posted 03.18.2013 at 10.03 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division II Notebook

SeanMichael Pagano probably wouldn't be described as a real sentimental coach. The former marine and detective for the New York State Police doesn't go all mushy when bad things happen. Still, there was a slight lilt of sadness in his voice when recounting the season-ending injury to senior attackman Jon Bonacore.

Bonacore blew out one of his knees last spring, limiting him to just five games. In the first game of this season, a contest against Division I Rhode Island, Bonacore blew out the other knee just after the start of the second half.

"It's rough," Pagano said. "He really worked out and got his knee healthy. He was really putting in the effort and really wanted to play. If you look at the URI box score he had two goals and an assist when he went down at the beginning of the third."

The loss of Bonacore, a captain this spring, was a disappointment to the players, more for his sake than for the team's. Last year's Bulldogs squad finished 11-4 and won the PCLL even without Bonacore's services.

"It wasn't like I had to pull them up by the bootstraps," Pagano said of his team. "They were just like, 'Oh, man, we lost Bonnie again.' It wasn't like 'Oh, man, what are we going to do?' We already did it. We did it last year. It was kind of like, 'Man, I really wanted to play with him this year.' We wanted him to be on the field for us, but he's not, so we've got to do what we do."

What Briarcliffe has done for the past two seasons is lose to Dayton. This past weekends, the Flyers traveled to Long Island and handed the Dawgs an 11-8 setback. Heading into the game, Dayton looked to be a shell of its former self after losing a prolific senior class. Pagano knew he was going to get a stiff test because of Flyers' head coach Charlie Mark.

"The constant is Charlie Mark," Pagano said. "That's a big deal because you can look across the board in Division II and the good programs are the ones with good recruiting classes, good upper class leadership, consistency in coaching and good coaches. St. Thomas, Westminster, Grand Valley. Those are all great teams with good coaches who know what they're doing. Dayton is one of those teams. He's going to come in with 40 or 45 guys against my 24 guys right now with all of the injuries and stuff. But I still think they'll find it a little bit tough to get up and down the field this year."

The Dayton loss aside, Briarcliffe has plenty of tools to get back to Greenville. It all starts with Tim Dillon, a three-time All-American faceoff man who is well on his way to winning his fourth honor (51-for-72 after three games).

"Timmy is Timmy," Pagano said. "He creates a whole bunch of stuff for us. We use him offensively and defensively, but his expertise is faceoffs and he's a senior now and he wants to win. He shows it every time he gets down on that knee."

Briarcliffe has been getting solid defensive production out of long pole Sean Brophy and goalie Matt Gierl while midfielder Anthony Lapuma has, in Pagano's words, "clicked it on now." Pagano has been most pleased with the development of long-stick midfielder Eric Vitale, who has been a ground ball and transition monster.

"I actually looked at him at the end of the preseason and said, 'This is what I'm talking about, Eric. This is what I need from you,'" Pagano said. "He is just playing very well."

The Bulldogs will be in the at-large mix if things don't go to plan, but the sights are once again set on winning the PCLL for the fourth straight year. It will mean getting past No. 8 Coast Guard – a team that could very well be ranked ahead of the Briarcliffe this week – which has already made the Dawgs the focal point of its season.

That's just fine with Pagano.

"I've said it before: Coast Guard is a great team and they've always been good," he said. "It is always a good game. They are hard-nosed kids and we love going up against them. It won't be any different this year. And we love going to their place. They get a big crowd, a rowdy crowd, and the fans are fighting with each other and everything else. It's a great atmosphere. Ever since my first game there, our program's first game, we've had a great rivalry and that was two coaches ago. We'll continue it this year."

- The SELC is going to make the selection committee's life miserable this spring. At this point there appears to be four teams legitimately in the race for an at-large bid, and a fifth (SCAD) that could very well get its act together in time to win the conference AQ. If that wasn't enough, history could repeat itself in the Southeast Division, where a team that doesn't make the conference tournament but still makes nationals.

The Southeast, which features SCAD, Florida Gulf Coast and Palm Beach Atlantic, will obviously send only two to the SELCs. With SCAD (2-6) fading at this point, it wouldn't seem like a big deal, but one of the two Bees' wins came against PBA. There are plenty of machinations of how this could play out, but PBA's regular season finale against FGCU will be an elimination game for the Sailfish.

The resumes of both PBA and FGCU are being propped up by the legitimacy of Grand Valley State, which both teams defeated. As unlikely as it may be, it's not out of the realm of possibility that GVSU finishes up 5-7 against D-II competition. That will quickkly take the bloom off the rose of the SELC phenomenon.

- Regardless of what happens in the rest of the SELC, Liberty appears to be the team to beat for the AQ after an impressive swing road swing against Grand Valley State (15-7) and Indiana Tech (15-11). The Flames are now 8-0 and should probably be a Top 5 team...two months later, Kennesaw State finally picks up its first win. The Owls knocked off Missouri Baptist, 8-3...I wonder how excited St. Mary's is for that spring break trip to Salt Lake City. Gaels are current 2-7...all eyes on Western Oregon next weekend to see if the Wolves can shock the world in the Upper Midwest.

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