NCAA Division II Summer Notebook
It's good to be Mercyhurst.
The Lakers return an incredible amount of talent from a team that barely missed its second appearance in the national championship. "It's an undeniable fact that we do have a lot of guys who are coming back," admitted 'Hurst head coach Chris Ryan, who guided the program to its first NCAA title in '11.
As funny as it may sound, that's a secondary reason why spirits are so high in Erie, Pa.
The primary cause for glee on the shores of Lake Erie is how everything shook out when the NCAA reconfigured its regions in preparation for Division II moving to an eight-team national tournament in 2013.
It didn't start out that great. The Lakers got booted from the division's uber-conference, the ECC – of which it was an associate member – just prior to the decision.
But Mercyhurst has landed softly, to say the least.
The Lakers have not only found a new conference – the recently formed ECAC-II, featuring seven other teams – but 'Hurst will be prohibitive favorites to win the league. Seton Hill, ostensibly the second best team in the ECAC, got whacked by Mercyhurst, 19-5 during last year's regular season.
If that wasn't enough, they will be competing in the South region. With all due respect to the traditional teams in the South, Limestone is the only program that consistently operates at the same level as the Lakers (although Pfeiffer stayed within two goals of Ryan's outfit last spring). With four bids floating around in the redesigned South, there is almost no plausible scenario that will exclude the Lakers' from the dance.
The cherry on top? Because of the NCAA rule that stipulates that games against opponents in neighboring states count as regional games, Mercyhurst can play teams such as C.W. Post and Dowling – both of which are in the North – and still have them on the regional record. Under the old format, that would be more of a curse than a blessing, but in the new world of D-II where RPI and strength of schedule will take on a whole new meaning, it's hard to believe there will be any team in the South approaching 'Hursts' resume.
The one drawback? The ECAC includes Lindenwood, a team located in St. Charles, a St. Louis 'burb, which is right in that awkward geographical distance for Mercyhurst where a bus trip is slightly more economical than a plane flight. Fortunately for Mercyhurst, the Lakers are no strangers to interminable bus sojourns.
"I don't know why it takes so long to drive to Long Island," said Ryan, Mercyhurst's head coach. "I'm not sure if you hit some kind of time-vortex driving through Central Pennsylvania. Lindenwood is farther than Long Island, but not by a whole a lot."
A victory over Lindenwood – seemingly one of many that Mercyhurst is destined for this spring – will certainly take the edge off the trek. Regardless, the 2013 season is shaping up to be the Year of the Laker.
Post Digging Out of '12 Ditch
Things are looking good for Mercyhurst these days, but LIU-Post (now the official name for the artist formerly known as C.W. Post) knows all too well how fleeting success can be in Division II. It was just two years ago that the Pioneers were coming off back-to-back national championships and advanced back to the semifinals.
And just like that, it was gone.
Post stumbled to a 6-6 finish to the '12 campaign, with the nadir coming at the conclusion of a four-game skid capped off by an 8-7 loss to Lake Erie, a third-year program. The Pioneers defense was just as impressive as it had been during the title years – Post allowed just 7.5 goals per game – but the offense was inconsistent (8.75 goals per outing).
"I think some of the guys got spoiled by us being successful for a while," said Post head man John Jez. "They took it for granted that it was going to be given to them and they really didn't earn it."
When Jez speaks about last year, his disappointment is palpable. His team got fat and happy during its dominating run and lost touch with the gritty aspects of the game that directly led to the championship years. The program is starting anew with a group of players who have never tasted the nectar.
"I think it's a fresh new crop and they are going to work hard," Jez said. "I think the new group is going to fight to get back to where they want to be. There's not a lot of left from the previous teams that were in the playoffs and the championships. It's a newfound growth where guys will have to work to get back there."
If they want to get back to the Promised Land, they won't be taking any shortcuts. In addition to the brutal ECC schedule – a league slate that Jez calls "a playoff atmosphere every game" – the Pioneers kept Merychurst on the docket and renewed their rivalry against fellow Long Island power Adelphi. The fact that Dowling, another Strong Island rival, is the defending champion, provides a constant reminder of where Post stands.
Jez has nothing but kind words for what the Lions were able to accomplish last year, but won't be afraid to use Dowling's success as an impetus.
"That will spark a fire underneath them," he said. "It's a new group and a hungry group, but I'm not sure if they understand the traditional rivalries as much sa some of the returning guys do."
As dour as Jez is, Post isn't that far off from the top dogs. Four of their six losses came by three goals or fewer in 2012 and last year's graduating class was relatively small. The Pioneers are down now, but not even close to being out.
The Next D-II Hot Spot is...Tennessee?
Division II is always hungry to add more teams to its roll, and it appears that the Volunteer State could be fertile grounds for that initiative. Lincoln Memorial University, located in Harrogate, Tenn., has the sport on its radar and other programs in the state are rumored to be in the mix. The athletic director at Tusculum (Greenville, Tenn.), another team thought to be comtemplating the sport, did not return a phone call.
"I don't want to go anything firm, but we could hire a coach within the next few months," said Lincoln Memorial athletic director Roger Vannoy. "We could start next year, but most likely the year after (2014). We are definitely going to take a look at it."
While optimistic, Vannoy wouldn't confirm the addition of lacrosse because the institution is still weighing whether to add track and field instead.
"We've got an established [lacrosse] field that we built two years ago, and what we've been waiting to do is getting dorm space," said Vannoy.
Lincoln Memorial belongs to the South Atlantic Conference, and its flirtation with lacrosse coincides with that league adding lacrosse as an officially sponsored sport for the 2013-14 academic year. Currently, the SAC has four schools that sponsor men's lacrosse (Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne, Mars Hill and Wingate). Newberry (S.C.) currently sponsors women's lacrosse, but no men's.
NOTES: In the least surprising news of the summer, Merrimack re-upped Mike Morgan to continue as head coach for the Warriors. Morgan, the '08 Northeast Coach of the Year and the first head coach in D-II history to win 50 games in his first four seasons, has a strong squad entering the '13 season...Tampa has hired Chris Burdick, the long-time head coach at Division I Providence, as an assistant...it is expected that Lars Keil will be named the new coach at Pfieffer, replacing Peter Milliman, who took an assistant position at Princeton. Keil, a Springfield (Mass.) grad, comes to Misenheimer after assisting at Bates last season... Le Moyne head coach Dan Sheehan expects to add a freshman class between 12-14 players...Zach Nedbalski became the first Queens (N.C.) graduate to land a head coaching gig. Nedbalski, an '07 graduate, was tabbed as the head man at Methodist (N.C.), which will join Division III in 2014...I asked LIU-Post's John Jez if he was technically the MLL Assistant Coach of the Year after Long Island Lizards head coach Joe Spallina was named the Coach of the Year. "No, I was just helping out. That's Joe's award."
Former Catawba assistant Mike Murphy has been named the second head coach at Mount Olive (N.C.). Murphy replaces Mike Lawson, who stepped down in August. The Trojans will start their first season in 2013 and be a member of Conference Carolinas...Mount Olive opens up against Young Harris (Ga.), another first-year program, on Feb. 16...Florida Southern head coach Marty Ward was an assistant on the Iroquois U-19 team that upset Team USA during pool play in Finland...Notre Dame de Namur has added former Albany All-American Frank Resetarits as an assistant...Lindenwood was greenlighted for provisional membership to the NCAA, but won't be eligible for the postseason until '14...Keith Loftis, a former assistant at Wheaton (Mass.), is the new head coach at Assumption (Mass.)...former Mercer (Ga.) head coach Jason Childs has been hired as the new Shorter (Ga.) head coach...Jason Fautas is the first varsity head coach at Walsh (Ohio), which is joining the new ECAC league during its transition to a full-time NCAA-II member...NYIT junior Danny McDermott was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player at the U-19 World Championships in Finland this summer for Team Canada.