having its best season ever. Redlands is 8-2. Occidental (4-3) beat Redlands and Chapman. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (2-4) defeated Occidental. Pomona-Pitzer (4-3) defeated Oxy and CMS. Eisenberg said the only thing that's surprised him about the league so far is that Whittier (1-6) isn't also pulling upsets.

All this success is good for everyone.

"We all want to be the best, but we also want each other to be one of the best," Eisenberg said. "If one us is Top 10 and others are Top 20... There's a lot of camaraderie."

When Chapman made the jump, the biggest hurdle Eisenberg faced was filling his non-league schedule. Again he received some help from his conference foes. Teams already scheduled to come face SCIAC teams added Chapman. Chapman's most impressive non-league victory came over King's, which also played at Pomona-Pitzer. The toughest non-league opponent remaining, Fredonia, plays at Redlands the day before heading to Chapman.

"What I thought was going to be difficult ended up quite easy," Eisenberg said of the scheduling. "I know the best [D-III] teams, but I don't know too much after that. I just wanted to get 17 games in."

He hopes to ramp up the schedule next season. Chapman has already raised the money to travel next year, where ideally a top team from the east would meet Chapman in Colorado.

Before that, Chapman has a month of non-league games before the SCIAC schedule starts back up and every team will play each other again. The Panthers are hoping for even more success the second time around.

"Like any team we just want to improve," Eisenberg said. "We want to get it out there that we're fighting to be as good as we can. And Chapman University is incredible. We're a hidden gem. Obviously I'm biased, but I can't say enough about it."

Game of Last Week

Susquehanna 11, Redlands 10

At 464 miles, the Susquehanna River is the largest river lying entirely in the United States that flows into the Atlantic. This week the Susquehanna changed course and flowed straight into the Pacific Coast. Well, the women's lacrosse team at Susquehanna University did.

The 20th-ranked Crusaders rolled through California and defeated Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 11-10, Pomona-Pitzer 17-7, and Redlands 11-10. The Redlands victory, on Wednesday night, was the most impressive. Michelle McGinniss won it with 19 seconds remaining, capping an SU comeback that erased a Redlands comeback.

Trailing 9-6 with 20 minutes to go, Redlands rallied with four straight goals and took a 10-9 lead with 5:09 remaining. Less than 30 seconds later, SU's Emma Ehler scored to even the game at 10 and set up McGinniss's winner.

Susquehanna (4-0), which will likely move up the Top 20 next week, will look to make it a perfect West Coast trip Friday at Whittier. Redlands gets another shot at a top-20 team the same day, when it hosts No. 15 St. John Fisher (1-0).

Looking Ahead

Salisbury vs. Cortland (at Franklin & Marshall), Wednesday, noon

Division III is a world dominated by small private schools, but two public powerhouses, from lacrosse's two biggest states, consistently find a way to crash the party. Wednesday at Franklin & Marshall No. 2 Salisbury (2-0) and No. 3 Cortland (1-0) will square off for regular-season bragging rights.

Both teams are no strangers to stiff in-season competition. Cortland is one of eight teams currently ranked in the Top 20 on Salisbury's schedule. Cortland faces five ranked opponents and Saturday's showdown against Franklin & Marshall marks the start of four ranked opponents in five games.

Through two games, Lauren Feusahrens leads Salisbury with seven goals and three assists and Katie Bollhorst has six goals and three assists. Marilyn Farrell led Cortland with two goals and two assists in its 15-5 season-opening victory over William Smith.

Last season, Salisbury won 12-11 at home. Both teams ended up at the final four at Montclair State, where both lost to Trinity. Both are a good bet to be back this year at Stevenson.

Game Balls

McKenzie Bell, Allegheny
Bell, a freshman, followed up a four goal, six assist effort last week, with one goal and eight assists in a rain-shortened, 21-1, victory over Waynesburg State on Saturday. As of Tuesday, Bell leads Division III in points (27) and assists (17).

Katie Hart, Geneseo
Hart scored five goals, including the game-tying score with 81 seconds to go in the first overtime and the game-winner with 1:59 to go in the second, as Geneseo knocked off RIT, 15-14. The sophomore also picked up a career-best seven ground balls to lead the Knights, who face No. 17 Ithaca on Friday.

Molly MacDonald, Mount Holyoke
MacDonald had four goals, including the game-winner with 26 seconds remaining, as the Lyons defeated Skidmore 20-19 on Saturday. She followed that up with a five goals and one assist in Tuesday's 11-6 win over Westfield State.

Miscellaneous

No. 4 Gettysburg rallied in the second half and held the ball for the final eight minutes to defeat No. 11 Messiah 10-8 on Saturday. Lindsey Robinson led Gettysburg with two goals and three assists. Lizzy Keeney had five goals for Messiah. Gettysburg heads to Florida next week, where it will face Stevens, Lynchburg and No. 17 Ithaca. Messiah faces a gauntlet over the next month that includes TCNJ, Dickinson, Mary Washington, Franklin & Marshall, York and Salisbury... SUNYAC teams opened with six straight non-league wins until RPI defeated Oneonta on Wednesday... The NESCAC, which features seven teams ranked in the Top 20 gets its season going on Tuesday. Big games include No. 7 Colby at No. 8 Amherst and No. 14 Tufts at No. 16 Hamilton. Defending NESCAC and NCAA champion, Trinity, opens on the same day, with a non-league game against defending NEWMAC champion, Babson.

Mark Macyk has covered NCAA Division II and III women's lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine and LaxMagazine.com since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.


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