Making Sense: Perfection is a State of Mind
|Sean Driscoll and Connecticut College are still
clinging to their perfect record after stunning No. 6 Middlebury on
Saturday. Regardless of how the season plays out, this spring has
been a tremendous success for the Camels and Ursinus considering
what they were dealing with last year.|
© John Narewski
Neither team should have been in this situation. Ursinus and
Connecticut College flirting with undefeated records on the verge
Not only have these teams been consistently bit players in their respective conferences for the past five years or so, but both of these programs were in serious trouble last spring.
The Ursinus staff was fired midway through the 2009 season and Jamie Steele, an assistant for Centennial rival Haverford at the time, was hired, promptly losing his first five games. Dave Cornell, the fourth-year head man at Conn. College, refers to the ’09 campaign as the lowest point in his coaching career.
But here were the Bears and Camels, running around their home fields on a breezy Saturday afternoon, on the cusp of a national ranking.
These are their stories.
The Bear Necessities
“I can honestly say that coming in mid-year was something I never dreamed about doing,” said Steele.
Who would? Typically when a coach gets fired, an assistant steps in to fill the void until a search can be held over the summer. But with the entire staff sent packing, Ursinus had to look outside the school. Steele, the architect of the powerful Widener program in the early part of the decade, jumped at the chance to get his own gig again, even if it meant he’d have to shelve his philosophy for half a year.
“I didn’t make them adjust to me, I adjusted to them,” said Steele. “It was just easier for one person to adjust rather than have 40 guys adjust. We kept a lot of what they were doing and made some tweaks when we could improve some areas.”
There’s not much adjusting you can do in the space of 48 hours, which was the amount of time Steele had on staff before his first game. The sudden change in the coaches combined with the skid immediately after Steele’s arrival had the kids in the dumps. The program felt aimless from a student-athlete perspective, but deep in the recesses of the lost season Steele saw a small flame ignite.
“I’m not even sure if the players saw it at the time, but we were getting better,” he said. “We were doing things better. If I had come in cold this year, it would have been tough to have early success now, but I got to know the guys and who were the guys who were going to drive the truck.”
Behind the wheel were players like seniors Eric Farris and Tom Walsh along with junior Logan Duffie, and Steele liked the direction they were headed. It started with four wins against relatively soft non-conference opponents, but then Centennial play started and things started to snowball.
There was the overtime win against Swarthmore. Then it was F&M, when the Bears led by one with 1:35 in the game and Steele called a timeout just before Ursinus scored for what would have been a two-goal lead – “One of those smart coaching moves,” laughed Steele. And then it was Washington College with two chances to tie the game in the waning seconds, with the Shoremen being stoned by freshman goalie T.J. Magnani.
Three one-goal games in one of the deepest leagues in the conference, and here comes McDaniel standing between the Bears and an 8-0 record.
Conn. College was primed to have a great 2009 campaign. The Camels were coming off a 10-6 season in 2008 with five of the losses coming by three goals or fewer. All the pieces were there to improve on that mark. The results can’t be sugarcoated: Conn. College crashed and burned.
A 6-9 record and an embarrassing 1-8 mark in the NESCAC had Cornell questioning his philosophy, but it was also the catalyst for some soul searching.
“I needed to change as a coach a little bit,” admitted Cornell. “I pointed the finger at myself first and said I needed to change some things, and we did. I listened to the players and what their needs were and we tried to meet that, but we also said you’ve got to keep up your end of the bargain. We held guys more accountable, they held themselves more accountable, and I held myself more accountable.”
With the new accountability regime, the Camels started the season with a mildly surprising 10-4 victory over in-state and conference rival Trinity. After a pair of pedestrian non-conference wins, Conn. College squeezed out triumphs over Amherst and Farmingdale to improve to 5-0.
The record felt good, but Cornell wasn’t about to let go of the lessons of the recent past.
“If we didn’t go through last year, we wouldn’t have this year,” said Cornell. “We joked around with the guys about those rear view mirrors that have the writing that says objects are closer than they appear. Well, we were saying that last year was not that far away. We could have easily lost three or four of these games, but we won them, so great. Let’s move on to the next one.”
The next one happened to hold a significant meaning.
Not only has Middlebury been the traditional NESCAC bully, but the Panthers’ coach, Dave Campbell, was the man who recruited the Camel senior class before returning to coach his alma mater. The dream of beating Middlebury – something Conn. College hadn’t done since 1995 – was a huge distraction.
“They’ve had some heartbreakers in the past, but I told them all week that [Campbell] is not playing and I’m not playing. All I care about is trying to win another NESCAC game. I just want to make the NESCAC playoffs and go from there, man.”
Different Results, Same Direction
The Ursinus undefeated run ended against McDaniel. With uncanny similarity to the Washington College game, the Bears had two chances in the waning seconds to tie the game, but the Green Terror were the better team, eking out the 8-7 win.
Conn. College’s streak continues. Thanks to a late goal by John Lyons and a 15-save performance by Rob Moccia, the Camels held on for an 8-7 triumph that improved them to 6-0 for the season.
The disparate results had the obvious emotional contrasts.
“They were pretty upset,” said Steele about his Bears. “I tried to pick them up a little bit, but they’re going to be upset. I think they were down yesterday, but I don’t think will be down for long.”
“I let them hug each other for about 30 seconds,” said Cornell about his victorious Camels. “I talked to them for about 10 minutes and I said, ‘Go greet your parents, but when everybody is telling you how great you are, don’t believe it.’”
Regardless of the results, the two coaches ooze pride about the players that have weathered the past 12 months as a unit.
“We have really good leadership on the team with some of our seniors and captains,” said Cornell. “The kids we’re recruiting aren’t just ‘Lax Rats’ guys, we want guys who are gym rats. We want guys who want to be in the weight room and want to be All-Americans instead of guys who just want to play lacrosse and don’t want to do the dirty work.”
“They don’t get rattled,” said Steele. “We’re in overtime against Swarthmore and they come to the sideline all smiles and ready to go. At the end of the F&M game I call a timeout right before we score a goal and I felt that should have rattled us, but they came flying to the sidelines just to bust my chops. Not one kid is thinking about anything but how to bust my chops and there’s only a minute and a half left in the game. Those have been my two favorite moments.”
The nature of the business demands that we pigeonhole all of the teams in the postseason hunt – the contenders or pretenders syndrome – and Ursinus and Conn. College may not earn a favorable distinction when it matters.
But for a month or so the Bears and Camels were perfect, and, considering where they were last year at this time, that is something we all should applaud.
Joe Costello, Attack, St. Thomas
I would say that Costello, Lacrosse Magazine’s Preseason Player of the Year, is handling his transition from the midfield to attack pretty well. In the Tommies' showdown against No. 2 Grand Valley State, the senior scored three goals and dished out four assists, helping top-ranked St. Thomas coast to a 15-10 victory in Ames, Iowa. Costello also snagged six ground balls and evened bumped back to his old midfield duties and won four face-offs.
Chuck Czerkawski, Middie, Conn. College
If you’re going to spring an upset, it starts at the face-off X and the sophomore was able to rip 10 of his 12 chances against No. 6 Middlebury, allowing the Camels to pull off the 8-7 upset. Czerkawski has been quite a weapon during Conn. College’s 6-0 start to the season, winning 75 percent (65-of-87) of his attempts while leading the team in ground balls with 40.
Richie Ford, Attack Stevenson
Not only did Ford score four goals and set up a fifth in the Mustangs’ 18-9 rout of No. 7 Roanoke, but the junior also became the leading goal scorer in the history of the program. In just 45 games, Ford has 124 goals. A hat tip to Ford’s classmate Kyle Moffitt, who had six goals in the triumph over the Maroons.
Joe Jacobs-Ferderbar, Attack, Nazareth
With 1:19 left in the second overtime, Jacobs-Ferderbar found a bit of space and potted the game-winner to lift Nazareth to a 9-8 victory over St. Lawrence. The junior finished the day with two goals and an assist, pushing the No. 12 Flyers to 5-2 and a possible spot in the Top 10 this week.
Tammy Kohanski, Middie, Utica
Clarkson toted a sparkling 4-0 record into its non-conference match-up with Utica, but they left with a blemish thanks to Kohanski and her five goals. Trailing 6-5 with 15 minutes left, Kohanski netted her fifth marker to tie the game, sparking a three-goal run by the Pioneers that proved to be the difference. Utica has won two straight, leveling its record at 2-2.
Sarah Remes, Middie, Trinity
With Colby, which was down 5-1 at one point, on the verge of rallying all the way back for a win against Trinity after tying the score at seven apiece, Remes threaded a pass to Megan Leonhard for a goal that would stand up as the game-winner, giving the Bantams a key, 8-7 win. Remes also scored a pair of goals, helping No. 6 Trinity knock off the No. 7 White Mules on the road.
Andrew Rosado, Goalie, Montclair State
The Redhawks upset No. 19 and previously unbeaten RPI on Saturday thanks to Rosado. The senior made eight saves in the second half and 15 total, allowing Montclair State to pull out a 4-3 double overtime triumph. Rosado blanked the Engineers in the first half, permitting his team to build a 2-0 led and then blunted a fierce second-half surge by RPI to get to extra time, where Patrick Nann won it for MSU.
Ben Towner, Attack, Simon Fraser
The Clansmen showed a sign of life this past weekend, edging No. 11 Cal Poly in overtime, 9-8, to pick up the first win over a Division I opponent this season. The senior paced the way for Fraser, scoring four goals and setting up two others, playing like the player of the year candidate the Clan had hoped. With No. 2 Chapman and No. 4 Arizona State awaiting next weekend, Towner will have further chances at heroics.
Trevor Yealy, Attack, Michigan
When Michigan played Minnesota-Duluth last year, the junior posted an 11-spot on the Bulldogs during the Wolverines comfortable win. This year, Duluth was able to contain Yealy, only allowing Big Blue’s leading scorer to net nine goals in UM’s 14-7 victory at Marquette. If Yealy earns Player of the Year honors this spring, he should remember to thank UMD during his reception speech.
Games on Tap
We’re getting into the dog days of conference play, so many of the tasty midweek games have dried up. Women’s action dominates the Monday thru Friday slate this time around.
W: Roanoke at Washington & Lee, 4:30 p.m., Monday
The sport doesn’t matter when these two rivals clash; it’s always fun to watch. As usual, this game will determine who hosts the ODAC finals, where these two will undoubtedly meet again with a berth to the tournament on the line. Both programs might be found lacking in the at-large pool, so this one is big. The Maroons have had the better of this match-up lately, which should only ratchet up the intensity on the Generals’ sidelines.
Loyola Marymount at Texas State, 7 p.m. CDT, Tuesday
By knocking off Texas over the week, Loyola Marymount took a huge step in locking down at an-large berth in the national tournament, but they’re not out of the woods yet. A loss to Texas State would set them back big time. The momentum the LSA built up in the beginning of the season is fading, so even a win won’t get State in as an at-large but would be a boost of confidence heading into the showdown game with the Longhorns later this week.
Cortland at RIT, 4 p.m., Wednesday
If forms hold, this one will probably not be much of a game, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the result just to see what kind of chops RIT has against a title contender. At this point, the Empire 8 looks like a one-horse race (I need to see more out of St. John Fisher) with Naz out front, so it would be good to know whether the Tigers can make the E8 tourney interesting. RIT has won six straight, including that stomping of Geneseo 10 days ago, and won’t play Nazareth until May 1.
Lynchburg at Roanoke, 7 p.m., Wednesday
The ODAC is wide open; it’s as simple as that. Roanoke comes into this game after being handled by Stevenson while the Hornets have been fattening up on some weaker teams (Randolph, Christopher Newport) in preparation for this contest. The way the season has shaped up, the Maroons need this one more than Lynchburg, but the Hornets can make themselves players in the Pool C hunt with a win. Probably the game of the work week.
W: Buffalo State vs. Williams, 11 a.m. Thursday (at Goucher)
The Bengals wrap up their three-game tour of the NESCAC by playing a neutral site game against the Ephs. Buff State lost the first two – 20-13 to Tufts; 11-10 to Middlebury – but they’re starting to show signs of a top-flight program, especially against the Panthers. The Bengals really need to snag one of these NESCAC wins to be Pool C threats, but they may just give Bengals the experience they’ll need to beat Cortland in the SUNYAC.
Elizabethtown at Lycoming, 4 p.m., Thursday
I wrote on Friday that the MAC could have the most entertaining race of any conference in the country. Well, here are the two programs I think will be battling out for the AQ in the league championships. Each is undefeated in the MAC after comfortable wins over the weekend. I predict home field advantage throughout the conference tournament will be on the line in this one.
W: Middlebury at Babson, 4:30 p.m., Thursday
Babson is light years ahead of the rest of the NEWMAC, so it’s interesting when they take on one of the NESCAC elites. The Beavers have rattled off four-straight wins since their F&M loss, so a win over the Panthers would give them momentum heading down the stretch. Middlebury coach Missy Foote will be going up against a former player, Kully Reardon, and the mentor seems to be having trouble with this scenario lately.
W: Trinity at Union, 5 p.m., Thursday
The Bantams showed me something by going up to Waterville and knocking off Colby. I honestly didn’t think they had it in them. Now they face Union, which doesn’t look like much right now with a 2-3 record, but the Dutchwomen just went down south and obliterated a decent W&L team by 14 and lost by a goal to top-ranked Salisbury. This is a must-see game if you’re in the scenic Schenectady area on Thursday evening.
Chapman at Oregon, 7 p.m. PDT, Thursday
The Ducks’ quest for legitimacy hit a snag when they followed up their overtime loss to No. 1 Michigan with a setback at Michigan State, but here’s another chance to make some noise. Chapman has been going through the motions of late, and this is the last real test on the schedule. Like Cal Poly, which went up to Simon Fraser and lost this past weekend, Chapman has yet to leave California. In fact, the longest road trip for the Panthers so far is the four-hour bus trip to San Luis Obispo. Going to Oregon will be a whole different ball game.
Texas at Texas State, 7 p.m. CDT., Friday
Wow, two Texas State games in one week. Who’d a thunk it? If Loyola Marymount takes care of business earlier in the week, this game will give us the likely AQ winner to the national tournament out of the LSA. And the way this season has played out, the rep out of the Lone Star State will be plugged into the No. 16 seed in the tourney.
The Power Fives
Men's Division III
1. Stevenson (9-0) – Stevenson is the best team in the country right now. There’s no debate.
2. Salisbury (10-0) – Well, Salisbury might debate, but that’s it. Gulls are back.
3. Tufts (5-0) – Five of the next six games are on the road for the Jumbos.
4. Gettysburg (9-1) – We’ll keep the Bullets around since they pushed it to overtime against Salisbury.
5. Conn. College (6-0) – Let the Camels enjoy a little spotlight time. They’ve earned it.
Women's Division III
1. Salisbury (10-0) – Union made the Gulls sweat, but they’re still perfect.
2. Trinity (5-0) – Beating Colby in Waterville? Yeah, the Bantams are legit.
3. TCNJ (5-0) – Gettysburg awaits on Saturday. First real test for the Lions.
4. Hamilton (6-0) – Conts should be 15-0 heading into Union game on May 1.
5. Franklin & Marshall (5-1) – Dips jump back into the Fives on the champion discount.
MCLA Division I
1. Michigan (7-0) – Western Michigan and Central Michigan on tap this weekend. Yawn.
2. Chapman (9-0) – Ducks provide final test of the regular season on Thursday.
3. Colorado State (10-0) – Look up “anticlimactic” in the dictionary and you’ll find CSU vs. Colorado.
4. Michigan State (5-1) – Even though they lost to the ‘Noles, Sparty gets the nod.
5. Florida State (13-2) – After sweeping away Va. Tech and the Vols, only Florida remains.
MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (2-0) – I should probably give the Tommies the top two spots. They’re that good.
2. Davenport (8-1) – Panthers looking like St. Thomas’ biggest threat right now.
3. Dayton (6-1) – Flyers in a holding pattern until Grove City on April 17.
4. Westminster (6-3) – Win over Montana State left something to be desired.
5. St. John’s (6-2) – Johnnies gave Grand Valley the heave-ho. St. Thomas in three weeks.
Slides & Rides
- One of the interesting nuggets about the Ursinus and Conn. College parallel is both Jamie Steele and Dave Cornell are Gettysburg alums and both did a stint as an assistant with Bullet skipper Hank Janczyk. As Cornell was talking about accountability, including himself, it was a page right out of Janczyk’s playbook. In a story I wrote last year just prior to the national championship game, the topic of the Bullets turn around from a slow start was broached and this is what I wrote. “One of the first things the coach did after the slow start was stand up in front of his players and apologize to them for not adapting quick enough to his team's personnel.” It worked like a charm for Gettysburg and so far, so good with the Camels.
- Steele feels once he hits the game tape with his team, the players will be able to move on. “What we’ll do to move past this is watch the film. We’ll break the film down and figure out what we did well and what we didn’t do so well and we’ll get past this game by watching it again. I don’t think it’s going to leave us tomorrow, but I think once you get through the film it’s usually easier to get past.”
- I spoke with Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene briefly on Wednesday and he told me that Geoff Hebert, his All-American-caliber goalie, hurt his thumb badly on the last shot taken by Lynchburg and would be out until the CAC playoffs (~April 18). He asked me to keep it quiet until after the game, but I used that little tidbit to pick Roanoke in an upset against Mustangs in both of my pick ‘em contests thinking surely Stevenson would be hamstrung with a second-string keeper against a high-powered offense like ‘Noke.
Nope. Senior Andrew Harrington stepped in without a drop-off and the Mustang defense – aided by face-off middie Ray Witte (19-of-29) – was able to stifle the Maroon attack in the 18-9 beat down. I thought Hebert was a vital cog in Stevenson’s success, but Saturday proved that this team is deep at every position and able to replace just about anyone. That’s the sign of a championship team.
- There were two other teams that fell into the same categories as Conn. College and Ursinus this week. St. John Fisher saw its undefeated streak improve to seven games when the Cardinals clobbered Oswego, 19-8, while RPI had its undefeated run halted by Montclair State, 4-3, in double overtime. Despite its unblemished mark, Fisher is still a paper tiger due to its creamy schedule, but we’ll find all about the Cardinals in the middle of April when they play Empire 8 rivals Stevens, RIT and No. 12 Nazareth in an 11-day span. On the strength of its win over RIT, RPI has played a slightly stiffer schedule, but like Fisher, we’ll know more about the Engineers when they finish the regular season with the Middlebury-St. Lawrence-Union gauntlet.
- We know Western New England is the top dog in the Commonwealth Coast Conference, but who is the second best team? The quick answer used to be Endicott, but I think it might be Gordon now. The Fighting Scots bounced the Gulls, 7-5, last week and took it to Salve Regina on Saturday. Led by a balanced offense featuring five different players with at least 13 points and goalie Houston Zemanski (8.54 GAA; 60.6 Sv%), Gordon is currently 4-3 with the losses coming to Springfield, Goucher and WNEC. The CCC is a one-bid league, but it’s nice to see some new blood developing in the 12-team conference.
- The first SCAC game was played over the weekend and Colorado College is in the books as the first team with a 1-0 record in league play. The Tigers traveled to Birmingham Southern and downed the Panthers, 12-5. Southwestern (Texas) quickly became the second team to achieve the feat later in the afternoon when the Bucs nipped Hendrix in overtime, 9-8. It was extra sweeter for Southwestern as it was also its first-ever win as a varsity program.
- Montclair State and Conn. College should be added to the weekly D-III poll…Muhlenberg likes to keep things interesting. The Mules have played seven games this season and six of them have been decided by one goal, including two in overtime. The latest result: Muhlenberg over Swarthmore, 9-8…Clark equaled its win total from last year (2) with its triumph over UMass-Boston…solid start to the University of Maine at Farmington program. The Beavers opened their first season as a varsity program with a 10-1 win over Rivier, a fellow neophyte.
- I received some bittersweet news about Kate Robinson, Catholic’s All-American midfielder and Lacrosse Magazine’s Preseason Player of the Year. It was confirmed that Robinson, a senior, tore her ACL in the first 10 minutes of the Cardinals contest against Salisbury in the second game of the season. The good news is she might be back next wearing Catholic colors.
“We are hopeful that she will be back on the field as a graduate student next spring and if so, I can only imagine what sort of season she will have,” emailed Megan McDonogh, Catholic’s head coach. “She will be having surgery on April 5th, so please send good thoughts then.”
Consider it done.
- I’m curious whether Oneonta could play a spoiler role in the SUNYAC. The Red Dragons are 6-1 and could be 9-1 heading into their April 10 tilt with Buffalo State…Allie Sodl scored her 100th goal for Marywood and Katie Sullivan recorded her 500th save in the Pacers’ win over Immaculata…Roger Williams had designs on beating Endicott this year, but the Gulls took the meeting on Saturday, 9-7. The two teams will likely meet against in the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament…Drew is a good team and worthy of a Pool B slot, but they’ve got to be at least .500 to be eligible. At 3-6 with seven games to go in the regular season (plus a likely two games in the Landmark tourney), the Rangers can’t afford to lose many more contests…St. John Fisher dropped to 0-5 after bowing to Hamilton. The 22-21 loss to William Smith on Tuesday really hurts…Mary Washington outclassed Stevenson in the battle for second place in the CAC…all of the momentum from Amherst’s opening season win over Tufts is now gone after an average Bowdoin team silenced the Lady Jeffs, 11-3…meanwhile, Tufts is rounding into form, savaging Williams, 17-7.
- So I was putting together some mock brackets for the two divisions the other day – when you’re on scoreboard duty, distractions are necessary – and it took me about five minutes to whip up my Division I bracket. D-II? Well, I still don’t have it solidified. I touched on the subject last week in the lead-in to my Making Sense column, but there are going to be teams from the CCLA and the SELC that will be howling mad after Selection Sunday (or Monday, depending on the MCLA committee’s mood).
- Simon Fraser’s collapse has surprised just about everyone, but they are playing a brutal schedule. The more startling misfire this season has been by Sonoma State. Undoubtedly one of the signature programs in the MCLA, ‘Noma is winless after seven games now that San Diego State crunched the Seawolves, 17-10, on Sunday. Sonoma State has been somewhat unlucky, losing a pair of overtime tilts, including a six-overtime marathon against Cal. The previous six losses were by a combined 10 goals. The S’Wolves will beat Boise State on Wednesday, but the remaining schedule will likely leave this storied franchise at 3-9 at the conclusion of the regular season.
- Grand Valley’s meteoric rise to No. 2 in the polls will be short-lived. Not only did GVSU lose, as expected, to No. 1 St. Thomas, 15-10, but they also bowed to No. 9 St. John’s, 6-5. It’s obviously not the results that Murle Greer and the Lakers had hoped for, but don’t write them off quite yet. Their win over Dayton – the reason for last week’s bump – will serve them well come selection time and GVSU has two weeks to fatten up the record against the proletariats in the CCLA before a big contest against Davenport on April 15.
- The pollsters love Cal Poly, but the Mustangs would benefit from a signature win. They’ve played five ranked teams, but won only one – a 13-10 win over UCSB. Granted, the other four losses have come by a combined five goals, but I have a hard time believing this is an elite team right now. No one will want to draw Poly in Denver, but the Mustangs are not title contenders. In Cal Poly’s defense, there are really only three teams that have shown a high level of consistency all season.
- Loyola Marymount took care of Texas on Saturday. It may not look like much, but that was a clutch win…the games between Chapman and Arizona State out of the SLC and Oregon and Simon Fraser out of the PNCLL highlight this weekend’s action. It’s tough envisioning anything but a clean sweep for the SLC boys.