March 11, 2013

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Making Sense: Looking Out for Number One

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

"It doesn't mean squat to me," said Cortland head coach Steve Beville about being ranked No. 1 in the weekly coaches poll. "It's the same thing as the ridiculous preseason All-American picks. It's good for the fans and it's good for the media to speculate, but it doesn't hold much water."
© Darl Zehr Photography

They get rolled out at the beginning of each week, and we all check them to see how everybody stacks up. The weekly coaches' polls are, for the most part, empty calories, but they are nearly irresistible. It's satisfies a visceral need that all lacrosse fans have, and it all starts with finding out who is on top of the heap.

The top-ranked teams are the flag-bearers for each division, setting the standard by which all others are judged, at least for a week.

But how do the coaches of the No. 1 ranked teams view the polls? Do they serve any purpose or provide any value?

"Rankings are for fans," said Chris Ryan, head coach at Mercyhurst, currently the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II. "I think that is as straight forward and honest as I can possible be."

"It doesn't mean squat to me," added Steve Beville, the head man at NCAA Division III top dog Cortland. "It's the same thing as the ridiculous preseason All-American picks. It's good for the fans and it's good for the media to speculate, but it doesn't hold much water."

For Alex Smith, the head coach at Colorado State — currently atop the MCLA Division I polls — the weekly rankings have taken on a new role since they've ascended to the penthouse.

"When we were a little bit down, the rankings served as a motivator," Smith said. "You want to get back up to the top. When you're at the top, they mean absolutely nothing. I don't think about it too much. If you're in that bubble group — in that 10 to 16 range — you're probably sweating every Monday when the rankings come out."

St. Thomas (Minn.) head coach Pete Moosbrugger has had his team astride MCLA Division II for nearly every week over the past four seasons, during which the Tommies have won three national championships. That consistency has given him a different outlook on the polls.

"Being ranked No. 1 is kind of our expectation now because we've been there for a while," Moosbrugger said. "I don't know what it will be like when we're not, but right now it's a tremendous sense of a pride for the team. I think it's what drives our guys to be at practice and running on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You don't want to get rid of it, but you also know you have to prepare because anyone can knock you off regardless of the ranking. It's a huge feather to put in your cap for a year."

There are various views on the polls, but the four coaches on top of the heap this week all agree that rankings can be used as a cudgel to keep the players grounded.

"Yesterday we spoke about it in a team meeting and I said, 'Hey, guys, we're not the No. 1 team in the nation right now,'" Ryan said. "'We're not where we need to be. We've had teams in this locker room that were ranked No. 1, and we're not at that level. We have a long way to go.' To tell you the truth, if anything, from a coaching standpoint it has been used more as a teaching tool than to pump up bravado or stir the echoes."

"I use it sometimes," admitted Moosbrugger. "If our guys aren't motivated or are slacking off, I'll bring it up and say this is something you earn, and you can lose this spot at any time. You use it as a motivator, but I haven't had to use it on the day-to-day basis. If that were the case, we'd be in trouble because we'd be playing on eggshells."

"Only when I'm pissed off," said Beville of using the No. 1 card. "The only time I bring it up is when I'm mad at them for thinking that they are better than they are."

The four coaches were asked what their reaction would be if a player was so excited about earning the top spot in the weekly poll, that he came running up to the coach and said, "Hey, Coach, we're No. 1!"

"They know me well enough not to even go there," Smith said. "There is a certain word they aren't allowed to use during the course of the year, and I won't even mention it. There is a certain word that is not allowed to be brought up because 2012 has zero bearing on where we are as a team right now. We literally never talk about that stuff. I'm on them so much about the fundamentals and getting better, we don't have time to see where we are."

"Get on the endline and start doing squat thrusts," said Ryan of his hypothetical response. "I don't even think my kids would come up and ask me that because they know what's coming next. It can serve as a source of pride. As a coach, you'll get texts or emails from alumni or parents because, again, it's for the fans. As far as the team goes, the situations that go on in the four walls of the locker room, as I tell the guys, pick 'em up and put 'em down. Put one foot in front of the other and move onto the next game."

"I'd laugh at them, basically," added Beville. "It's just too early to get too excited about a No. 1 ranking, especially in the first week of March. We can't worry about what the media thinks or what the rankings are. All that really matters is the regional rankings that come out about the 14th week of the season."

Again, the situation for St. Thomas is slightly different because of the Tommies longevity atop the polls. The players at UST don't get excited about weekly polls because it has become a bit of a Groundhog Day for them.

"In the past, there was an excitement about getting here and building the program," Moosbrugger said. "Now we have different ways of maintaining the ranking. I truly believe that we have the right system in place, the right players here and the right coaches. It really is just the expectation here."

If the coaches are by themselves and alone with their thoughts, can they take any kind of personal satisfaction or find an affirmation that they are doing a good job in the weekly poll? Ever the outlier, Moosbrugger answers in the affirmative.

"It is a tremendous sense of pride," he said. "I want people around me that want the target on their back. I want people who are motivated by that and say, 'We want to be the standard.' It just propels us to keep looking at what we do. We've got to keep reinventing ourselves and stay ahead of everybody else."

The rest of the coaches at the top of the polls? Not so much.

"We ain't that good," said Beville, growing increasingly weary of the line of questions. "We have the No. 1 ranking, but we're coming out of practices and games thinking we're really not that good right now. Reports that we are really that good are slightly exaggerated at this point. It's too early."

"You're just setting yourself up to fail to think that way," Smith said. "We're going to lose at some point. You hate to think that way, but if that's the only affirmation you get — where you are in the polls — then you're not thinking about the right stuff as a coach. For us, it's about the day-to-day grind. There was some affirmation at the end of last year, but I enjoyed that for about a week and a half. There is more pressure to be No. 1 than any pleasure."

"You are probably thinking I'm blowing smoke up your [butt], but I will tell you as a coach, I spend my day worrying about everything that is coming at us and how I can get the kids ready to compete and be competitive," Ryan said. "I am so preoccupied with that, my boss is calling me, yelling at me because I don't have my Visa statement submitted yet and I'm missing receipts because my focus is on the 48 kids in that locker room and the level of success they can have. I think I suffer from a good amount of tunnel vision sometimes because you work so hard for these three months and this is it."

There's got to be some reward that all of the coaches can take from being the top team in the country in early March. Perhaps it's something more domestic. Maybe their wives are nicer to them, their kids listen a little better or the dog gives them an extra lick on the face.

Anything like that?

"First of all, my wife isn't going to be nice to me unless there is a diamond involved," Ryan said. "My three kids don't listen unless I'm bribing them in some way. The dog is going to lick my face anyway because I'm usually covered in peanut butter. It has absolutely no benefit. It doesn't get me anything."

"My kids think I'm a minor superstar because they got to see dad on TV the last four years," Moosbrugger said. "Otherwise, it's just another day at the office and for my wife it's just another week away from the family. I wouldn't say it helps me there."

"If anything, my wife is harder on me," Smith said. "Like most coaches, I'm just a ball of stress at this time of year, so to put any more on that is not good. It's not easier on me. Let's just say it that way.

"I'm still taking out the garbage, buddy," Beville said.

Players of the Week

NCAA Division II
Corey Rich, A, Sr., Limestone
In an interregional showdown with No. 4 Merrimack, Rich scored five goals and set up three others, helping the third-ranked Saints record a 13-10 win. With Limestone trailing 9-8 in the fourth quarter, Rich connected on a pair of goals and set up two others, allowing the Saints to rally for the win.

NCAA Division III
Bobby DeWees, M, Sr., Gettysburg
DeWees scored a career high four goals in the Bullets' 12-11, upset victory over No. 3 Lynchburg. He notched a hat trick in the first half as Gettysburg built a 10-4 lead, and then buried the eventual game-winner with 4:55 left in the contest.

MCLA Division I
Matthew Sommerfeldt, G, Soph., Georgia Tech
This honor should probably go to the entire Yellow Jacket defense, which allowed just four goals over the weekend in victories over Boston University (2-1) and No. 16 Buffalo (7-3). Sommerfeldt made nine saves and allowed just the lone goal against the Terriers and then added eight more stops in the upset over the Bulls.

MCLA Division II
Collin Madsen, M, Jr., Westminster
It was a 2-0 week for the Griffins in Colorado, including a 16-5 beat down of No. 5 North Dakota State, and Madsen was in the middle of both wins. In the weekend opener against Northern Colorado, he scored six goals and dished out an assist. On Saturday against the Bison, Madsen netted a hat trick and set up three others for a 13-point weekend.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Limestone (7-0) – The Saints have already bagged Dowling and Merrimack. 'Stone will go Dolphin hunting this weekend.
2. Le Moyne (4-0) – With the postponement of the Pace game, the Dolphins will have a 10-day break before the Limestone tilt.
3. Merychurst (3-0) – Some uncomfortable times for the Lakers with St. Mike's leading 3-0 after the first quarter. Nice rally, though.
4. Adelphi (2-0) – Still plenty of work to be done against the Northeast-10, but the Panthers are in a pretty nice spot right now.
5. Dowling (3-1) – The champs have bounced back from the opening-season loss with three straight victories. Tampa's next.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (3-0) – The Red Dragons left on Sunday for a week on the road and games against Stevens and Cabrini.
2. Stevenson (5-0) – I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for the Mustangs to start their MAC schedule this weekend.
3. Dickinson (5-0) – The Red Devils get more frightening every week. They toyed with Roanoke like a kitten with a string.
4. Stevens (5-0) – Probably just a hiccup, but going to OT with Muhlenberg doesn't instill confidence with Cortland next.
5. Washington College (4-0) – Ted DiSalvo sure has made the graduation of Peter Stewart a lot easier to handle.

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado State (7-0) – Rams better be ready for Chicago. Duluth is going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at them.
2. Stanford (7-0) – Yawn. Two more weeks of snoozers until we finally get to see the Cardinal facing tough competition (BYU).
3. BYU (6-0) – After fattening up on some RMLC bottom feeders, the Cougars face a rough swing through the desert.
4. Colorado (7-0) – The Buffs surrendered double-digits goals for the first time this spring in the 18-11 triumph over Simon Fraser.
5. UC Santa Barbara (6-2) – Big Friday night showdown with Colorado. Too bad the Gauchos retired The Pit this spring.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (4-0) – With 24 days to prepare, it's a pretty safe bet that the Tommies will have Western Oregon well scouted.
2. Westminster (5-3) – The Griffins assume the mantle of being the last great hope to end the St. Thomas dynasty.
3. St. John's (4-0) – Johnnies getting ready to embark on their next challenge: four ranked teams in a six-day span in Chicago.
4. Concordia (6-1) – The Eagles have outscored their last three opponents 58-2. So there's that going for them.
5. Dayton (1-0) – With GVSU and NDSU getting the gate this week, the Flyers back their way into The Fives after a hiatus.

Notebooks

NCAA Division II: The concept of a "good loss" is debatable, but Seton Hill's setback to NYIT earlier might qualify.
NCAA Division III: Making changes early in the season isn't easy, but it has paid off so far for Nazareth.
MCLA Division I: Boston College essentially didn't practice for a month before going 3-0 on its Texas trip.
MCLA Division II: Westminster is playing two seasons concurrently and both are going as planned.


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