Morning Jac: Pfeiffer's Golden Opportunity
Pfeiffer has always been right there.
The Falcons typically post a healthy record. They were 35-16 in the previous three seasons, including last year's 13-4 mark that left them on the cusp of an NCAA bid. Alas, Pfeiffer has traditionally come up short in the big games. The last time the Falcons beat a team that finished ranked in the polls was back in 2005 when they nipped Merrimack in overtime.
Pfeiffer is 0-28 against top teams since that win.
Granted, 13 of those losses have come against Conference Carolina rival and NCAA tournament staple Limestone, including twice each season since 2010. Still, there's no getting around the Falcons inability to get over the hump. And it certainly isn't lost on the players and coaching staff.
"The one constant here is the fact that the older guys, they want to win," said Jason Lange, who is in his first season with Pfeiffer. "They know that they haven't won anything yet. I think that kind of leaves a sour taste in their month, the fact that they have in the past been close to Mercyhurst and they have been close with Limestone. Even a couple of years ago Lake Erie came down here and beat them."
As Lange alluded to, these top teams aren't blowing out the Falcons. Merychurst has come down the past two seasons and beat Pfeiffer by three goals combined, including last year's 9-8 win. In 2012, Limestone needed overtime to pick up the win and last year's regular season tilt with the Saints was a two-goal affair.
So as Pfeiffer prepares for its game against No. 3 Mercyhurst on Saturday, the mood is upbeat.
"There's probably a mixture of both nervous anticipation and excitement," Lange said. "Especially for our older guys, having Mercyhurst on the schedule is a game that they are used to. Maybe when they were younger as sophomores and juniors, they weren't quite used to playing such a talented team and such a good overall program. Now, having seen those types of teams, they are going to be excited to play."
Overall, Lange's transition to the Pfeiffer program has been smooth. Formerly an assistant with Mars Hill, located about three hours east of Pfeiffer in North Carolina, Lange had recruited a lot of the players on the current roster and knew many others from scouting. Many of the philosophies from the previous staff carried over, streamlining the conversion process.
"The biggest challenge was defensively with a few new guys who really hadn't played much," Lange said. "Last year, they had D-I transfers and a second-team All-American in Jeff Konko, who graduated. We have a few juniors and a redshirt freshman down there and they didn't get much game time, so changing a little bit of the system defensively was challenging. My assistant coach, Mike Horowitz, has done a great job with them so far."
The backline is still a work in progress, but redshirt junior attackman Tucker Hammock has hit the ground running with 12 goals and six assists in the Falcons three victories this year. Hammock missed all of the 2013 campaign with an injury, but Lange received word early on that he'd be ready to roll.
"I saw him play as a sophomore just scouting Pfeiffer and I thought he was a pretty good player, but the previous staff had let me know that Tucker Hammock was going to be a force to be reckoned with," Lange said. "I said, 'OK, I can't wait to see him.' He's been great. He's very talented. He loves the game and it shows. He's always out there shooting and putting extra time in. He's a joy to coach."
Pfeiffer is bringing a good team to Erie, Pa. – or perhaps a neutral location should the weather prove problematic – but they have no illusions about who they are taking on. While Mercyhurst's 10-7 victory in the opener against Mars Hill might have been closer than expected, Lange has seen enough to know that if his team is going to pick up its first ranked win in nearly a decade, it will be an uphill climb.
"Mercyhurst is a very good team and a very well-run program," he said. "They have some new guys down there on attack who are phenomenal. They are very athletic all over the field and they have a phenomenal defense."
It won't be easy, but the opportunity is there. Will the Falcons seize it?