May 29, 2013

Washburn: Five Big Things We Learned This Season

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

Motivating players is the most important and challenging trait for a coach to master, writes Evan Washburn. Duke coach John Danowski, with faceoff man Brendan Fowler (left), has it figured out.
© Lee Weissman

The 2013 season is in the books and the Duke Blue Devils have been crowned champions.

This year has been a wild ride that brought with it breakout stars, teams and storylines. It's always important to look back at what we have learned and decide what it means going forward.

Parity is here to stay

Duke's ascension from a team with a 2-4 record and sitting out of the top-20 to national champions fits perfectly with a season where parity was a season-long storyline.

Growth of the game and depth of talent throughout the country have been popular phrases for the past few years. This season, you were able to see why. Each week the national top-10 seemed to be turned upside down with upsets. The difference in talent between teams ranked five through 10 was small in comparison to those ranked 15 through 20.

We saw teams like St. Johns, Bryant and Detroit burst on to the national scene during the regular season and NCAA tournament respectively. While the traditional powers fell on hard times. For the first time, neither Johns Hopkins nor Virginia qualified for the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays absence ended an incredible streak of 42-straight tournament appearances.

Teams catching up to and surpassing the likes of Hopkins and Virginia means that the college lacrosse landscape is very healthy. There are too many good high school players who just won't make the rosters of top-tier schools. You combine that with the pitfalls of early recruiting and the formula is set for more exciting and unpredictable seasons to come.

It's all about motivation

Over the course of the season I was able to talk to a majority of the nation's top coaches in a somewhat candid setting as we would prepare for each week's broadcast. This season, more than ever, one thing began to resonate with me.

The ability to motivate is the paramount.

X's and O's are important. Understanding schemes and game management is crucial, but the reality is that most head coaches and assistant coaches have a fairly equal understanding of game planning. Not all coaches, though, can get players to buy into a team philosophy and also follow through on team goals.

I ran this feeling by some of my contacts around the game, many of whom are top assistants for Division I programs. They felt that being a good motivator was the most important and also most challenging coaching trait to master.

The one coach that seems to stand above the rest in this category is Duke's John Danowski. There are only a few coaches in the country that could have done the job he did this year at Duke. Danowski is atop the list of master motivators.

Pace of play is positive

Thanks in large part to the new timer-on rule, the pace of play this season was far better. Possessions were up, scoring was up and the end-to-end action that makes this game great was much more prevalent.

Early in the season you could see an obvious adjustment being made by players and coaches. Poor decision-making and bad shot selection in February evolved into a better understanding of possession timing and how to run a 30-second play once the official made the timer-on call.

There are still issues with this new rule.

The invisible shot clock is ridiculous.

Numerous times over the course of the season I saw players unaware of the shot clock being on and I also saw officials forget about the 10-second countdown. The other overriding issue was the inconsistency of when the timer-on was put in effect. It varied by the officiating crew and by the time and score of the game.

I'm on record in support of a 60-second shot clock, but recognize that implementation is probably not an immediate reality. But it is possible to put a visible 30-second clock on the field so that players and fans know what is going on.

An attendance issue

For the sixth straight season the attendance at championship weekend, the sport's biggest stage, was down. This year's semifinal Saturday hit an all-time low. For the first time since the NCAA started putting the final weekend in NFL stadiums, fewer than 30,000 people showed up to the semifinals. That number was the lowest since 2002, and lower than two Byrd Stadium semifinal crowds in 1995 and 1997.

I will start right there. Please move this great event to a smaller venue that will create a better atmosphere and inject some life back into this special weekend.

If this year's championship weekend had been held at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, which has a capacity of 34,000, the event would looked much better on television and would been more exciting for players and spectators. Making a return to college campuses is not the only option. Major League Soccer has built some of the most impressive stadiums in recent years and would be a perfect host for the three-day tournament.

I understand there are a number of variables at play with this issue, but something has to change. The biggest weekend of the sport cannot continue to deal with the negativity that comes with declining attendance numbers.

Star power returns in 2014

Princeton's Tom Schreiber will look to bring the Tigers back to the NCAA tournament in 2014. He's one of several stars who will return next season.
© John Strohsacker

This past weekend Cornell's Rob Pannell capped off one of the greatest college careers the game has ever seen. Along with Pannell, this season saw some faces of the college game wrap up their fantastic careers. We will miss guys like Marcus Holman of North Carolina, Logan Schuss of Ohio State and Tucker Durkin of Johns Hopkins, just to name a few.

This season, though, showed us that there are plenty of underclassmen ready to step up and grab the spotlight, and some already have.

I cannot wait to see what Princeton's Tommy Schreiber has in store for his senior year. This year ended in disappointment for Princeton with the Tigers being left out of the tournament. Is 2014 the year where the game's best midfielder returns the Tigers to the final four?

Albany's Thompson trio burst on the scene this season, led by Lyle Thompson, who had a ridiculously productive year with 113 points. Miles, Ty and Lyle Thompson will all be back in 2014 and will have the opportunity to do something special. Albany plays the game the way it was intended and will be one of the hottest tickets next season.

The games quickest attackman is back, in Duke's Jordan Wolf.

What will St. John's attackman Kieran McArdle do with a bull's eye on his back?

Can Cornell's Connor Buczek grab the spotlight left with the graduation of Pannell and Steve Mock?

Star power sells and the college game has a number of big-time players ready take center stage.

My Final Top 20 Poll

1. Duke
2. Syracuse
3. Cornell
4. Denver
5. UNC
6. Yale
7. Notre Dame
8. Ohio State
9. Loyola
10. Maryland
11. Lehigh
12. Albany
13. Penn State
14. Towson
15. Bucknell
16. Princeton
17. Penn
18. Johns Hopkins
19. Drexel
20. Villanova

LaxMagazine.com columnist Evan Washburn, a former Delaware defenseman, is a CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network lacrosse commentator. Follow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn, and look for his weekly Major League Lacrosse power rankings throughout the summer on LaxMagazine.com.


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