May 1, 2014

WD2 Notebook: Rest a Key for Mercyhurst's Chances

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


Mercyhurst's Becca Himes ranks second in the PSAC with 90 points this season. (Ed Mailliard)

For those wondering, there are a couple of big differences between the Mercyhurst Lakers and the the NBA team that shares its nickname.

For one, Mercyhurst's campus is located just a few minutes from the shores of Lake Erie, so its name makes more sense. And, secondly, there's still a good chance that these Lakers make a postseason run this year.

Mercyhurst has won 14 of its last 15 games and just emerged from a grueling regular season in Division II's most competitive conference with an 11-1 record. Thus far that has guaranteed just one thing for the Lakers: rest.

But, with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference semifinals set to begin, rest could prove to be the most important reward of all. Like top-seeded Lock Haven, the No. 2 Lakers earned a bye into this weekend's PSAC semifinals. That offered them the opportunity to spend the week healing, with some light practices, while the rest of the league beat each other up in the quarterfinals.

And that's crucial at this time of year. The Lakers just came off a stretch that saw them play 11 conference games in 29 days.

"Sometimes it's six games in two weeks," said Mercyhurst coach Cecil Pilson. "It's definitely a tough conference to stay healthy in. It's nice to have the bye. That gives the kids a chance to freshen up."

The Lakers won 10 games during that month-long stretch, but still find themselves sixth in the latest Regional Rankings. So in order to reach the NCAA tournament, they'll most likely need to win the PSAC, which has gone to a non-No. 1 seed in each of the past five seasons.

There are no automatic bids in D-II, but if Mercyhurst takes home the title this weekend, the South Region's second-Northernmost team (by a couple of miles to Gannon) can expect to keep on playing. The Lakers have just two losses, to a pair of perennial NCAA tournament teams - Le Moyne and Lock Haven.

Mercyhurst boasts a veteran squad, with 15 juniors, that no team would want to see in the NCAA tournament. Boosting the offense this year is the addition of three transfers from Division I St. Bonaventure - Jenna Schlagenhauf, Taylor Ventre and Mackenzie Jordan -- who roomed together and ranked first, fourth and fifth on the Bonnies scoring list last season.

It's a bit like adding three top-flight freshman, only without the learning curve of adjusting to the pace of college lacrosse. All three have started every game. Schlagenhauf is second on the Lakers in points (56 goals, 11 assists), Jordan ranks third (43 goals, 13 assists) and Ventre sixth (20 goals, eight assists, tied for team-best 15 caused turnovers)

"It's added a unique element to the team," Pilson said "Having three strong players come in has helped everyone take it to the next level."

Working that trio into Mercyhurst's motion offense, which already featured all-PSAC attacker Becca Himes, has paid dividends. In two fewer games, the Lakers have already scored 38 more goals than they did all of last season. Himes leads the Lakers, and ranks second in the PSAC, with 90 points (52 goals, 38 assists).

It's all added up to the conference's second-most prolific offense. The semifinals will bring a matchup with the league's No. 1 offense, Indiana (Pa.). The teams combined for 28 goals the first time around, with Mercyhurst rallying to win, 15-13, behind late goals from Himes and Schlagenheuf.

The teams at the top of the PSAC are pretty well matched, so, again, the big edge for Mercyhurst could be that extra rest. IUP just emerged from an overtime slugfest with Bloomsburg in the quarterfinals. And the Lakers began preparing for IUP's zone defense last fall. The hard stuff is done.

Mercyhurst knows as well as anyone what can happen in a PSAC tournament at Lock Haven. In 2012, as the fourth seed, the Lakers knocked off top-seeded Lock Haven to reach the championship game, where sixth-seeded Bloomsburg ended up taking home the title.

"That's a boost to know that history," Pilson said. "It's up in the air. It's such a strong conference top to bottom. You never know who can win."

Looking Ahead

Friday, PSAC Semifinals (at Lock Haven):
No. 1 Lock Haven vs. No 4 West Chester, 1 p.m.
No. 2 Mercyhurst vs. No. 3 Indiana (Pa.), 4 p.m.

The entire South Region should be watching this tournament closely. If Lock Haven or Mercyhurst wins, it stands to reason that they'd be in, with a good chance at hosting a first round game (depending on what happens when Lindenwood visits Limestone on Saturday). If West Chester or IUP wins, then things could get crazy. It could open the door for a team like Florida Southern to step in or it could mean a PSAC runner-up gets in. West Chester knocked off Lock Haven in last year's PSAC championship game, but LHU still ended up dancing. If a lower seed wins this tournament, it will make Selection Sunday very interesting in the South Region.

Game Balls

Lauren Hartman, Philadelphia: The junior out of Our Lady of Mercy (N.J.) paired two assists with five goals, including four in a row during a second-half run that put the game away, as the Rams rallied to defeat Holy Family, 18-14, and claim their first CACC title since 2009, on Sunday. Phila U had a banner year, ending its season on a 17-game winning streak, but is a longshot to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

Sarah Oor, Limestone: The senior from Uxbridge, Ontario, piled up four goals and five assists to help the Saints trounce Pfeiffer, 16-8, and capture their second consecutive Conference Carolinas victory. Oor and the Saints can lock up the South Region's No. 1 seed with a win over Lindenwood on Saturday.

Stefani Vagelatos, LIU Post: The Pioneers were three minutes away from their first loss since 2012, but Vagelatos scored twice, including the winner with 27 seconds remaining to give LIU a 14-13 victory over New Haven last Thursday. The freshman out of Comsewogue (N.Y.) ranks third on the Pioneers with 51 points (37 goals, 14 assists).

Notes

Le Moyne checked in at No. 4 in this week's regional rankings, but, after Tuesday's 12-11 loss to Stonehill, the Dolphins might miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since they jumped to Division II in 2011. That last spot now looks likely to go to Stonehill, which was led by Brooke Rudden's two goals and four assists in the victory, or Saint Anselm.

Saint Anselm won an NE-10 semifinal of its own on Wednesday, blowing past Bentley, 17-10. Erin Marshall had four goals and three assists in the victory. Saint A comes in at No. 5 in the North Region rankings and Stonehill comes in at No. 6. Saint Anselm has the less impossible semifinal opponent (New Haven, Stonehill will face No. 1 Adelphi), so the Hawks look to have the current edge at the North Region's final spot.

Track the NE-10 tournament, and every conference race this weekend, at the Conference Tournament Clearinghouse, which will be updated nightly until Selection Sunday.

***

The first round of the GLIAC tournament featured an upset, as No. 5 Findlay took down No. 4 Wheeling Jesuit, 14-13, on Tuesday. Sarah Lankton scored the tying and winning goals for the Oilers, who will visit top-seeded Grand Valley State in the title game. No. 3 Tiffin triumphed in the other quarterfinal. The Dragons will take on No. 2 Lake Erie at GVSU in the semifinals.

***

For the first time since 2011, the NWLL has a new champion. Robert Morris (Ill.) defeated two-time defending champion Savannah College of Art and Design, 13-12, last Sunday. Anna Schaefer scored the final two goals and was named tournament MVP. The Eagles finished their season on an 16-game winning streak.


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