April 15, 2011

NCAA Division II Women's Lacrosse Notebook: Second-Tier Teams Cling to Playoff Hopes

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

The really exciting stuff doesn't happen for Division II's top teams until May. Sure, you get the occasional regular season doozy like when Adelphi outlasted Le Moyne in a Great Lakes blizzard, but when it comes to the big dogs, this week's results -- Le Moyne 20, Southern Connecticut 1; Adelphi 24, Assumption 4, Lock Haven 17, Mercyhurst 1 -- are the norm.

The games to watch right now come from that second tier. The teams that might not make the NCAA tournament, but are sure going to try.

Division II doubled in size over the past decade, but the real growth came amongst the 10 of 15 teams knocking on the door of the elite. The IWLCA's shift in ranking from a top 10 to a top 15 last week was a direct reflection of that.

At this point in the season, when a team like No. 11 Merrimack (8-5), No. 13 New Haven (7-5) or No. 15 Pfeiffer (11-5) takes the field anything can happen. And it usually does.

"It really is anyone's game," said Pfeiffer coach Dawn Easley. "There's so much competition. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day."

Easley saw that firsthand when Pfeiffer hung close with No. 4 Limestone (13-0) two weeks ago. Limestone's that old exception proving the rule. The Saints have boosted their strength of schedule, and ultimately their record, by playing five teams ranked in the 10-15 range. Now they're undefeated and looking at a trip to Lock Haven next week that could decide the South's No. 1 seed.

Take a closer look at those results: 12-9 over Mercyhurst, 8-7 over Gannon, 6-5 over New Haven, 15-12 over Merrimack, 7-6 over Pfeiffer. If a couple of moments go differently, Limestone's in this group. Instead the Saints are not only favorites to reach the postseason, they're battle-tested.

Dowling (8-2) just showed how dangerous this bloc can be. The Golden Lions had been in and out of the top 10 before the expansion and settled in at No. 9 this week. Defending South region champion No. 7 West Chester (10-2) came to town on Tuesday and Dowling crushed them 18-7. Now depending on what Dowling does against No. 6 C.W. Post and No. 5 Stonehill (10-1) -- and what C.W. Post does against Stonehill and West Chester -- the Lions could be staring at their first NCAA appearance.

But while Dowling beat the two-time champions from Post, it lost to Merrimack. And while Merrimack beat New Haven, it lost to Bentley on Wednesday. And Bentley (6-6) lost to Dowling and Bloomsburg. And No. 14 Bloomsburg (7-6) beat No. 12 Mercyhurst (8-4), but lost to Gannon. And No. 10 Gannon (9-4-1) beat Pfeiffer, but lost to East Stroudsberg.

It's six degrees of contention. It's cannibalistic. And it's enough to make your head spin.

"[The expansion to 15 ranked teams] was going to happen," Easley said. "It was only a matter of time. Coaches are becoming more consistent; players are getting better. It's a really great time for Division II."

It will be an even better time for Division II when the tournament expands, because for now this dozen-team cluster is really battling for only one spot in each region. The PSAC and NE-10 tournaments, as well as some big late-season ECC games should help clear things up, but it's impossible to predict who those teams will be.

You never know when something crazy might happen.

C.W. Post hangs on; brutal stretch next

Something crazy almost happened last Saturday before C.W. Post erased a five-goal halftime deficit and rallied to beat Seton Hill 11-9. Post is a perennial postseason player, but its NCAA hopes were almost dashed by a team it beat 20-3 last season.

Jackie Sileo led Post's comeback with seven assists and two goals, one to cut it to 7-6 midway through the second half and another a few minutes later to put the Pioneers up for good, 8-7.

Sileo has helped ease the burden after the season-ending injury to Ashley Olen, the reigning ECC Player of the Year. The freshman ran the point for the basketball team at Wantagh High School on Long Island last year, and sets up a lacrosse attack like a point guard.

Sileo's 6.8 assists per game is second in Division II, trailing only defending Player of the Year Claire Petersen of Adelphi. Only Petersen and Seton Hill's Ashley White, who scored two goals during the Griffins' 6-1 opening run against Post, average more points per game than Sileo.

The Pioneers will need more heroics if they're going to return to the NCAA tournament this year. Even if they can hold off Dowling, which might now be the favorite in the ECC, Post still has Stonehill, Adelphi and West Chester on the docket.


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