posted 04.16.2012 at 10.00 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Monday Notebook: MCLA Division II

Coaches are caught in a bind. If you're successful, you don't want to become stagnant. And if you're struggling, you don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. You want to find the right fit for your team.

Such was the plight of Davenport head coach Bob Clarkson coming into this year. He won a national championship in 2011 on the strength of a high risk/reward game plan and several cold-blooded finishers, but with a new year brings new options.

Clarkson figured he'd try one out.

"We kind of retooled our offensive system this year," Clarkson said. "We tried to be a little bit less run-and-gun and a little bit more stable. Working the ball around a little more and things like that. We felt like that it would be a better option for us after losing a guy like [All-American attackman] Shawn Beer. We have more depth on offense this year and we have more guys in any given game that can put up a couple of goals. We felt being a little bit less run-and-gun could take advantage of that."

Things started well enough. There was the double-overtime loss to Michigan – a Division I Top 10 team at the time – and three more comfortable wins. There was a stumble in St. Louis with losses to St. Thomas and North Dakota State, but the Panthers responded with five straight, which included wins over three Top 10 teams. Then, last Sunday, they lost to SCAD, 7-5.

"Last year, I think our worst point was probably against North Dakota State," Clarkson said of the 11-10 loss in Minneapolis. "We felt we played very poorly and that happened April 10 of last year. This year, we lost to SCAD on April 8. I told the team, 'Now it is gut-check time. If we're going to make a legitimate run at another championship, in April you've got to start producing. We've got to get our act together.'"

The two critical aspects that Clarkson pinpointed was the miserable man-up numbers (the Panthers are running at 24 percent this year after going 40 percent last spring) and an anemic transition game. Even six-on-six wasn't the way it used to be.

"We're getting some goals, but not the bunches that I like to see," Clarkson said on Friday heading into Saturday's clash with Grand Valley State. "There were times last year when we would just be peppering the goalie and we're not getting those type of exchanges. We know it, and as a coach you'd like to think you know why, but right now we're trying something different. If that doesn't work, we'll go to plan C and so on.

"I'm hoping that we get a little extra spark against Grand Valley State. It's nothing about our ability to do it. It's not that we don't have the horsepower to score goals. We do. We are not pressing our opportunities like we have in the past. We'll have an opportunity and we will go with the safe play. In the past, we've been the type of team that pressed a little bit when shouldn't, but we pressed every time we should have. We've become a little more cautious."

It's tough to believe the Panthers threw caution to the wind in their 7-6 overtime victory against the Lakers, but whatever works.

That's another thing about coaches: when you're winning the big games, you don't sweat the details too much.

- What do the losses by St. Thomas and Grand Valley State mean in the overall scheme of things. Well, first, it means the UMLL and CCLA tournaments are going to be pretty interesting when you throw in North Dakota State and Dayton, respectively. Second, it means getting a good seed is going to be imperative this year with the amount of teams who have a legit shot at making it to the semifinals.

Both the Tommies and the Lakers will (assumably) get another shot at their vanquisher, if not two chances, so those losses on Saturday are more of a seeding annoyance for the selection committee than any tell-tale indicator of what awaits in Greenville.

- Things got even messier in the SLC. We now have a three-way fiasco between the top three teams in the conference. Cal State-Fullerton beat Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon beat Concordia and on Saturday Concordia dispatched Fullerton, 15-7, to ratchet up the pressure come league tourney time. I think there is an outside chance that the SLC could send three to the MCLA championships, but the two teams that make it to the conference finals will be looking very good.

- Grand Canyon beat its fourth Division I team this season. These wins don't technically mean anything in the selection process, but if push comes to shove, the committee should give the 'Lopes any benefit of the doubt...Will McCormick scored seven goals in Dayton's 14-8 win over Indiana Tech...it appears Colorado Mines no-showed for a weekend with Fort Lewis and Westminster. Tsk, tsk...Coastal Carolina: 9-1. Fear the Chanticleers...Grove City partied like it's 2009 with its 6-5 win over No. 22 Washington U.

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