April 12, 2010

Making Sense: The Most Improbable Upset

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

Tyler Snyder and the rest of the Buffs pulled the monumental upset, but they may have let their season slip away.
© Cecil Copeland

In some kind of cosmic twist it was mandated that perfection be interrupted by imperfection.

The end of Michigan’s 49-game winning streak – a skein that bridged three years and two national championships – came at the hand of Colorado, a team so in disarray as to need a new coach at its mid-year point.

Chaos theory disciples would crow about the Buffalo’s 12-10 victory over the Wolverines, but it’s still tough to decipher whether the Big Blue has bared a susceptible underbelly to the collective association or Colorado stumbled into a win via Michigan’s boredom.

In many ways, it was the Perfect Storm.

Prior to Friday night, Colorado was done.

At 2-5 with four of the Buffalo’s remained six games coming against Top 10 teams, CU was playing out the string. With an interim coach – some East Coast kid with a Division III background – expectations weren’t exactly sky high.

“Nobody thought we were going to beat Michigan,” said Mike Ryder, Colorado’s new head coach. “Even some of our fans didn’t think we’d win this game.”

Nobody on this planet thought the Buffs would win.

On the other side of the field, Michigan coach John Paul had a mild premonition of what was to come.

“It was a matter of time,” said Paul. “We were flat all day and in warm-ups. We’re telling the guys right up to the start that they were about to get punched in the mouth.”

It should have been a seminal moment for the Buff’s program - the unlikely Top 10 win Colorado needed to get back into the MCLA hunt.

This win changed everything.

“I think it was more of an attention to detail,” said Ryder about his team’s new attitude. “We ran the same sets, but we told the guys to think through stuff and slow it down; don’t force things. It was just kind of new composure that they never had before and an organization on the field that they didn’t have. We picked up the intensity and did stick drills that were related to game-like situations.”

Colorado was ready to make the leap.

Unfortunately, it ended up being the biggest hiccup in a directionless season for the Buffs.

Instead of capping off the weekend with a win over Minnesota-Duluth that moved CU a step closer to Denver, Colorado found itself on the angry end of an 11-10 decision to the Bulldogs.

And making their coach’s boasts uncomfortable.

“This win was probably the biggest win the program has ever had talking to alumni and coaches they’ve had in the past,” said Ryder about the Michigan win. “There’s a lot of seniors that worked hard and lost to Michigan in the semis last year. They knew they had to win, but now it’s about focusing in. I think now those guys who have experience know that if we lose to Duluth now, last night’s win means nothing.”

Ugh.

The romantic notion of a Cinderella ending Michigan’s prolific streak on its way to the national tournament was replaced by a team showing a mild sign off life before an inevitable death rattle.

It’s somewhat appropriate.

We all now know that there are no Cinderellas or Prince Charmings in this year’s race for the MCLA crown. There’s just a bunch of pumpkins with a shot at being very happy on a Denver midnight.

Game Balls
It’s getting near crunch time for a lot of teams. Not surprisingly, the game balls are going to the netminders more and more.

Brad Macnee, Goalie, Colorado
Don’t let the Duluth game skew the facts: Macnee was the man in the Buffs upset victory over Michigan. “He ended up standing on his head,” said Colorado coach Mike Ryder. He obviously had help from his defense – the top two UM attackmen only accounted for one point – but it ends with the netminder.

Brady Burton, Attack, Denison
We don’t like to hand out Game Balls for big performance against soft competition, but we’ll make an exception for Burton since his seven goals against St. Vincent also broke the 26-year-old school career goals record. The senior now has 173, eclipsing the 170 posted by Andy John – a mark which has stood since 1984.

Zack Carson, Goalie, UC Santa Barbara
Carson was one of three members of my ‘Pressure Zone’ that show up in Game Balls. In the most important game of the season for the Gauchos, the senior showed what he was all about. Facing a streaking, 10th-ranked Loyola Marymount team, Carson made 16 saves and allowed just three goals, allowing UCSB to capture the 8-3 victory. The win over the Lions is going to be a key chip in the Gauchos’ pocket come Selection Sunday/Monday.

David Gal, Goalie, Ithaca
Had Ithaca lost to No. 17 RIT on Saturday, the Bombers would have been two full games behind the top four teams in the Empire 8 slotted for the conference tournament. Behind 20 saves by Gal and a career high eight ground balls, Ithaca upended the Tigers to stay within a half-game of the final tourney berth with an all-important tie-breaker over RIT. The Bombers have been finding themselves all season – they’re now 3-7 – but if Gal gets hot, the miracle could still happen. 

Emily Johnson, Attack, Tufts
As I wrote in the Weekend Watch, the Jumbos needed to hit the double-digit plateau in order to beat Trinity – the Jumbos are 7-0 when they hit the mark, 0-2 when they don’t – and Johnson took her team over a quarter of the way there with three markers. Tufts took the victory, 11-9 against No. 4 Trinity and put themselves for the conference No. 1 seed.

Liz Marino, Defense, Ithaca
Marino was in the ‘Pressure Zone’ on Friday and managed to transition to Game Balls. It was undoubtedly a team effort, but Marino and the Bombers defense kept Alyssa Pigott off the board, allowing the Bombers to take the 13-11 victory against No. 10 Stevens. Marino had six ground balls and three caused turnovers, and was instrumental in keeping the Ducks to just 19 shots on goal.

Leigh Mitchell, Midfield, TCNJ
It’s always easy to spot the All-Americans, even if they haven’t received the award yet. Going against the No. 1 team in the country and perhaps the best defense, Mitchell scored five goals and set up another to lift New Jersey over Salisbury. Combined with Ali Jaeger, who had five goals and two assists, Mitchell gives the soon-to-be-No. 1 Lions the best midfield in the country.

Jensen Paterson, Attack, Allegheny
Not only did Jensen’s four goals help Allegheny stun previously undefeated and NCAC favorite Kenyon, 13-11, but they also allowed her to tie the school record for most goals in a career with 125. The Gators’ junior – and Atlanta, Ga., native – has helped Allegheny even its conference record at 2-2.

Chris Williamson, Goalie, Bowdoin
With Tufts standing as the only sane program in the NESCAC right now, it’s all about punching your ticket to the conference tournament and seeing how three games in May will play out. Williamson moved the Polar Bears closer to their shot at the brass ring by making 12 saves, helping Bowdoin beat Middlebury on the road for the first time since 1993 and evening its conference record at 3-3.

Games on Tap
The intriguing midweek match-ups.

Skidmore at Middlebury, 4:30 p.m., Tuesday
A couple of conference ‘tweeners face-off in Vermont. It’s tough to believe either of these teams has much of an at-large résumé, but the winner can keep their fingers crossed and the loser knows it must snag an AQ.

Tufts at Western New England, 7 p.m., Tuesday
This game looked a lot better two months ago, but that’s the way it goes. Don’t think the Jumbos won’t want to pound the Golden Bears if they can in repayment for last year’s home tournament loss.

Geneseo at Cortland, 4 p.m., Wednedsay
This one’s all about Genny. Cortland can still handle a loss or two and make the tourney, but now that the bottom has dropped out of the Knights’ non-conference schedule, this game is extremely important. With a loss, you figure Geneseo will be 11-3 if they get thrown into Pool C with a win over Naz. That’s it. The Blue Knights need to win on April 14 or on May 8. The choice is theirs

RIT at St. John Fisher, 4 p.m., Wednesday
Fisher makes me smile. Sounds weird, I know, but I love it when the non-pedigreed thumb their nose at the establishment. Everyone thinks the Cardinals (and Conn. College) are charlatans, and they may prove to be yet, but all they’re doing is winning. And here’s the next test – a wounded Tiger team coming off a bad loss to Ithaca (never thought I’d write that). 

Colorado College (7-1) at Denison, 7:30 p.m., Friday
All aboard! The Colorado College bandwagon is leaving the station, and seats are getting scarce. I’m in the first class section, having picked the Tigers in December, so I have cocktail in hand before we even leave the station. The annotation on CC’s selection was about their victory over Denison on April 16. We’ll see

W: Union (5-4) at Middlebury (5-3), 5:30 p.m., Tuesday
This is just a brutal late-season game. Both of these teams should be in the tournament without questions asked, but because they have a bunch of losses already the losing coach in this one is going to sleep poorly for the next 28 days. Midd could handle this loss better the Union as the Dutchwomen are nearing critical mass.

W: Buffalo State at Cortland, 4 p.m., Friday
Geneseo has shown some spark, but this is still a SUNYAC championship preview

Grand Valley State at Davenport, 5 p.m., Friday
This game will go a long way in helping the MCLA committee flesh out the seeding for the Division II tournament. Both of these teams are in – book it – but if Davenport wins it might be a first-round preview.

The Power Fives
Men's Division III
1. Salisbury (14-0) – The Gulls are on cruise control with York and Marymount left before CACs.
2. Tufts (9-0) – Couple of workmanlike efforts against Bates and Trinity. Camels on Saturday.
3. Gettysburg (12-1) – One more win and Bullets wrap up top seed in the Centennial. Big surprise.
4. Conn. College (10-0) – Somebody’s leaving The Fives after the Tufts-Conn clash.
5. St. John Fisher (11-0) – Hate all you want, but the win over Stevens was enough for me.

Women's Division III
1. TCNJ (9-0) – The Lions are killing opponents in the midfield with Jaeger and Mitchell.
2. Salisbury (13-1) – It’s amazing how quickly a team can go from dominant to flawed.
3. Franklin & Marshall (9-1) – The Dips are just quietly going about their business
4. Hamilton (10-0) – Game against Ithaca on Wednesday is more interesting now.
5. Trinity (8-1) – The Bantams are hanging on by a thread. They barely edge out Cortland here.

MCLA Division I
1. Michigan State (8-1) – Relax. Before you get too mouthy, let’s see what happens this weekend.
2. Michigan (10-1) – We should all take a minute to appreciate what UM did over the past 32 months.
3. Colorado State (10-1) – Colorado didn’t do State any favors with the Friday night upset.
4. Chapman (11-1) – The game against UCSB seems slightly more interesting now.
5. Florida State (14-2) – The ‘Noles sent a message to the SELC with the destruction of the Gators.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (6-0) – Last test of the season on Saturday against the Johnnies.
2. Davenport (9-1) – Grand Valley State on Thursday to set up CCLA tourney.
3. Dayton (7-1) – Grove City on Saturday. If GCC wins, they’ll go skyrocketing up the polls.
4. Westminster (6-3) – The Griffins could be the most battle-hardened team heading to Denver.
5. St. John’s (8-2) – Better beat the Tommies, or Utah Valley will nestle into this spot.

Slides & Rides
MD3 Notes
- I think we’re getting close enough to the tourney to start taking a look at the Pool C (at-large – five bids) and the Pool B (independent – three bids) scene. Here are my top five, in order, at this point, understanding that I’ve eliminated those teams who I think will earn automatic qualifying bids (you’ll have to figure it out).

Pool C
1. Conn. College (10-0)
2. Stevenson (12-1)
3. Dickinson (12-1)
4. St. John Fisher (11-0)
5. Geneseo (7-1)

Pool B
1. Denison (7-1)
2. Colorado College (8-1)
3. Ohio Wesleyan (5-3)

- Give it up for Aaron Weber of Elizabethtown. Not only did Weber’s three goals keep the Blue Jays atop the MAC standings, but it also wrapped up the career scoring hat trick for the senior. The markers gave Weber 130 for his career, breaking the previous school record of 129 set by Frankie Puzzangara ’07, and complementing Weber’s career school records for assists (90) and points (222).

- Wittenberg has tied the best start in school history, matching the 7-2 mark established by the 1999 squad…brutal loss for Lycoming. The Warriors were up 7-3 heading into the fourth quarter and ending up losing to FDU-Florham, 9-8 in double OT. Lyco is looking at a first round MAC road game now…it’ll always be on the outside looking in until they get the NCAC teams on the schedule, but Greensboro has put together a solid season. The Pride is currently 9-3 with one last statement game left: home against Lynchburg on Wednesday…we’ve got to give it up for Ursinus’ Ryan Ruether. The Bears managed to stay within two goals of No. 2 Gettysburg on the efforts of the sophomore. I couldn’t give him a Game Ball in the loss, but he was 15-of-18 on the draw, and dominated in the second half. He also chipped in with nine ground balls…for all the socialists out there, spare me any margin talk about the Salisbury-Hood game. Seventeen different players scored for the Gulls…St. Lawrence isn’t going to give up its stranglehold on the Liberty League easily. The Saints 8-5 win over Union just put Dutchmen’s season on hold.

WD3 Notes
Just like the men, it’s time to take a look at the front-runners for the at-large (6) and independent (5) bids to the women’s Division III tournament. Like the men, I’m including only those teams in Pool C who I believe won’t win their conference tournament.

Pool C
1. Colby (8-2)
2. Tufts (7-2)
3. Gettysburg (11-2)
4. Union (5-4)
5. Middlebury (5-3)
6. Mary Washington (10-3)

Pool B
1. TCNJ (9-0)
2. Catholic* (5-6)
3. Rowan (6-4)
4. Drew* (5-7)
5. Adrian (8-2)

*-assuming they’ll hit the .500 mark.

- Don’t look now, but it’s tourney time. It starts on Friday with the semifinals of the USA South tourney. No. 4 Ferrum plays No. 1 Christopher Newport and No. 3 Shenandoah faces No. 2 Greensboro for a shot at the championship game, which occurs on Saturday. The Capital Athletic Conference begins on Saturday with the first round of games. If form holds, there shouldn’t be much drama in either tourney as Christopher Newport and Salisbury are heavy faves in their respective conferences.

- How about the Centenary women at 10-0? The schedule’s awful, but I don’t think anyone thought the Cyclones were an at-large contender. But if they can get by Cabrini on Wednesday, they’ll be on the odds-on favorite to come dancing out of the CSAC…got a release for North Central (Ill.) trumpeting their first win as a varsity program. I hate to be the bring-down, but we can only give the Cardinals partial credit. They beat Missouri Baptist, an NAIA program, and then followed that up on Sunday by beating Indiana Tech, another non-NCAA program. Making Sense has its eye on North Central, but they’re still looking for that first win as far as we’re concerned. Albion on April 18 is what we’re thinking...Bard (N.Y.) did manage to pick up its first triumph, dowing Wells, 8-7, in a barn-burner…how about Geneseo giving Cortland a run?...Allegheny beating Kenyon opens the NCAC wide open…the good news is Union and Hamilton don’t have to worry about William Smith in the Liberty mix. The bad news is it kills the conference strength…too late to get on the Ithaca bandwagon?...

MCLA Notes
- Don’t have to worry about the Pool B in the MCLA (yet), so it’s all at-larges. It’s a little stickier with the MCLA because there are no published criteria, but here’s who I think are in line for those spots right now (it’ll change weekly) based loosely on the NCAA framework. And remember, this assumes conference champions (which you can figure out).

MCLA D-I At-Large
1. Michigan State (8-1)
2. Brigham Young (10-2)
3. Arizona State (8-3)
4. Oregon (7-4)
5. UC Santa Barbara (8-4)
6. Loyola Marymount (10-4)

MCLA D-II At-Large
1. Dayton (9-1)
2. Westminster (9-3)
3. St. John’s (8-2)
4. Grand Valley State (6-2)
5. Kennesaw State (10-3)
6. Western Oregon (10-4)

- I like to credit when it’s appropriate, but I’ve got to take my medicine when I gaffe it. I was drinking the Wisconsin-Madison kool-aid from the start and it’s now painfully apparent the Badgers weren’t ready for instant legitimacy. Lindenwood, the GRLC big dogs since the genesis of time, put Wisconsin in its place on Friday night, 22-4. Critical beat-down. To their credit, the Badgers responded by beating Purdue and Missouri, but it’s clear they’re a third tier team right now. Hopefully, Wisky will realize what it takes to compete in this league and brings it next year.

- Boston College went 2-0 over the weekend, but it wasn’t easy. The Eagles beat Connecticut and Buffalo each by a lone goal…it was looking like the SELC-I might be kind of interesting. And then Florida State beat Florida, 25-9. Junior Jon Yates buried six goals against the Gators…the dream ended on Saturday as Kansas knocked off Iowa, 12-9. Francis Enright had four goals and two assists for the Jayhawks while Evan O’Brien chipped in with three markers and two helpers.

NOTE: I’ll be in Las Vegas testing the golf courses and blackjack tables from Thursday 'til Monday, so look for the Making Sense column really late. Like Tuesday night.


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