May 20, 2011

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Coyne's Picks: NCAA Division II Men's Lacrosse Semifinals

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Brian Scheetz (above) and the Mercyhurst offense only managed three goals against C.W. Post in the first meeting between the two schools. Scheetz and the Lakers are heading back to the Island this weekend in hopes of altering that outcome. Jac Coyne is not sure if that is going to happen.

© Mercyhurst Athletics

The NCAA Division II men's lacrosse tournament kicks off this weekend with four teams playing for a shot at the national championship game May 29 in Baltimore.

Adelphi (15-2) at Limestone (15-1), 1 p.m.

After its win in the Northeast-10 championship game against Merrimack, Adelphi head coach Gordon Purdie brought the team into a lounge in the athletic department and plugged in the computer for the NCAA selection show.

"There was a little bit of a hesitation, and when they announced Adelphi. As you can imagine, we were over the moon," Purdie said. "Immediately, we thought about what needs to happen now to prepare. We went into game preparation mode within the hour. We talked about how important it was right now to enjoy the celebration, but be prepared both in the classroom and on the field."

While the rest of the teams in this year's field might take a little longer to enjoy the accomplishment, unlike those teams, Adelphi hasn't been to the tournament since 2001 -- when the Panthers won it all. It's exciting, but Purdie hopes to have a somewhat business-like approach to this semifinal.

They also know what's waiting for them in Gaffney, S.C.

Limestone is the most prolific offense in the country (17.6 goals per game) and boasts the top two points men in the country in junior Shayne Jackson (31g, 50a) and sophomore Riley Loewen (54g, 20a). The Canadian duo thrives on the two-man game, and while Adelphi hasn't seen the kind that the Limestone pair runs, Purdie feels Adelphi will be able to stack up with them.

"Merrimack was the closest to running a two-man game on us, and we handled that very well," Purdie said. "Our defenders are veterans. Almost all of them are seniors, they've been around lacrosse a while, and they've seen a lot thrown at them. We're just anxious to get on the plane and head down."

Awaiting Adelphi is a humbled Limestone team. While the Saints were able to take a little bit of the tastes out of their mouth with a season-ending victory against Catawba, a 12-8 setback to Mercyhurst on April 23 lingers.

"We learned that we weren't as good as we thought we were," Limestone first-year head coach J.B. Clarke said of the Mercyhurst setback. "We needed to get back to work. We did not have a good week of practice leading up to the Mercyhurst game, and we got their attention after that. I think since then, we've been playing well."

The Saints have been idle for three weeks. They've filled free time with video game tournaments and trips to minor league baseball games, but both the coaches and players are getting a little stir-crazy.

"They just get antsy and want to play, so we've been trying to let them scrimmage a lot and just let them play," Clarke said. "You have a set schedule during the year, so you can kind of get bumped off your rhythm. We've been very cognizant of that and we've tried to have short, hard practices with a lot of video work. Scrimmage whenever we can. I think they would just as soon play today than wait five days."

Clarke's got a good beat on what Adelphi is going to bring to Gaffney. He's well aware of the starting midfield unit that has taken over 250 shots and scored 131 points, along with goalie Eric Janssen (6.42 GAA; .669 save percentage), who is the best goalie in Division II this year.

With the spotlight that has been on Limestone all year and the somewhat surprising nature in which Adelphi received its bid, it might appear easy to take Limestone in this game, but I'm having misgivings. The presence of Janssen, along with a solid defense that has been dominant for nearly the entire season, makes me think the Panthers have a shot to pull the upset.

I'm loathe to do it, but I'm going to pull out the weather card to make my selection. It is supposed to be 88 degrees – five degrees off the record high in Gaffney – on Saturday with unseasonably high humidity. Throw in the Armed Forces Day festivities at the game, which includes a "FanFest," the disturbing visual that is the Peachoid and the lack of tourney experience, and I think the Panthers are going to be overwhelmed. Saints, 12-10.

Mercyhurst (12-2) at C.W. Post (16-1), 12 p.m.

When I brought up the fact that Mercyhurst was going head-to-head with Le Moyne for the wild card bid – a then-unknown peril to 'Hurst's bid – to Lakers head coach Chris Ryan, he didn't flinch. Even though he was left out of the tournament last year with a 13-1 mark, Ryan was confident of the outcome.

"I watched the selection show last year with my two Labrador retrievers in my room in the basement, and Mrs. Ryan had gone to bed because I don't think she wanted to see the aftermath when it came out," Ryan said with a laugh. "I had resigned myself and I knew what was going to happen, so when it came up on the screen, there was that sense of letdown and disappointment, but I had pretty much prepared myself for it. This year, I just thought that the kids had experienced way too much success with a very hard schedule not to be let in."

He ended up being correct, and now he's headed back down scenic I-80 for an eight-hour tour bus adventure and no sleep 'til Brookville. It is there that two-time defending champion C.W. Post awaits for a rematch of the 4-3 game won by the Pioneers on April 9. Both Ryan and Post head man John Jez believe the final score will be slightly higher, but still close.

"I think there will be a little more scoring, but both defenses are good, so I don't expect it to be a high-scoring game," Jez said. "It'll be low scoring, but hopefully something more than 4-3. That was nerve-racking."

"Looking back on our first game, we thought we had some opportunities to put some points on the board, and so did C.W. Post, and we just didn't execute offensively," Ryan said. "The ball not moving fast enough and guys just not being in the right places inhibits us from making the right reads. We just shot ourselves in the foot."

Added Jez: "I think both teams didn't finish and both goalies played very well that day. Hopefully they'll play well again, but both of them made some point blank saves."

When examining this game, it's important to note that this isn't just an NCAA tournament game, it's a rivalry game, which ratchets up the intensity. Jez said it's not a traditional rivalry, like the ones Post has with NYIT and Adelphi, but it's next in line. Ryan believes the weight of this game comes from something simpler.

"It's just two good lacrosse teams running into each other," he said. "If you look at this game on paper, you'd say Mercyhurst is definitely the underdog, but with the familiarity that both teams share, I think it's just a great rivalry game. It's a game between two teams that want to get to Baltimore and be successful."

Who makes it? It'll be one of the toughest picks of the year.

On one hand, I have Jez telling me that this team doesn't have the leadership of years past.

"We have some veterans in some key roles, but not the main leaders we've had in the past," he said. "I think we have some younger guys who are going to have to step up."

On the other hand, I have Ryan telling me this is a toss-up, even thought the Lakers are on the road.

"I think that this game is really is going to come down to who fundamentally does things correctly," he said. "Not that it separates it from other games, but whatever team takes those steps forward will push themselves over the top. I think you have teams who are motivated and well coached."

This is going to be an instinct pick. While I think Ryan is a premier coach, Jez has proven that he is operating on another plane. He might be content at Post, but he'd be an early call if I was a Division I athletic director and had an opening. Jez will have Mike Mussina, Nick Coric, Mike Giordano and the rest of the gang ready to give themselves a shot at a third title. Post, 8-6.


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