May 19, 2013

Men's Division III Semifinal Impressions

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Paul Cantabene has Stevenson pointed toward the national championship game after ousting two-time defending national champion Salisbury on Sunday night.

Division III has single-handedly made Philadelphia interesting.

While both Division I and Division II boast five of six teams that have a national title to their credit, the NCAA's last child will be sending a pair of teams to Philly searching for their first crown. While the other two subsets will undoubtedly provide us the drama and competitiveness that we've come to expect on Memorial Day weekend, none will match the freshness of D-III.

I've thrown water on the notion of parity all season, and I'm sticking to my belief that it's not a reality. As the dust settles on this Sunday, we're still an overtime goal and a painfully inexperienced team away from watching Cortland and Salisbury tangle for the fifth time in the last eight seasons. That's not to say that RIT and Stevenson haven't earned their ticket, but the real interesting part is how long our finalists have toiled.

Both the Tigers and Mustangs have paid their dues.

Since Jake Coon arrived in Roc-City, RIT has slowly edged the program closer and closer to its first trip to the national title, but it wasn't easy. The Tigers got their doors blown off in the quarterfinals by Cortland in 2010, and the following year, Tufts broke RIT's heart in the semifinals. Last year, it was Tufts again in the quarterfinals who truncated the Tigers' season.

Paul Cantabene has had even more near-misses. Prior to this year's run, Stevenson has been to the national semifinals three of the past four years, only to play second fiddle to either Salisbury (twice) or Gettysburg.

Both RIT and Stevenson give an insight as to what it takes to reach the final weekend of the season. Unlike other tournaments, there are no Cinderellas. No one gets hot for a couple of weeks and no team even gets hot for a season. It's a multi-year building process – often accompanied by painful playoff losses – that catapults a team to the biggest stage.

This realization should hold both promise and consternation to other teams eyeing a spot on Memorial Day weekend. There's the optimism of knowing that new teams can break through, but it comes with the hard truth that it's not going to happen overnight.

Jake Coon and Paul Cantabene are the happiest men in America tonight. They'll both tell you it's because they are proud of their players and how hard the kids worked and all of the other coaching bon mots we've been accustomed to hearing. In reality, they are happy because they got the pay off. All of those devastating losses suffered in years past are no longer painful memories. In the span of a day, they've morphed into 'learning moments' that have prepared them for this coming weekend.

One of the coaches and their team is going to have an uncomfortable summer, much like the ones that have preceded them, but no one is thinking like that right now.

For everyone involved, this is when it really gets interesting.

A Little Appreciation

It's slightly unfair to perseverate on Salisbury and Cortland at this point since I've paid little heed to the many foes the two have vanquished in the past, but the fact is RIT's and Stevenson's accomplishments wouldn't resound nearly as much had they not dispatched their respective regional bully.

It's seems only right to, as Paul Cantabene said about Jim Berkman during the SFMsports.net postgame coverage, "tip my cap" to the seasons that last year's finalist put together this spring.

Cortland's appearance in the North final was expected considering their 19-0 mark up to this point, but it took two double-overtime victories and an extra session triumph during the regular season to achieve that status, so the extra time contest against RIT seemed almost fitting. Salisbury took more losses this season than it has in forever, albeit none by more than two goals up until tonight, and I'm not sure anyone outside of the Eastern Shore thought that Jim Berkman could find a way to hit the road and make it all the way to the semifinals.

When we crown a champion next Sunday, whether it's RIT or Stevenson, we'll know that neither took any shortcuts to their title thanks to the efforts of Cortland and Salisbury.

Thoughts...

There was never a question that RIT was a good team, but when Cortland rallied from a 7-2 third-quarter deficit to send the game into overtime, I thought the Tigers would crumble. Everyone else has done it in face of the Red Dragons this year...Cortland amassed 50 shots, but only 20 were on cage...in the first meeting, RIT and Cortland split (14-for-28) faceoffs. This time, Tyler Brooks-Lambert went 15-for-21 for the Tigers...Dimitri Pecunes was credited with only seven saves for Stevenson, but he had a solid game by any other standard...Dickinson had a 5-1 lead on Salisbury, and when the Gulls started coming back, things snowballed. When Stevenson had a 5-1 lead and the Gulls cut it to 5-3, the Mustangs responded with a 4-0 run to end the half (and essentially the game).

NCAA Division III National Championship Game

Stevenson vs. RIT, Sunday, 4 p.m. – Philadelphia, Pa.


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