Morning Jac: Ten Most Intriguing Division III February Contests
There used to be a time when there were only one or two games that resonated in the Division III realm during the month of February, but these days we have plenty of games that not only whet fan's appetites, but also grab the attention of the selection committee. Here are the 10 contests that will help set the storylines for the remainder of the regular season.
10. Sewanee vs. Colorado College - Feb. 16 (at Memphis, Tenn.)
At first glance, this contest may not tickle your lacrosse fancy, but it features a pair of 2013 NCAA qualifiers looking to get a leg up in the Pool B race. It's not a make-or-break tilt with Pool B once again boasting five bids, but the winner will have a nice chip in their stack heading into the meat of its schedule.
Wild Card: We'll find out whether it's more important to get the rust off or be rested. Colorado College plays Birmingham-Southern on Friday night before the 11 a.m. match against Sewanee on Sunday. The CC game will be the season opener for Sewanee, so those Tigers (CC is also the Tigers) will be rested, but potentially quite rusty.
9. Adrian at Aurora - Feb. 26
Who is ready to be the bully of the Upper Midwest? The top-end NCAC franchises are often times assumed to be the big dogs in flyover country, but Denison needed double overtime to beat Adrian in the '12 tourney and Aurora handled Ohio Wesleyan in the first round last spring, 13-9. These two programs have set the bar for new teams in Middle America.
Wild Card: Aurora has never defeated Adrian in four meetings. The two shared the Midwest Lacrosse Conference for a couple of seasons, and squared up last year in Adrian's first go around in the MIAA (the Bulldogs won, 13-10). If Kylor Berkman wants to carve out his own little fiefdom in the Midwest, he'll need to tame Adrian first.
8. No. 10 Western New England at Keene State - Feb. 25
Looking for a big, early-season upset? This one could be it. There's no question that the Golden Bears have earned their preseason ranking, but the Owls are sleepers. Keene State was a goal away from the tournament last year, and will have enough talent to challenge WNE, especially playing at home.
Wild Card: Both WNE's John Klepacki and Keene's Mark Theriault are members of the Springfield Mafia, as each won a ring with the Pride's 1994 D-II championship squad (Sean Quirk, Endicott's head coach, was another member of that team). Both obviously want to win this contest, if only for bragging rights on alumni weekend.
7. York at No. 1 Stevenson - Feb. 15
All eyes are on the Stevenson-RIT game (below) in the month of February, but this could be a tester for the Mustangs. York returns a huge chunk of the team that went 13-4 and lost to St. Mary's by a goal in the CAC semifinals, led by conference player of the year Tyler Hutson. With Stevenson potentially looking ahead, the Spartans could be trouble.
Wild Card: We'll get a feel for the Mustangs' mindset right from the jump. If they drop the hammer on a quality York team, we'll know they're focused for a title defense. While an upset is unlikely, if Stevenson has to scramble for a win, it might call for a bit of refocusing.
6. No. 14 Stevens at Endicott - Feb. 23
These two schools don't have a lot in common, but they've built up a nice little non-conference rivalry over the years. And last year, things got on the chippier side, much of it the product of Stevens' 21-9 rout. While an at-large bid might be a stretch for either team, the winner will be in decent shape.
Wild Card: Both teams need to find important replacements. The Gulls have to find someone to approach the ability of incomparable faceoff man Sam Ozycz while the Ducks must live life without the epic midfield line of Dupras, Dorne and Phillipi. Neither task will be an easy one.
5. No. 16 St. Mary's at No. 8 Roanoke - Feb. 15
This annual contest is a signal flare going up telling everyone that the season has commenced. The Maroons had won six straight heading into last year's match-up, but the Seahawks snapped the skein with a 13-12 win. Now both teams are ranked and defending conference champions of their respective league and have aspirations at another May run. This will be a good jumping off point for one of these programs.
Wild Card: Those of a more Northern persuasion might assume that Salem, Va., is part of the tropics, but February in Southwestern Virginia is not unlike March in Maine. The last time these two teams met at Roanoke in '12, they played in a blinding snowstorm. Extended forecasts are calling for mild (51 degrees) weather, but don't bet on it.
4. No. 15 Denison at No. 13 Washington & Lee - Feb. 22
Last year, Washington & Lee bussed from Salisbury to Denison on its spring break and set the tone for its entire season with a gritty, 8-7 victory against the Big Red on the heels of the Generals' upset of the Sea Gulls. Now W&L gets to entertain a Denison team that not only wants to settle the score, but start the climb back to the NCAAs, which the Big Red missed for the first time since 2004.
Wild Card: February isn't going to do a lot for the Big Red's morale, and it has nothing to do with wins or losses. Within the span of four days, Denison is going to spend 24 hours on a bus. They do the 12-hour round trip to Lexington, Va., to play W&L and then turn around four days later and do it again to play Roanoke. That's a huge mental hurdle to overcome.
3. No. 5 Dickinson at No. 7 Cabrini - Feb. 26
There's enough missing off these two teams to raise questions about their preseason rankings, and this will be the first big test for both teams. Cabrini will be challenged by Haverford and Dickinson will scrap with St. Mary's prior to this mid-week showdown, but the result of this contest will go a long way in determining the ceiling for both squads. Because of the strength of their respective conferences, this one means far more to the Red Devils.
Wild Card: Everyone knows about Corey Elmer's prolific year in '13, but it's important to remember that Dickinson held him to his lowest points output of the spring (one) and was the only team to prevent Elmer from scoring a goal. The Devils have lost a bunch on the defensive end, but they'll definitely need to slow Elmer down again to win this one.
2. No. 12 Lynchburg at No. 4 Salisbury - Feb. 15
Unseating Salisbury, which was ranked No. 1 at the time, was a seminal moment in last year's solid season for the Hornets. Not only did it snap a string of futility against the Sea Gulls and snap Salisbury's 31-game winning streak, but it gave Lynchburg the confidence it needed to be a contender. If they want to do it again, the difficulty level will be far greater. The Gulls will be playing on their own field and will be looking for satisfaction.
Wild Card: As usual, this will be Salisbury's second game of the season (warm-up with Greensboro on Feb. 9) and Lynchburg's first. Playing this game at the start of the season was a plus for the Hornets in '13, but Salisbury would appear to be the more experienced team this spring.
1. No. 1 Stevenson vs. No. 2 RIT - Feb. 22 (at Syracuse, N.Y.)
No surprise here, and playing in the Carrier Dome is just gravy (although I'm a little nervous about whether it will be livestreamed). The tendency will be to overstate the impact of this contest, especially for the loser, but in reality there is very little at stake for either team. Both will remain prohibitive favorites to win their conference and each has the schedule to be a Pool C lock if, for some reason, they don't. But that won't make it any less fun to watch.
Wild Card: Last year we were treated to a pair of teams playing at their absolute pinnacle. Now we're getting a couple of teams still in the rust-ridding phase of the season. Which team will that impact most? Tough to say, but conventional wisdom says that defenses coalesce before offenses do, so this might be more of a grinder than last year's 30-goal shootout.