May 1, 2014

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Morning Jac: Small College Midweek Notebook

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

Lynchburg attackman Aaron Murphy (above) has had a dominant sophomore year, leading the Hornets in goals (41) and assists (27). If Lynchburg can go on the road and win the ODAC tourney this weekend, Murphy will likely play a big role. (John Strohsacker)

Not surprisingly, one of the goals for Lynchburg was to earn the top seed in the ODAC tournament in order to have hosting privileges. When the deciding three-way tie-breaker – goal differential – was computed between Lynchburg, Washington & Lee and Roanoke, and the Hornets were handed the third-seed, that dream disappeared.

It may have caused a pang of disappointment at the time, but now that Lynchburg has dispatched Virginia Wesleyan for the second time in four days, 22-7, in the first round and advanced to the conference semifinals final this weekend, the Hornets are reconsidering their plight.

"It kind of worked out pretty nicely," said Hornets head man Steve Koudelka. "It was a lot easier playing Virginia Wesleyan again, going Saturday to Tuesday, than if it was a different opponent. As I told the guys on Saturday night, 'You just got a free scouting report.' It worked in our favor that we were able to play the same team again, and we had a pretty good idea of what they were trying to do."

Now that they have avoided the first round upset bid, the pendulum has swung way back in Lynchburg's favor.

The ODAC adopted a new tournament format last year that played the semifinals and championship game on back-to-back days, which is a situation that is very uncommon during the regular season. None of the three other semifinalists – Roanoke, W&L and Hampden-Sydney – have played games on consecutive days this season.

Lynchburg has done it three times, the most challenging of them coming on March 21-22 when they played (and defeated) both Nazareth and Cortland.

"I can't speak for the other teams, but I know we're prepared for it," Koudelka said of the double-dip. "This will be potentially the fourth time we've done it this year and I feel great because last year there were questions about how we would handle it. I think this year those questions are out the window. In order to play on Sunday you have to win on Saturday, and I think our guys are prepared for that."

Should the Hornets falter in the semifinals against a W&L team they defeated, 11-8, during the regular season, or in the title game against either Roanoke or Sydney, they will be thrown into the Pool C mix. The focus of the players and the coaching staff is obviously on winning the conference and its AQ, but the at-large discussion is not taboo.

"We try to hit everything head on with our guys," Koudelka said. "The last couple of years they knew I was on the committee and I had pretty good information. Right now I'm sure they are reading stuff, but I think we're in a great spot.

"Talking to Brandon Childs at York last year at this time and just being really close to Brandon, I said if I'm the coach at York, one of things I'm going to do is to put myself in position to not only be in that conference championship game, but I want to put a schedule together where if I'm not in that game, I'm being discussed for the Pool C bid. He's done exactly that, which is awesome for him and York. I think our guys are in the exact same boat. If things don't go our way this weekend, with the schedule we've played and who we've beaten, we've hopefully put ourselves in good position to have two chances to be in the tournament."

With the way the ODAC has played out this year, the Hornets are likely the only team with the credentials to be among the at-large candidates. This means that every other team will be throwing the kitchen sink at Lynchburg in order to grab the AQ. It'll be a tall task, especially without playing at home.

Not that it makes a difference now.

"No matter where we're going to play this thing, the end goal is the most important goal – win the ODAC championship."

Different Feel for Le Moyne This Spring

At this time last year, Le Moyne had already played its last home game. As the No. 3 seed in the Northeast-10 tournament, the Dolphins hosted a Tuesday first round game, but from that point forward, it was all hotels and rest stops for Dan Sheehan's bunch on their way to the national championship.

This year, as the No. 2 seed in the conference and No. 1 team in the country, Le Moyne has at least one more home game, and potentially three more depending on how this weekend shakes out. It has the Dolphins in a different place, both literally and metaphysically.

"We've got to remember the things we did last year," said Le Moyne head coach Dan Sheehan (above). "We played really good lacrosse. Regardless of what our record was down the stretch, we played our best lacrosse of the year. Similar to this year, we feel like our best lacrosse is still in front of us. It's a little bit different, but we don't mind being in the situation we are in." (Kevin P. Tucker)

"There's no question that it is a different feeling," Sheehan confirmed. "For us last year it didn't start going into the conference tournament, it was before that when we dropped our second game to Adelphi. From that point forward, it was really win and move on, or lose and go home. We're pretty fortunate to put ourselves in a situation this year where we don't have that stress on us, which may allow us to play a little bit looser.

"At the same time, we've got to remember the things we did last year. We played really good lacrosse. Regardless of what our record was down the stretch, we played our best lacrosse of the year. Similar to this year, we feel like our best lacrosse is still in front of us. It's a little bit different, but we don't mind being in the situation we are in."

The situation could have been completely different if not for a 13-11 loss to NE-10 rival Adelphi a little less than a month ago. The Dolphins would have been the top seed and guaranteed a raft of home dates. It's setback that has Sheehan and his staff still scratching their heads.

"We're not really sure what happened," he said. "We know that we played – and not to take anything away from a very good Adelphi team – maybe the worse lacrosse we've played in five years. Both sides of the ball and every position, there were just mistakes from guys who normally don't make them. There were mistakes in situations where we normally don't make them. We broke the film down and all of the mistakes we made are certainly fixable, and they all of the things we typically do very well. We have moved on and we've definitely learned from it."

Sheehan likens the Adelphi loss to Le Moyne's quirky, 5-3, loss to Merrimack last season that made their life difficult at the time, but provided an impetus to refocus for the long haul.

"The good thing that we've got for us in this program is our mistakes are never a result of lack of effort," Sheehan said. "We talk about it all the time that it's not our job at Le Moyne and it's not our coaching staff's job to coach effort. We've got a group of guys who work really hard day in and day out. We talked yesterday before we came on the practice field that there are a lot of teams that are done. We're one of the fortunate ones. That's why you spend two and half months practicing in the cold, to be able to have the opportunity to keep showing up at practice this time of year."

The Dolphins' immediate challenge is to subdue Merrimack in the NE-10 semis on Friday afternoon. The Warriors will be a desperate bunch, likely needing the conference crown to find a spot in the North bracket, but that's of little concern to Le Moyne. The fact that it's Merrimack is just a formality.

"We say this all the time, and I'm not sure if people believe it or not, but we spend so much time on ourselves," Sheehan said. "We spend an awful lot of time on us getting better every day and coaching our kids to the point where it doesn't matter who is lined up against us and what color jerseys they are wearing or what handed they are. Everything we preach is fundamentals and I like to think it's the fundamentals that make a difference at this time of year. Especially if you are lucky to get past a semifinal game and all of a sudden you have a one-day turnaround to get ready for the next game. Everything we have been talking about since Jan. 15 is trying to build on that each and every day."

Slides & Rides

- When asked who was the biggest surprise on this year's Le Moyne team, Sheehan hesitated a bit, but then said it was junior attackman Kevin Kelly. Kelly certainly wasn't an unknown for the Dolphins having scored 25 goals and dishing out three assists in last year's title run, but this year he has 40 goals (on just 59 shots) and a team-high 55 points.

"He is having an outstanding year," Sheehan said of Kelly. "He's shooting the ball at nearly 70 percent. He doesn't take any plays off. He's not a crease guy, but he constantly puts himself in a good spot. We talk all the time about finding not the easy way out, but finding the easy way to do things and Kevin has helped us do that."

"He is having an outstanding year," Le Moyne head coach Dan Sheehan said of Kevin Kelly (above). "He's shooting the ball at nearly 70 percent. He doesn't take any plays off. He's not a crease guy, but he constantly puts himself in a good spot. We talk all the time about finding not the easy way out, but finding the easy way to do things and Kevin has helped us do that." (Kevin P. Tucker)

- There are plenty of potential upsets looming this weekend, but I'll have my eye on the Ithaca-St. John Fisher game. With the way things are shaping up in Pool C, the Empire 8 is looking like a one-bid league, so this will be for all the marbles. When the teams first met in late March, the Bombers pulled out the 11-9 win, but since then the Cardinals have gone 9-1 with the lone loss coming to Union, 10-7. Jamie Campagna has quietly put together an All-American-caliber season in goal for Fisher and John Johnson's team can grind it out with anyone (see: 10-6 loss to RIT). Ithaca is no slouch, and deserve every bit of their No. 1 seed, but they'll have to be razor sharp if they want to snap their five-year NCAA drought.

- It's appropriate that the Kentucky Derby is this weekend, because it appears we have a three-way horse race for the final seed in the South region of Division II. Queens is currently in the fourth spot, but the Royals are followed by Pfeiffer and Florida Southern. And as it turns out, they will be keeping an eye on another horse race this weekend because they each have a stake in a pony competing in the ECAC-II tournament.

Queens, which beat Mercyhurst during the season, will be pulling for the Lakers to wrap up the ECAC title and give the Royals a bump to their resume. Similarly, Florida Southern will be cheering on Lake Erie since it would strengthen its win over the Storm earlier this year. Pfeiffer will try to hit the quinella and oull for both Lake Erie and Seton Hill to meet in the ECAC championship game (the Falcons have wins over both), and then have the Griffins take home the trophy since they are the only one of the three win a victory over Seton Hill. If one of these situations plays out, it doesn't necessarily guarantee that the "winner" will get the final spot, but with all three of the teams having finished their seasons, there's no other way to strengthen their case.

- Every year we get a reminder of just how fragile success and expectations can be, and this year's poster children are Nazareth and Dickinson. Both had sky-high expectations coming into this season with loads of talent, but neither could find the right mix that had earned them NCAA bids in 2013. The Golden Flyers played a brutal schedule and had six losses by three goals or less on their way to an 8-10 mark and an exit in the Empire 8 semifinals. Dickinson suffered through a slow start and injuries to key personnel, prohibiting them from recreating the magic that resulted in an 18-0 start to the season last spring. The Red Devils were dismissed by F&M in the Centennial semis. Both programs are undoubtedly disappointed by the outcome, but should have plenty of motivation during the offseason and fall to return to form.

- The inaugural ECC tournament hasn't disappointed to this point. Third seeded LIU Post jumped on second-seeded and fifth-ranked NYIT early and never let up in a 9-6 upset. Connor Drost had five points to lead the way for the Pioneers. In the other semifinals, top-seeded Dowling needed a furious, three-goal rally in the final four minutes – including a goal by Billy Richardson with eight seconds left – to subdue Chestnut Hill, 12-11. It's a perfect scenario for LIU Post in the final as not only can they strengthen their resume with a win over Dowling, but the Pioneers will be able to do it on their own turf as Hickox Field was the preselected site of the title game.

NCAA Division II Notes: Division II conference clearinghouse...just by the nature of their success, Le Moyne, Adelphi and Merrimack hog all of the limelight in the Northeast-10, but Southern N.H. and Bentley are starting a nice little rivalry. The Penmen won the regular season meeting, 8-7, but on Tuesday in the NE-10 first round, the Falcons won by the same score, sending Bentley to the semis against Adelphi. With the amount of teams in the conference (12), it's nice to see some new rivalries taking shape than the usual suspects...LIU Post's win over NYIT was welcome news to Merrimack. Although the Warriors still have to make the NE-10 title game (by beating Le Moyne), and probably have to win it, they now know that should do the trick. Had NYIT made the ECC title game, the Bears would have been nearly impossible to catch.

NCAA Division III Notes: Division III conference clearinghouse...Keuka, who is the unheralded of the three undefeated teams so far this season, advanced to the NEAC title game with a 17-7 win over Medaille. The Storm will meet Morrisville State for the AQ...first-year program John Carroll upended Mount Union in the OAC semis to get a shot at the first-ever conference title against Otterbein...Plattsburgh avenged an earlier loss to Potsdam to get a crack at Cortland for the SUNYAC auto-bid. The Cardinals took the Red Dragons to the brink during the regular season before bowing, 11-10...if you think you are a Pool C candidate, you might want to just go ahead and get the AQ. There are going to be several good teams staying home, as usual...Washington College scored the first 17 goals against Gettysburg. The Shoremen are a team rounding into form...Denison was fifth in the South regional rankings, so don't be shocked if they get shipped up to the North bracket when everything is fleshed out.


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