MD3 Notes: RIT "Hosts" Middlebury in Big-Stage Showdown
One of the biggest games in Division III men's lacrosse this week happens to take place on one of the sport's biggest stages as No. 2 Rochester Institute of Technology plays host to No. 9 Middlebury Wednesday at Syracuse's Carrier Dome.
Scheduling games on Division I fields has become a popular move for Division III schools for a variety of reasons, with some played at lacrosse's most prestigious and historic venues. The RIT-Middlebury series has become a home-and-home with the Tigers playing host at the Carrier Dome and the Panthers' home games at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field.
"Playing in the Dome is great experience for the guys," RIT coach Jake Coon said. "It's a large venue with a lot of lacrosse history. We set it up each year with the Syracuse staff and usually split the cost of the facility."
Middlebury coach Dave Campbell said both teams had plenty of success working with the Division I powerhouses to get the games on the schedule.
"Jake Coon had already played in both venues and had made some good contacts," Campbell said. "He worked out all of the details with Syracuse and we both worked with the Hopkins staff last year."
There are plenty of benefits to these games for the teams that play them, particularly on the recruiting trail. The games offer exposure for the small colleges in areas with a significant amount of high school talent. The opportunity to play in the high-profile stadiums also works as an incentive for recruits who may be choosing between top-level Division III programs or schools in Division I or II.
But there are also practical reasons relating for the current season for teams such as RIT and Middlebury, which have aspirations of playing in the big stadium in Philadelphia at the end of May during championship weekend.
"If we do earn the opportunity to play on Memorial Day weekend, I believe it's important to be comfortable in that type of setting," Coon said. "There is certainly not as many fans [at Syracuse], but the venue is about as close as you can get."
Campbell agreed it can be a big benefit if his teams is able to get to the national semifinals or beyond.
"We try and play in some bigger venues during our spring break trips and couple it with the best competition we can find," he said. "My hope for our team is to get them comfortable playing in larger venues and not have it be an issue if we're fortunate enough to make our way back to championship weekend.
"My experience as a player in our first championship game in 1999 was that the lights may have been a little bright for all of us. The experience of getting there certainly helped us the following year in 2000. I want our team to be prepared if we get there having played the best competition in the country and having played in some big time environments."
Playing at DI venues has been something teams in New York and Maryland have certainly enjoyed, and programs in Virginia are paying attention. Christopher Newport coach Mikey Thompson, a former Virginia Cavaliers standout defenseman, said he could certainly see the benefits of scheduling a game at his old Klockner Stadium stomping grounds, but the Captains haven't yet talked to officials at UVA or potential opponents about a game in Charlottesville.
"I would definitely be interested in a game at Klockner," Thompson said. "Obviously, the time of year would be important as would our opponent. But if anything came of this, I would absolutely be interested."
With Stevenson handing defending champion Tufts its first loss of the year last week, teams that already hoped to hoist the trophy in May had their hopes bolstered just that much more. (John Strohsacker)
COMPETITION HEATING UP
It's not quite April, but thoughts of a trip to Philadelphia for Memorial Day weekend might not be premature for teams at the top of the charts at this point of the season. With defending NCAA champion Tufts falling to Stevenson last week, the other teams in Division III have to be as confident as ever that the title is up for grabs.
But, an undefeated team such as RIT is also quite aware that its unblemished record could be the next to take a hit with so much parity in the sport.
"There is no doubt that Division III and all of lacrosse is deep these days," Koon said. "You better bring your 'A' game every time out or you could get taken down. I do feel good about our record thus far. Who wouldn't?
"But more importantly, we have had different experiences in each of the games that we can learn from. The good news is we have played well in some games and won, and have also not played our best but were able to find a way to win. I certainly think we need a bit more consistency playing at a high level."
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