May 23, 2008
Dragons set sights on NCAA title
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland lacrosse head coach Steve Beville speaks with his team during a timeout this season. Beville has the 18-1 Red Dragons back in the NCAA Division III title game for a third straight season.
This has become a nice habit, to end the season on the grandest stage Division III men’s lacrosse has to offer.
The difference this time around as SUNY Cortland makes its third consecutive appearance in the national title game — to face Salisbury University at 1:30 p.m. Sunday — is this 18-1 Red Dragon team pretty much expected to be here.
The Red Dragons were wide-eyed underdogs two seasons ago when interim head coach Richie Barnes and his squad shocked powerful Salisbury in Philadelphia. Senior goalie Ben Gaebel had some spectacular saves as Cortland pulled off a 13-12 upset when attackman Mike Felice scored in sudden victory overtime.
The Red Dragons were fortunate just to get into last year’s post-season affair, after losing the SUNY Athletic Conference title game to Geneseo. Receiving an at-large berth into the tournament, rookie head coach Steve Beville and the Red Dragons won three tough road games to get back to the final in Baltimore.
And the Red Dragons were ahead 4-1 in the early going of that 2007 championship game before favored Salisbury earned some title game revenge. Transition goals scored in bunches would do in Cortland, the Sea Gulls 15-9 winners.
But with a senior-laden team used to post-season prosperity, it is no surprise Cortland and Salisbury will square off one more time at Gillette Stadium — the home of the NFL New England Patriots located in Foxborough, Mass.
Salisbury was ranked No. 1 and Cortland No. 2 in the national polls heading into the tournament.
It’s a nice reward for a senior class that has endured three coaching changes — current Syracuse defensive coach Lelan Rogers, Cortland native Barnes and then Beville — during their successful careers.
“I give the older guys a lot of credit for what they have done while going through the coaching changes,” said Beville. “Even though the team struggled early (last year), I did feel like the was always a connection between us. It was just a matter of making a couple of changes, putting people in the right places. This year it’s been better. We hit the ground running with the start of fall ball.”
As Beville points out, Cortland was 3-4 early in the 2007 campaign — including a couple of one-goal losses — during his first season after arriving from coaching Vermont in Division I. Since then, the Red Dragons are 30-3.
The lone loss on this year’s resume was an overtime stumble at Ithaca College, a setback the Red Dragons reversed in convincing fashion. Cortland bombed the Bombers 16-5 in last Sunday’s semifinal game.
Though there have been some close calls in this tournament — a second half rally needed to beat Springfield in the second round and an Adam Hyde overtime goal toppling Middlebury in the quarterfinals — Cortland will take a 14-game streak into the Salisbury rematch.
OF COURSE, SALISBURY has lost just once in the past three seasons, the Red Dragons responsible for that lone setback.
The Sea Gulls are 21-0 coming into this game, though they needed an overtime goal from Kylor Berkman to beat Gettysburg 11-10 in last Sunday’s semifinal game.
Coach Jim Berkman — Kylor’s dad — also made lacrosse history this season in the second round of the NCAA tournament when he won his 327th game. In 21 years at the Maryland school, he has gone 318-30 and has an overall record of 327-35.
That record also has a Cortland connection, as Coach Berkman broke the mark held by Jack Emmer.
Emmer went 32-6 as the coach of the Red Dragons in the 1970-72 seasons. He was the Cortland coach during the fabled 1972 season when the Red Dragons reached the national semifinals — before the days when schools were placed in divisions — before losing to Virginia. Emmer would later coach at Army for 22 seasons.
Salisbury has had some close calls this season including the Gettysburg victory, also beating St. Lawrence and Villa Julie by narrow one-goal margins. But this is a program used to winning games.
“Honestly, they’re really a completely different team then last year, particularly with all the seniors they graduated especially on the defensive end,” said Cortland’s Beville.
The Sea Gulls still have a lot of offensive weapons, Matt Hickman the leading scorer with 60 goals and 32 assists.
Greg Titus has scored 53 goals and the younger Berkman has 47 assists to go along with 29 goals.
“They’re dangerous on the offense end still,” said Beville. “They’re still okay on defense, too. You don’t win 44 straight games without good players.”
CORTLAND RELIES on its seniors, five of the top six scorers this season upperclassmen.
For the second consecutive season attackmen Billy Fuchs (58 goals-29 assists) and Ryan Heath (51 goals-46 assists) have been 50-goal scorers.
Kyle Simensky, the third senior attackman, has 40 goals and 14 assists. The next three top Red Dragon scorers are midfielders, senior Hyde (27 goals-16 assists), junior Joey Morgan (25 goals-11 assists) and Josh Cittadino (16 goals-17 assists).
Other seasoned seniors who lead the way are defensive midfielders Keith Greene and Greg Steward, faceoff man Cittandino and close defenseman Nick Bueti. The rugged Bueti heads up a physical defense where junior Luke Lemon and Kevin Mitchell are returning starters — as well as junior goalie Michael Robinson (goals against average).
These are players who have been in this pressure situation before.
“Every year is a new and unique experience, but no one will be standing around gawking at the stadium and the crowd,” said Beville of his experienced players.
And though seniors lead the way, he points to the play of people like Morgan, Robinson, DeLuca and midfielder Brandon Misiaszek (who stepped up big in the win over Middlebury) as keys to this post-season success.
“They’ve grown up a lot in the past three weeks,” said Beville of his younger contributors.
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