February 24, 2011

Coyne v. Censer: The NESCAC is Coming

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

Brown and light blue only means one thing in the D-III world: Tufts and the NESCAC are gearing up again. Not a great sign for a Centennial homer like Censer, especially when he's already trailing in this competition by a game.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Look at Censer's face very carefully. Seriously, keep looking.

Did you see that?

Did you see that nervous twitch in his left eye, that barely perceptible spasm?

No, Joel isn't having a stroke. But he, like the rest of the Centennial Conference and the overall Division III lacrosse world, had the misfortune of witnessing the calendar flip past Feb. 15.

For most stiffs -- Censer included -- Feb. 15 means it's finally time to buy your (ex) girlfriend a Valentine's Day present. But for those lacrosse programs believing that this is their year, the date is an unfriendly reminder that the boys are back in town.

For, you see, the Ides of February marks the first date that members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) can practice since they left the field last May. That's right: no fall ball or Jan. 15 start-up for these kids.

Why do the NESCACs do this? I won't bore you with the condescending details, but let's just say they like to build in a degree of difficulty when they win championships.

CENSER: Ha. The conference's first national championship in almost 10 years and Jac and the rest of NESCAC nation are puffing their chests like they're posing for some L.L. Bean catalogue. While Tufts might have bragging rights for now, they shouldn't feel too comfortable (no matter how nice the interior lining is in those North Face jackets).

Whether it's Sam Bradman dropping eight goals on the Hornets, or Stevenson's Ray Witte (14-for-17) dominating Haverford at the faceoff circle, or 'Noke absolutely foot stomping a solid St. Mary's team, the top dogs in the South look like they're drawing battle lines and gearing up for May.

For now, I'll let Jac continue to chirp about last year and try to sell 15-degree weather and out-of-season lobster rolls like they're badges of honor. But when Cortland comes out of the North playoff bracket this year and you're left yearning for the days of Matt Dunn and Holt Hopkins, don't say I didn't tell you so...

Onto the games...

ENDICOTT (0-0) AT STEVENS (0-0) –  SATURDAY, 12 P.M.

COYNE: It's the second week of the season and we've already found a decent North region contest. That means trouble for Censer. He, like most USILA pollsters, believes the North region is comprised of a loose confederation of intramural teams. I kid, I kid. But this will contest will give Censer trouble.

The Gulls are the defending Commonwealth Coast Conference champions, but lost a Feb. 27 game to Stevens last spring, 7-6, in Beverly, Mass. Stevens posted a 9-6 season, but missed out on a shot at the Empire 8 title with a loss to Ithaca in the last game of the regular season.

Last year, Endicott was a young team trying to find its way. Now the Gulls are a veteran group. They should win this game, regardless of the talent and home field advantage on the Ducks' side. Endicott, 10-8.

CENSER
: Jac's right, it's hard to know anything about these teams when traveling to Hoboken is considered a Southern Road Swing.

But I do know that Endicott, despite losing All-American keeper Eric Hagarty and playmaker Brad Lipwich, should be very, very good. And on Saturday, the Gulls will have a huge advantage at the faceoff circle with junior Sam Ozycz (58 percent) leading the way.

But extra possessions doesn't necessarily equate to wins. I think the Stevens defense, with goalkeeper Dave Decker and defender Zach McHugh both returning, can keep the Gulls at bay. So in the battle of the birds, I'm taking the Ducks 7-5.

COYNE
: This is what I'm talking about. Decker graduated early, and the Ducks currently have a two-way competition in net, according to Stevens coach Gene Peluso. Regardless, Stevens isn't a bad pick at home.

WASHINGTON COLLEGE (0-0) AT GOUCHER (0-0) – SATURDAY, 1 P.M.

COYNE: We're entering the Jeff Shirk era at Washington College, but what does that mean? That's the question for every Shoreman fan and WAC supporter out there. More importantly, if Shirk is going to turn things around – and you've got to assume he will – what is the timeline? And can we gauge any progress against an ascendant Goucher program coming off a run to the NCAA tournament in the first game?

That's a lot of questions, but I think you can see where I'm going with this. Chestertown's favorite sons are going to be just fine, and might even fight for a Centennial bid. However, for those Washington College fans caught in a late-'90s time-warp, teams like Goucher are no longer a slam dunk. The Gophers are a better team. It'll be 11-8 for the hosts.

CENSER: I'll take the Centennial bait. I always thought J.B. Clarke was a very good coach. Maybe he had trouble recruiting D-III blue chippers, but it'd be pretty easy to argue WAC's private school price tag didn't make life any easier. So like Jac, I'm interested to see what immediate gains, if any, Shirk can make.

To do anything, the former VMI skipper is going to need all he can get from all-conference middie Doug Herdegen, a nice player who would probably be even better if he tightened his stick, and lefty defenseman Bryan Botti. Personally, I think WAC is up to the challenge, and the Shoremen can reclaim some of their John Haus mojo in the opener. Because as much as Goucher has improved, WAC still ain't no low-hanging Landmark fruit. WAC 10-8.

NO. 16 DICKINSON (1-0) AT NO. 20 ST. MARY'S (0-1) – SATURDAY, 2 P.M. (AT SEVERNA PARK, MD.)

COYNE: One of the little details lost in Dickinson's run to the NCAA tournament last year was prior to the reverberating win over Roanoke in mid-March, the Red Devils snuck by St. Mary's, 7-6. They will have to do the same again this year, with the situation being eerily similar. Last year, Roanoke destroyed the Seahawks, 22-7, prior to Dickinson barely squeaking by. After the Maroons put another one on St. Mary's, 20-7 last weekend, we could be due for a repeat.

I'm not so sure. The Red Devils have a strong defense returning and looked solid against Lycoming on Wednesday, but they'll struggle this time around against the Seahawks. After the Seahawks watched Roanoke run circles around them in the opener, the Red Devils are going to look like they're wearing cement shoes to St. Mary's, and I think that'll be good for a two-goal swing. SMCM, 6-4.

CENSER: At first glance, Dickinson has a lot to make up. Netminder Tyler Magann was probably the most underrated player in Division III last year, and losing Sam Abrahamson to a preseason knee injury can't help a team that was already going to have to replace its top two leading scorers.

But stud LSM Brandon Palladino, along with faceoff guy Chip Murray (who was hurt midway through last season) are both back, and Dave Webster-coached teams have always found ways to win possession battles, get stops and manufacture goals. It will be a nailbiter (Dickinson games usually always are), but I'm going Red Devils....9-8 Dickinson.

COYNE'S PICK

NO. 17 NAZARETH (0-0) AT SPRINGFIELD (1-0) – SATURDAY, 1 P.M.

COYNE: This is an annual classic featuring two of the premier coaches in the game – Springfield's Keith Bugbee and Naz's Rob Randall. It's also a game that has been won the last six years by the Golden Flyers. Granted, three of the last four were decided by one goal, including Naz's 9-8 overtime triumph in 2009.

Is Naz in line for number seven over the Pride? This is going to be an unbelievable game -- I'd argue the game of the weekend -- and I'm taking Springfield to break the skein. My decision is based on one statement. For a story earlier this season, Bugbee, in his understated way, said, "I think this could be one of my better teams." Just in case you didn't know, Bugbee has a national title to his credit, so I'm going with Springfield, at home, 11-7.

CENSER: Yes, betting on Springfield because their coach pumped them up to a reporter makes a ton of sense...

Because I base my picks on something other than preseason platitudes, I expect Randall and the Golden Flyers -- who have their best team since Amidon and Hotaling were lacing 'em up -- to roll. 15-10 Naz.

CENSER'S PICK

NO. 7 HAVERFORD (0-1) AT NO. 14 CABRINI (0-0) – SATURDAY, 1 P.M.

CENSER: It's a tale of murderer's row on faceoffs for the Fords. First, they got spit out by Stevenson's Ray Witte, and now they have to match up against Cabrini's X-man Mike Gurenlian (68 percent last year). The Cavs also have plenty of legs on defense, where Steve Heaps and John McSorely return. (Although I'd argue they haven't been as good back there since Jeff Moore graduated and Coleman Till left.)

Even with the Cavs' advantages at the draw circle, I think that the Haverford offense, despite being a bit exposed by the Mustangs last week, is better than Cabrini's. Certainly, honoring Casey Grugan's number isn't bringing him back, and both southpaw Paul Skulski and Bobby Thorp are going to have to adjust to a life of increased attention and quick double teams. It'll happen, but probably not this week against Banno and Co. 9-8, Fords.

COYNE
: Really, "bro?" The Squirrels again? Lordy. Out of annoyance, I'll take Steve Colfer and my Cavaliers in this Philly throwdown, 5-4.


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