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February 14, 2011

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Making Sense: MCLA Contenders Flip Script

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Injuries shelved Harry Freid in the fall, but he's expected to return and give Michigan a solid presence on the backline.
© Marc Piscotty

It was a game of contrasting styles.

In one corner was Michigan, a two-time defending champion so lacking in offensive imagination that the Wolverines resorted to a plodding, time-torturing attack that burned clock and left fans pining for the UM of old.

In the other corner was Arizona State, the devastating transition team just looking for the one chance to spring its offense featuring the best midfielder in the game and a fearless attack.

Michigan's 12-11 victory over Arizona State in last year's MCLA championship game was a primer in conflicting approaches and, oddly enough, it may provide a photo in negative of what we should expect from the two teams this spring.

With the start of the season for both teams just a week away, the script has flipped.

"Our offense is ahead of where it was last year and our defense is behind," said Michigan coach John Paul. "Faceoffs? We're still trying to figure that out."

"With having Dylan [Westfall] in the goal and some of those D guys back, I think we can take advantage of that group," said Arizona State coach Chris Malone. "But this is the first year starting for two of my attackmen. We've got to make sure the new guys understand the situation and know when to hold onto it and know when to make a play. We're not going to get away from running, but we may slow it down more than we have in the past."

Your team can change just that quickly in the MCLA.

Michigan now has an embarrassment of riches on attack. Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Player of the Year Trevor Yealy anchors the unit, but Paul admits that Chad Carroll, who rejoins the team as a senior after a brief start to his UM career three years ago, "has the potential to be our best player this year." Throw in Thomas Paras, who went for 42 goals and 32 assists last year as a rookie, St. John's transfer Ryan Dutton-O'Hara, and a pair of talented rookies, and there may not be enough balls to go around.

The defense will eventually catch up, aided by the return of seniors Harry Freid and Justin Burgin, who have both been sidelined for much of the preseason because of injury, but the faceoff issue will linger. The loss of David Reinhard, who won 17 of 25 draws in the title game last spring and was also critical in the Wolverines' run in '09, leaves a huge hole.

"We're going to be a good faceoff team, but we're not going to be a 70-percent team like we were the last three years," Paul said. "We know what we're doing there, so I'll be shocked if we're not still good at it."

Considering the last two championship games have been won by a single goal, dipping below 70 percent could have a huge impact.

Similarly, the attrition rate on the Arizona offense is impossible to discount. In addition to the graduation of attackman Tyler Westfall (54g, 32a), the Sun Devils have had to part ways with would-be senior middie Anthony LaFlam (41g, 11a) and would-be sophomore attackman James Reap (32g, 1a).

The return of Ryan Westfall -- easily the best middie in the country with his 55 goals and 37 assists in 2010 -- and Eric Nelson (45g, 24a) on attack will keep ASU dangerous on the offensive end, but it will be a different kind of dangerous.

"I would say we're still going to try and run and gun and get those transition goals, but there is no question that we're going to have to be smarter with the ball," Malone said. "It's a product of having younger guys down there on offense. We'll have to be a smarter as a coaching staff regarding when we need to push it and when we need to pull it out."

The challenges facing both Michigan and Arizona State will be different based on the personnel they have returning, but they will share a common obstacle: leaving 2010 behind.

For Michigan, it's about keeping the edge in the wake of a third national championship.

"We try to find a way to get the guys motivated and enthused and competitive. We've changed up some of the things we do at practice," Paul said. "We've been experimenting on new ways to practice. We just try to keep things really fresh with the guys. The other night we had a really intense, competitive practice where we split the guys up and every drill is competitive and there are consequences for the losers. It was intense. It's not really talking about the big picture, it's keeping them focused day-to-day."

For Arizona State, it's about burying the questions that linger from the one-goal loss.

"I'll have a player come up to me and say, 'If I has done this, I would have scored a goal. Or if I had done that maybe I would have prevented a goal or picked up a ground ball,'" said Malone, who admitted he still hasn't watched the entire game film from last May. "I say, 'Hey, you can probably say that about every game that you play.' I just want to be preparing these guys for the future and the games that we have. I don't sit around thinking about the what-ifs of 2010. I just want to get my group to the point where we can start playing great lacrosse and all the guys are playing to the best of their abilities."

Pioneers Find Way to Desert

Every other year, C.W. Post saves up the cash to take a trip to a warmer clime. This year, it's an excursion to Phoenix for a matchups with a trio of western teams.

And it couldn't have come at a better time.

"With the way the weather has been, it is definitely to our advantage that we're going to get some games out there," said Post coach John Jez. "Notre Dame de Namur is a good team and the others are two developing teams where we can see where we are at before we start to play our ECC schedule."

It's been a cold, snowy time on Long Island, so the opportunity for the Pioneers to not only experience some warm weather, but also pick up regional games -- the western teams are slotted into the Central region for NCAA Division II -- was a perfect fit.

NDNU is probably the most experienced of the bunch, having annually taken on some of the top teams in the ECC and South region in years past. Grand Canyon is in just its fourth season of varsity playm while Post's other opponent, Mesa State, is a start-up.

The champs will be heavily favored it all of the games, but they will be important contests, regardless.

"We're still feeling things out with a young defense and trying to find the right pieces for our offense," Jez saod. "I think we're ready to take another shot at getting back to the playoffs."

There's talent all over the place for Post again, including juniors Eddie Plompen on attack and Keith Rodriguez in the midfield. Jez also has high expectations for senior netminder Mike Giordano. The key will be finding a replacement -- or, perhaps, more accurately, replacements -- for Mike Cama on faceoffs.

Jez will throw three guys at the position this year. Junior James Kozlakowski is the frontrunner, but junior Jason Cranmer and senior Ronnie Irving will also get their shot.

"We have guys who are all pretty good leaders," Jez said. "They're all upperclassmen, but they're nowhere near the capability of Michael Cama, but we'll figure out some stuff there."

They'll figure some stuff out, but it will be nice to do it in the desert than on the Island this weekend.

Games Balls

Davis Brown – Attack, Sewanee
The rookie out of Norcross, Ga., scored a pair of goals and set up three others, leading the Tigers to a 12-10 opening-day victory over Fontbonne.

Nolan Canter – Middie, Davidson

Although his game was Thursday night, we'll let Mr. Canter sneak under the wire for 'Game Balls,' especially after scoring five goals and dishing out five assists in the Wildcats 13-6 victory over UNC-Charlotte.

Clark Dansby – Attack, Texas State

This is already the second appearance in 'Game Balls' this season for the sophomore. Dansby scored four goals and set up three others to help the Bobcats dispatch Texas A&M, 14-5.

Sam Jura – Middie, Nebraska

The Cornhuskers opened the season with a 17-10 victory over Creighton and Jura factored in 10 of Nebraska's goals. The junior scored five goals and dished out helpers in the win.

Matt Rudow – Middie, Cal Poly

The Mustangs were able to fend off a game UCSB team thanks to the senior, who netted four goals in the 12-11 victory. Rudow added three goals and an assist with Poly's 14-1 win over Claremont on Saturday.

Patrick Stasio
– Goalie, Lenoir-Rhyne

The junior made 18 saves and almost guided the Bears to a victory in the first game in program history. Despite the 10-9 loss to Belmont Abbey, it was a strong first showing for both goalie and team.

Mat Thompson
– Attack, Florida Southern

In his first game for the Mocs after playing two years at Herkimer, the Ontario product struck for four goals, helping Florida Southern post the 10-7 opening day victory over Deep South rival Rollins. Thompson was a key pick-up for FSC and he paid off quickly.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. C.W. Post (0-0) – It'll probably take three players to do the work Mike Cama did last year.
2. Le Moyne (0-0) – Who'll have more assists this year: Harmatuck or Chadderdon?
3. Mercyhurst (0-0) – Just thinking about the score of the Ohio Valley game makes me wince.
4. Merrimack (0-0) – This is going to be a long two weeks waiting for the Big Game.
5. Limestone (0-0) – Man, I'll be happy when there is some movement in the NCAA Power Fives.

NCAA Division III

1. Tufts (0-0) – One more day and the Jumbos can start practicing!
2. Cortland (0-0) – Widener will make the Red Dragons work, which will serve Cortland well.
3. Salisbury (1-0) – That was an impressive beginning for the Gulls. Lynchburg should be tougher.
4. Stevenson (0-0) – Remember: the Mustangs must play Mary Washington four days after the Squirrels.
5. Middlebury (0-0) – One more day and the Panthers can start practicing!

MCLA Division I

1. Michigan (0-0) – The Wolverines could conceivably start a frosh at midfield and attack.
2. Arizona State (0-0) – The season-opener will more of a referendum on Utah than the Devils.
3. Colorado State (0-0) – Alex Smith is exceptionally confident in this year's edition of the Rams.
4. Chapman (1-0) – Crunch time: six of seven games are away late in the season.
5. Cal Poly (2-0) – Oregon was in this spot last week. Do the math.

MCLA Division II

1. St. Thomas (0-0) – Faceoffs could be an Achilles heel for the Tommies early on.
2. Davenport (2-0) – Panthers outscored opponents 44-4 in first their first two games of the year.
3. Westminster (0-0) – Westminster better be ready for No. 10 Western Oregon.
4. Dayton (1-0) – I'm looking forward to the Steve Hurst-Joe Costello match-up.
5. Utah Valley (0-0) – The Wolverines will play three good teams in 25.5 hours this coming weekend.

Slides & Rides

NCAA Division II
- You've got to tip your cap to Greg Paradine. While most start-up programs are just trying to stay within 15 goals in their first game, Paradine – former assistant at North Carolina – had Lenoir-Rhyne on the cusp of a victory over Belmont Abbey. Had a shot not rung of the pipe with 22 seconds left, the Bears would have likely forced at least overtime. The coach is doing it with a young crew. Although his goalie, Patrick Stasio (18 saves), is a junior, there are 23 freshmen on the 29-man roster. Rookies Tyler Kotch (3g), Levin Capron (2g) and Sam Ashton (3a) were all big contributors for L-R. The Bears will undoubtedly take their lumps along the way, but they will make some teams sweat this spring, as well.

- Catawba could be a team worth following this year. The Indians are a young team – there are just five seniors on this year's roster – and they showed positive signs at the end of last season. The opening win, 10-5, over St. Andrews doesn't move the needle too much, but there's a chance Catawba could be undefeated as it takes on St. Leo in mid-March....Florida Southern's win over Rollins was a nice conference road win, but nothing too spectacular. If the Mocs are 3-0 heading into the Feb. 26 home game against No. 4 Limestone, it could make for an interesting contest...There are a bunch of D-II games this coming weekend, with the most interesting being No. 6 Dowling facing No. 10 Queens in Charlotte.

NCAA Division III

Williams college lacrosse players Colt Growney (left) and Matt Cranshaw (right) also moonlight as members of the Williams Octet, an a capella group known for its quality singers and casual dress code.
© Scott Growney

- If you missed it, my Friday column – entitled the "Weekender" – featured a story on Williams College senior Matt Cranshaw, who is an accomplished a capella singer as well as captain of the Ephs lacrosse team. As it turns out, Cranshaw is not the only Purple Cow who does the singing-lacrosse double-dip. Middie Colt Growney, a sophomore out of the Haverford (Pa.) School, is also a member of the 'Williams Octet.' See photo at right.

- I think we all pretty much got what we expected in the Salisbury-Greensboro game. A young Pride team made the trip to the Eastern Shore, but when it was 11-0 after one quarter in favor of the No. 3 Gulls, the rout was on. The 25-2 final featured 14 different Salisbury players scoring, led by junior Sam Bradman with four goals and three assists. The Gulls also played all four of their goalies. We'll reserve our evaluation of Jim Berkman's club until after the game against No. 13 Lynchburg next weekend on the road.

- I'm not sure what exactly to take from Mary Washington's 8-7 win over Virginia Wesleyan. Two second-tier teams in their respective conferences who were evenly matched, I guess...Sewanee knocked off Fontbonne, 12-10. The Tigers are likely one of two teams – the other being Birmingham Southern – who have a shot at wrestling the SCAC auto bid away from Colorado College...in addition to the Salisbury-Lynchburg game, No. 4 Stevenson and No. 6 Haverford square off in Philly...the 'Coyne v. Censer' pick 'em contest starts this week.

MCLA Division I

- No. 12 Cal Poly's win over No. 14 UC Santa Barbara, 12-11, was made possible by the play of junior goalie Bo Dunnahoo-Kirsch – or 'DK,' as he's known to his teammates. DK made 15 saves on the evening, including a couple of critical stops down the stretch when the Gauchos were making a late-game push. By the end of last year, DK was splitting time with classmate Nick Czapla, but Czapla's been on the shelf with an injury sustained in the fall and won't be back for another month. The Mustangs may have an embarrassment of riches in goal by the end of the season. Their third goalie, junior Brad Abell, is back healthy, as well.

"Abell had a great fall ball; he was really competing for the starting job until he dinged his shoulder over the winter break," said Cal Poly head coach Marc Lea. "He just got cleared to play again last week. So our goalies are finally getting healthy and once all three of them are back in game shape, we feel comfortable with any of the three. It could be a real battle as the season progresses to see who gets time between the pipes."

HEADY DEFENSE. Arizona middie Mike Cammorata was looking top right, but Southern Cal middie Chung Lee decided to give his goalie a hand...actually a head...by taking one off his squash. The Wildcats beat the Trojans, 15-7.
© Chris Hook

- Cal's sound defeat of No. 8 Oregon, 10-2, on Saturday raises several questions. The first, and perhaps most important, is: Was this an aberration? It was the first game for the Ducks on the road against a team with a contest under its belt, so excuses could be made. However, Oregon wasn't competitive in this game from the jump – an odd turn of events with so much talent returning. Oregon's 7-6 loss to an (as of now) unheralded Santa Clara team on Sunday makes me think there is either a systemic problem or the Ducks are missing some pieces. With No. 1 Michigan and No. 3 Chapman approaching in the span of three days, Oregon better hope this was just an anomalous weekend.

The other questions raised by the outcome in Berkeley is: What should we think about Cal? Remember, the Bears were up by five goals late in the game against No. 14 UCSB before letting it slip away, losing in overtime. If Cal finishes out that game as it should have, we're talking about a Top 10 team. The Bears will be tested again this coming weekend when they play No. 6 BYU and a talented Arizona team on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, in Los Angeles.

- Why is Clemson in such a hurry? The Tigers play eight games in the month of February, leaving them with five contests in the remaining two months of the regular season. Odd scheduling aside, Clemson is off to a 4-0 start and is basically a lock to make the SELC tourney...as sad as it is, I'm actually trailing in the Schooling Schooler pick 'em contest for the first time ever. Nick went 4-1 and the Oregon loss left me at 3-2.

MCLA Division II

- As dramatic as it may sounds, the next two weekends will be as critical to the shaping of the MCLA D-II picture as any of the remaining eight. This weekend the action will be in Henderson, Nevada, as No. 3 Utah Valley, No. 4 Westminster, No. 10 Western Oregon, No. 18 Cal State-Fullerton and UC Santa Cruz converge for a series of clashes (click on the respective teams for their schedules). The following week, the attention of the division will be shifted to North Carolina for the 'Faceoff for Autism' at Elon College. No. 1 St. Thomas, No. 6 Dayton, No. 9 Elon along with UNC-Charlotte will tangle to complete the hashing out of the rankings.

- It's convenient for Biola to play Division I teams like Claremont and UCLA, but this is the second time they've been whacked. After the 14-3 loss to the Bruins, the Eagles have been outscored 31-7 so far. Playing tough competition has its benefits, but if you're not competitive in those games I'm not sure how much you can gain. We'll find out when Biola faces a 3-0 Concordia squad next weekend...I'm not an advocate of mercy rules or anything like that – I'm a Darwinist when it comes to athletic competitions – but the 30-0 win over Long Beach over Marymount may not be what a first-year program needs to keep pushing forward.


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