The Division 1 NCAA Lacrosse Season is well underway and that means it is time to start picking out the winners and the losers so far. Also to be covered: Why Presbyterian dropping their D1 Men’s Lacrosse program is actually a good thing. You didn’t expect that from me, now did you?!?!?!
The biggest surprise team for me so far this year in D1 lacrosse had to be UMass. HAD to be. Not so much anymore. They took down Army, Hartford, Ohio State and Brown and were looking good. They climbed as high as 5th in the Coaches’ Poll and then they took on Albany… and lost 9-8. Albany has some players out there in Caufield, Resetarits, Johnson and M. Thompson but a lot of people thought they’d be a year away. After getting doubled up by Drexel and only beating Delaware by 2, I wasn’t sold on Albany, but this win says a lot. Now if they can keep winning against Ohio State and Syracuse, we may have a real darkhorse!
Photo courtesy Lax.com
Didn’t see any headshots. That’s a nice change of pace!
The most obvious winners right now are Syracuse, Notre Dame, Hofstra and Virginia. Virginia lost to Cuse, but someone has to lose in a battle between 1 and 2. That’s just science. I still like the Wahoos and think that as guys like Cockerton and the young Dpoles get more comfortable, they will improve. And that’s scary. Stony Brook could also be included in this list although I’d like to see more from them before I call them a bona fide winner in 2011. The loss of Waldeck at LSM is big, but Marra may have been their biggest loss to graduation, in goal.
Losers? Still early!
Drexel has been a bit of a surprise in a bad way. They’ve lost all 3 games they’ve played against Top 20 teams but did beat Albany 14-7. They have a string of very winnable games on their schedule coming up and then play a couple of top teams later on. They’ll need wins there to regroup. Interesting that Voelker left Penn for Drexel and now the Dragons are struggling while Penn is having a great year. Not blaming it on Voelker, but it’s an interesting, random thing to keep an eye on.
Speaking of Penn, where did these guys come from? They have won games over Duke, Bucknell and Lafayette, but lost to UNC 12-6 on the 8th of March. They get into the real meat of their schedule over the next 4 games as they face Villanova, Princeton, Cornell and Yale in succession. If the Quakers can get through that stretch at 2-2 or better, they will be ranked and have a nice chance at getting the Ivy AQ. This is a big step up for a team that went 5-8 last year and dropped 5 straight against ranked teams, so there is no guarantee they’ll be successful, but Penn is a team worth keeping an eye on.
Another early possible winner is Denver. They lost to Cuse in their opener but that’s not the end of the world. The rest of their games have been against good, unranked teams. Vermont (also looking up in 2011), Jacksonville and Manhattan were games the Pioneers were supposed to win and they did, for the most part comfortably. Tierney has had some time out there, he’s bringing a new flare to Denver that some say he lacked at Princeton and it looks like it’s working. Denver’s game against Notre Dame is a big one this weekend, but they follow that up with 10th ranked Loyola on the 16th. Take one of those two games and Denver will be on the tips of everyone’s tongue. Drop them both and Denver may be thinking 2012. I say this because they’d only have a couple more good games left on their schedule. Of course, they could always win the ECAC, but that will be a tough order for any of these teams to fill (Loyola, Bellarmine, Ohio State are the other top teams).
Loyola looks really good early on, playing good teams, and winning VERY close games. They beat Navy 9-8 in a tough opener, they beat Towson 3-2, and Bellarmine 9-6. Yes, you read that right. They beat Towson 3-2. Barnburner. Where Loyola will come up short is against teams loaded offensively, that also have a shut down D. Steve Dircks and Co, are great defensively, but even if they were to hold a team like Cuse to 10 goals, they’d still lose, because I just don’t think they can score enough. I’m just saying, good luck keeping top teams to under 8 goals a game. Notre Dame did it last year, so it’s not impossible. This year, with all the studs on O out there on some of these teams, I just think it’s much less likely.
Dead Men Walking
I could go on and talk more about all of the other D1 teams out there. There are certainly more than enough good (and bad) teams left to talk about! But I also want to dedicate a portion of this post to talking about Presbyterian dropping their Men’s Lacrosse Program and how it might not be the worst thing ever for our sport. Sure, more teams, in general, is good. I agree with that. But if the program never really gets off the ground, is trimming the fat really that bad?
People will point to 2011 and say, “But look! Presby is 1-4. They already beat Manhattan. And they only lost to Providence 6-5 this week!” Great. Last year they went 1-9 and beat Providence but lost to Manhattan. In 2009, they went 1-11 and beat Detroit Mercy (who was in their first year) 15-12. In 2008, they were 0-11. In 2007, they were a 3-11 D2 team that lost to the one D1 team they played, VMI, 13-6. 2006 was also D2 and saw them go 2-9 with wins over a weak D3 team in Manhattanville and a 13-12 win over 0-11 Lees-McRae, who were in their 2nd year of existence.
Photo courtest BlazinBajan’s Flickr
Mike Gongas has been their head coach for 2 seasons, if you include 2011. Can’t blame this guy one bit. It takes more than a year to turn a program around. And I’m not actually looking for anyone to blame. But at the same time, it is abundantly clear that Presbyterian didn’t make lacrosse a priority at the school. The school blames the other schools in their conference for not having plans to add the sport but that sounds like an excuse to me. You’re giving up, just admit it.
Why is it clear that they’re giving up and that lacrosse was never a priority? Because Limestone College, a school of 650 kids or so, located in Gaffney, South Carolina (Presbyterian is in SC too) managed to put together some pretty awesome lacrosse teams, and they were only a D2 program. By saying “only a D2 program”, I am implying that even though they were D2, those Limestone teams would have destroyed any Presbyterian team ever, and that is impressive. They didn’t draw on their conference, they drew on themselves, and played (and still play) great lacrosse.
If there is a D2, private school in the same state as a D1 private school, and the D2 school is awesome, then the D1 team should at least be able to compete. I know, the schools are different. All schools are different. Everything is different. But the concept still applies! Good lacrosse players would have loved to go down to South Carolina to play D1 lax. The kids who want to win NCs right away, would still go to Hop and Cuse and Viriginia. But Limestone didn’t go after THOSE guys, and Presbyterian shouldn’t have either.
What they needed were hard-nosed, athletic kids from non-traditional areas with dreams of playing D1 lacrosse. Kids who were used to BUILDING programs up. They needed a couple of Canadians. Some football converts from Cali or Ohio. And not the 6th attackman from Ward Melville. Let that kid go play D3 ball. As a new team, you’re not going to get a lot of those blue chip kids, so move on and do something else! Jacksonville is a GREAT example of how quickly a team can come together if you bring in the right kids. They sold their location and BOOM. Instant success.
Now, what’s a little sad, is that if you look down their roster for 2011, they have a couple of Canadian freshman and sophomores. No doubt the work of Coach Gongas. They also have some young players from rising areas, and a nice number of local kids. Maybe they were headed in the right direction, it looks like we’ll never know. Because the point stands that the school never cared about the program.
That they are willing to cut the team after only a couple of years of D1 action is the truest testament to this fact. The school never cared about the lacrosse team. And honestly, do we want people and schools like that involved in our sport at all? I’m all for growing the game, but not for the sake of growth itself. I want to see the game spread because people love it, and Presbyterian clearly didn’t love it. I’m sad to see them give up, I’m sad to see Coach Gongas and all of his players get the rug pulled from underneath them, but to Presbyterian and their atheltic department I say, good riddance. You were never truly in it. I will say this for Presbyterian, they are honoring all the scholarships and they are granting players releases that want to transfer. It’s something.
Now let’s see if Mercer can commit to their program and make some waves! I’ll be pulling for them!