February 8, 2012

Change at Adelphi Makes WD2 Scene Uncertain

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Will Brittany Brigandi and Le Moyne, or another contender, be able to dethrone the Adelphi dynasty? The Panthers lost several players who followed former coach Joe Spallina to Stony Brook, but "Adelphi has so many strong players that they didn't really lose," C.W. Post coach Meghan McNamara said.
© Lee Weissman

All roads led to Adelphi in NCAA Division II women's lacrosse last year — in more ways than one. The Panthers went undefeated, hosted and captured the NCAA championship, celebrating their third straight national title on home soil in Garden City, N.Y.

Things will change this year. For one, the NCAA semifinals and championship game moves to Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. And Joe Spallina, the architect of Adelphi's dynasty, took the head coaching job at Division I Stony Brook. Four of Adelphi's best players and three top recruits soon followed.

It would seem a perfect chance for any number of Division II contenders to take Adelphi's place. Not so fast, say those contenders. Even if the title will be won in Kentucky, the road still goes through Adelphi.

"They're the better team until we're able to beat them," said Le Moyne head coach Beth Hewitt, whose squad lost just three games last season, all to Adelphi. "They've lost a lot of players to transferring, but they have a number of players who could have been playing at any other school."

If not Le Moyne, which enjoyed tremendous success in its first season after reclassifying from Division I to Division II, what about C.W. Post? The Pioneers missed the NCAA tournament last season, but have several key players returning from injuries and are the only team to beat Adelphi since 2007.

"Surprising as it is, nothing has changed with our mentality toward Adelphi," said C.W. Post head coach Meghan McNamara. "They lost some players that went to experience Division I, but Adelphi has so many strong players that they didn't really lose."

Adelphi was so dominant that even the departure of impact players like defending IWLCA Division II Attacker of the Year Claire Peterson, Midfielder of the Year Demianne Cook and Goalie of the Year Frankie Caridi, might not be enough to dethrone the champs.

Senior attacker Erica Devito, who ranked third in Division II with 77 goals last season, is back as Lacrosse Magazine's Division II Preseason Player of the Year, as is sophomore attacker Devan Crimi, a force in the NCAA tournament who had 46 goals and 27 assists as a freshman. Senior midfielder Marissa Mills returns after scoring 40 goals last year. Junior defender Kate Ciaci, who transferred from Florida last season, is back to anchor the backline.

Adelphi alum Rob Grella will be tasked with continuing the Panthers' dynasty. Things are changing already. In the past, Adelphi would run and gun down the field, using sheer athleticism to pile on the points. This year, they'll run slower set offenses.

"We've changed a lot," Grella said. "They were loosey-goosey in the past. Their athletic ability allowed them to freelance on offense. It's a huge adjustment. It was almost like standing still."

The Panthers may remain the favorite, but they are no longer a guarantee. If Adelphi loses its grip on the North region, the title might go to Northeast-10 foe Le Moyne. The Dolphins return Senior attacker Brittany Brigandi, who led Division II with 87 goals last year, and key contributors with Division I experience like junior attacker Brenna Bauer and junior midfielder Gabrielle Kamide.

But youth could be the Dolphins undoing as they work in eight freshmen.

"We're a feisty group and we're a naive group," Hewitt said. "Sometimes that's a good thing."

If Le Moyne falters, C.W. Post could be the best bet in the North. The Pioneers get All-American redshirt junior midfielder Ashley Olen (ACL) and senior midfielder Ashley Janelli (concussion) back from injuries to join an already loaded squad. Midfielder Lauren Spagnoletta, Chelsea Donaldson and Nan Mayott and defender Ashley Babst lead a talented senior class that has spent its college career watching Adelphi capture every title.

"We've changed a lot. They were loosey-goosey. ... Their athletic ability allowed them to freelance on offense. It's a huge adjustment. It was almost like standing still."

-- New Adelphi coach Rob Grella

"It's unfinished business," McNamara said. "They've fallen short for whatever reasons, but they believe in themselves. [The championship] is their dream."

While injuries didn't help, the big reason C.W. Post missed the postseason last year was the emergence of Dowling. The Golden Lions will be strong again with senior attacker Brooke Witkowski, whose 120 points were the most of any returning player in Division II, and fifth-year senior midfielder Kelly Cefalu, who scored the game-winner against C.W. Post to give Dowling its first ECC championship.

"They've always been a real threat," McNamara said. "It's great to see how much they've taken off. I'm not surprised at all. It's fun to have another rival."

As for the South, which has a sent a different team to the NCAA championship game for three years running, experience could be the key. Lock Haven, West Chester and Limestone have fallen to Adelphi in each of the past three finals.

Defending South champ Limestone, which returns its leading scorer in senior attacker Racquel Prager (60 goals), is the early favorite. Lock Haven is deeper than it was last year, but will battle just to win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) with West Chester figuring to be strong again. One of those three teams should emerge from the region.

Meanwhile at Adelphi, things have changed but the goal remains the same.

"It's a pretty interesting situation," Grella said. "We're going be right there in the mix."

This article appears in the February issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription to LM.


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