Morning Jac: Susquehanna Eyeing a Landmark Conference Repeat
Parity is a word that is thrown around a lot in lacrosse. Most of the time it is misused, but in the case of the Landmark Conference, it's appropriate. In the six years since the conference formed back in 2008, there have been five different champions of the seven-team league. While Goucher has won the crown twice, it wasn't back-to-back.
For contrast, many Division III conferences boast consecutive champions. The NESCAC (Tufts, 4-straight), SUNYAC (Cortland, 6), Centennial (Dickinson, 3), NEWMAC (Springfield, 6), CSAC (Cabrini, 13) and Skyline (Montclair State, 5) are just some examples. The Liberty, Little East and Commonwealth Coast currently boast back-to-back champions. You get the idea.
Susquehanna is trying to bring the Landmark more in line with these leagues.
"Hopefully we can repeat that kind of success and hopefully get a little better seed in the tournament and try to win a game," said Susquehanna head coach Stewart Moan. "Our challenge now is no one in our conference has won back-to-back conference championships. That's something that is a goal for our team, along with getting back to the NCAAs and maybe be a Top 20 team. Try to elevate ourselves to the next level. We're a work in progress, but we don't want to be a one-hit wonder."
Last year was emblematic of how wide open the Landmark has been over the years. Susquehanna was a third-seed, and ended up beating Merchant Marine – the fourth seed – in the championship game, 6-3, for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Getting to the postseason has provided an impetus for the players as they prepare for this spring.
"To have that taste of success and kind of breaking through, we've seen that reflected in the kids' work ethic and offseason training," said Moan, who has been coaching collegiate lacrosse for 28 years. "More kids are taking weightlifting seriously and their conditioning seriously. They are taking extra time to hit the wall and shoot. For a younger program that is just trying to move up the ranks a little bit, it was a great taste for them. It's good to feel good about yourself. 'Wow, I want that again!'"
The Crusaders will be in as good a position to fight for the Landmark title as the rest of the teams in the league, which Moan feels will be a toss-up once again. Although Susquehanna is missing a couple of key players it thought it would have back, there's still plenty of talent.
Defense was the strength of the team in 2013 and the return of sophomores poles Kade MacGregor and Corrie Van Haasteren will cement the backline. The Crusaders will have to find a new goalie, but junior Jared Knowlton and sophomore Ted Benoit both started games last spring. Junior Carmen Raroha battled an eye issue last year, but is back at full strength to lead the midfield. Senior Pat Brogan, who blew out his knee in the first quarter of the season-opener in '13, is ready to roll on attack and will join Austen Lein, who Moan feels is one of the best attacking options in the league.
"I think we've improved our depth, as well," Moan said. "The bottom half of our roster has improved, so our practices are better. When we do have an injury or a ding, the next guy is better prepared to do good things. We're very happy with the progress of the program. We like to think we're an up-and-coming star in lacrosse, but that star rises slowly. Nobody gets good overnight, but we've steadily improved."
If Susquehanna is able to become the first team to repeat as Landmark champs, the next goal will be to become the first conference team to win a game in the tourney. Last year's contest – a 22-2 loss to Salisbury – didn't quite go according to plan.
"We got in our first tournament and we had to go down and play the two-time defending national champion on the road," Moan said. "Our kids were overwhelmed and they were better than us. But we got a taste of it and got our feet wet."
Examining potential first round opponents is down the page on the Crusaders' to-do list. They've got to take care of business in a league that has been as unpredictable as any in Division III. Moan doesn't mind the balance, however.
"Are we the big-time glamor conference? No, we're not the NESCAC or the ODAC – those sexy conferences," he said. "But in our own little way, we have a very exciting conference. Every game matters from top to bottom. It's fun. We have a fun little conference."