March 29, 2013

MD1 Notebook: Croonquist Pinches, Pops, Steals Win for Villanova

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Thomas Croonquist won 22 of 24 faceoffs to power Villanova to an upset of Syracuse. The win stemmed a losing tide. "We knew we can play with anyone," Croonquist said.
© Kevin P. Tucker

The frustration really was building for unranked Villanova, while the Wildcats were discovering various ways to lose enough games to see their record tumble to 1-5. Junior midfielder Thomas Croonquist was happy to take matters into his own skillful hands and give his team new, midseason life.

There are great faceoff performances, and then there are spectacular displays, such as last Saturday, when Croonquist single-handedly cast a spell over visiting Syracuse and lifted Villanova to an 11-10 victory.

Croonquist said he already has moved on from his epic afternoon — and with a hot Penn State team coming to Philadelphia on Saturday, that's a good strategy. But Croonquist also didn't mind glancing back at his masterpiece, when he clamped and pinched and popped the Orange to death by winning an astounding 22 of 24 draws.

"We had to find a way to match [the Orange] transition game," said Croonquist, whose Wildcats have beaten Syracuse in back-to-back, regular-season games. "The last couple of years, we've matched up well with them, but that game [last week] was just different. I had some things working, and our conditioning kind of pulled us through."

No one showed more stamina than Croonquist, a hockey-turned-lacrosse player who has been one of the game's more consistent faceoff specialists since setting foot on the Nova campus. After winning 75 percent of his faceoff attempts to lead Seton Hall Prep to the Essex County (N.J.) tournament championship as a senior, Croonquist has clicked in clockwork fashion for the Wildcats.

As a freshman part-time face-off man, Croonquist won 60 percent of his draws taken. Last year as the team's primary faceoff specialist weapon, he ranked ninth (.603) in the NCAA to help the Wildcats to an 8-7 mark. So far in 2013, Croonquist ranks eighth with a 60.1 success rate.

More important, the 2-5 Wildcats are alive again with a 1-0 record in Big East play. After dropping two-goal decisions to Lehigh and Drexel and suffering three-goal losses to Princeton and Maryland during their 1-5, season-opening slide, Nova has visions of challenging for a conference championship — and the resulting automatic, NCAA tournament qualifier.

"We've had some tough losses," Croonquist said. "We were up for much of the Princeton game, but we ran out of time after a couple of missed turnovers and ground balls. Maryland's defense is enormous and athletic, but we hung with them. I came up short against Penn [in a 13-9 loss]. We know we can play with anyone."

And if Croonquist gets on one of his serious rolls, the Wildcats know they can beat anyone.

Bison recharging

A truly strange thing happened at Bucknell on Tuesday. The Bison, who had just ascended to an historic, No. 7 ranking on the strength of a seven-game winning streak punctuated by a 9-8 upset over Cornell, got blown out.

Surging, 16th-ranked Penn State did the damage, behind freshman T.J. Sanders' four goals and a 14-save gem by junior goalie Austin Kaut, who made 11 stops in a terrific first half. The Nittany Lions pulled away by scoring the last eight goals of the evening.

Stop the presses. Penn State did what only one other team (Virginia) has done to Bucknell's senior class in four years — beat the Bison by more than three goals.

In hindsight, Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka said the Bison probably were due for a hard fall. Bucknell (8-2, 2-0 Patriot League) played its third straight week in Saturday-Tuesday game cycles, and the hard scheduling took its toll.

"We've had one day off for the last three weeks, and the only thing we had left in the tank was emotion and fumes," Fedorjaka said. "Once we got down by four in the fourth quarter, we had to do things on offense [rush shots] and defense [press out and gamble to force turnovers] that we normally don't do, and we had nothing left."

Bucknell plays host to Holy Cross on Saturday, then will focus on earning the top seed in the Patriot League tournament that begins on April 26. In the meantime, the Bison will enjoy playing once a week on Saturday from now until then.

UMass lurking with Manny, Fleming back

UMass (5-4, 0-1 CAA) remains unranked. But the Minutemen for now are done licking their wounds and are determined to make a hard run at a conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which is realistically their only path to the postseason.

A painful, four-game losing streak, thanks to the absence of injured senior offensive stars Will Manny and Colin Fleming, led to the Minutemen's temporary undoing. But the offense is back intact, and UMass goes in search of its third straight win at St. Joe's on Saturday.

The Minutemen showed their mettle with a gritty, 6-4 win at Lehigh on March 20, a contest that featured hard-nosed defense and a hat trick by Manny.

"We're 1-2 at home, we've got five games left, and we didn't score more than six goals in any of those games during our losing streak," UMass coach Greg Cannella said. "Obviously, getting Will and Colin back is huge, in terms of leadership and experience. But there is nothing out there that is easy."


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