Randall Finds Positive in Nazareth's Low Point
Coaching tends to bring out the pragmatic side of individuals. There are so many black and white issues when it comes to winning games, that realism can be a virtue. But every once and a while, it's good to be an optimist.
Nazareth head coach Rob Randall certainly took an unexpectedly rosy view of his team's 25-15 setback to No. 3 RIT on March 30.
"I know they scored 25, and I know it sounds kind of strange to say this, but we didn't play that bad," said Randall on Saturday evening after the Golden Flyers won the Empire 8 championship against Ithaca. "There was like a 10 minute sequence in the second quarter of the RIT game where we were awful. We couldn't win a faceoff and they scored on every possession. We couldn't do anything right. But outside of those 10 minutes, we scored 15 goals, and I don't think anyone has scored that many on RIT."
He's right. Stevenson's 12 goals are the next most that RIT has surrendered this spring. It's a fact overshadowed by the ugliness of the score, but it was something that Randall kept harping on with his team as they embarked into the meat of their conference schedule.
"As disappointing a loss as that was, we've got a good team," Randall said. "We're very solid all around. I told the kids, 'Keep plugging away. You're doing a good job.' We really tried to emphasize the positives after the RIT game. There were, as strange as it sounds, a lot of positives."
The approach worked, as the Flyers won the final six games of the regular season, including a 17-8 roasting of then-No. 6 Stevens, to grab the E8 top seed. One of the key aspects of that run was the improved play of the defense. Naz didn't approach the Cortland standard for defensive prowess, but it improved just enough to let the talented offense provide some breathing room.
"The real story is we've played a lot better defense in the second half of the season," Randall said. "After you give up 25 goals you start asking, 'What they hell are we doing?' It was the turning point. Not only because I felt like we played pretty well for the majority of that game, but it was a turning point for our defense. When you give up 25, that will happen."
Against Ithaca in the E8 championship game, the defense came up huge at the key point. Trailing 10-8 heading into the fourth quarter, the Flyers backline blanked the Bombers over the final 15 minutes, allowing the offense to strike for four unanswered markers and the 12-8 triumph. Overshadowing the defense, however, was precocious rookie Luke Wooters.
With his seven goals (along with one assist) against Ithaca, Walters surpassed Neal Powless for the most goals in a single season with 59. Powless' record has stood since 1995.
"He is just a great kid and he has a knack for scoring goals like nobody I've ever coached," said Randall of Wooters. "He doesn't have the hardest shot in the world. He might be 135 pounds soaking wet. But he's just got the knack."
And Randall has the knack for turning a humbling loss into a positive motivating agent. Somewhere, Randall found the silver lining in the RIT beat down, and it was just what his young team needed. Now that Nazareth is in the tournament, there's really cause for optimism.