May 23, 2009
Face Gettysburg in 4th straight title game appearance
With so much offensive firepower having departed from a year ago, there were plenty of doubts concerning SUNY Cortland’s ability to continue this post-season trend of playing for an NCAA Division IIII lacrosse title.
Ah, but these are a bunch of spoiled Red Dragon seniors. Since arriving on campus as frisky freshmen, these guys have grown accustomed to playing for a national title and had no interest in discontinuing that post-season practice.
“At the beginning of the season we set team goals and I knew this senior class didn’t want to be the one to not get Cortland back to the championship,” said senior All-American midfielder Joey Morgan.
Under the direction of third-year head coach Steve Beville, Cortland came together this season to post 18 wins against just two losses while winning a SUNY Athletic Conference playoff title before reeling off three home field victories in the NCAA tournament
An 11-game unbeaten streak will send Cortland to its fourth consecutive title game appearance. And though the previous three match-ups have been against perennial power Salisbury, the Gettysburg Bullets out of Pennsylvania await the Red Dragons at noon Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
The Red Dragons are looking to claim the title they captured in 2006 to begin this run, though they were beaten by Salisbury in the past two championship games.
Beville has a 51-10 record at Cortland, and talks about how past success has become ingrained in the program and the players. “They have a swagger and confidence, but there’s no arrogance. There is a difference,” he said of his team. “These guys have worked very hard to make themselves better players, better teammates, and to get back to the championship. It’s a very hard-working group of kids.”
While Salisbury will no longer serve as an adversary after an uncharacteristic four losses this season, including getting knocked off in the NCAA quarterfinals by Stevenson, Gettysburg (16-3) will provide a stiff obstacle to these lofty Red Dragon title aspirations.
Sure Cortland has already defeated the Bullets, six unanswered goals in the third period the difference in that 14-8 Red Dragon victory at a neutral Long Island site. But as Coach Beville warns, Gettysburg has come a long ways since that match-up back in early March.
“They just played well and beat us in every phase of the game,” said Gettysburg head coach Hank Janczyk of that loss to Cortland, Gettysburg having won five previous meetings overall against the Red Dragons. “At least it wasn’t as bad as Stevenson beat us, but we were still trying to figure things out back then.”
AFTER GETTYSBURG lost to both Stevenson (16-6) and Cortland in the same week, after getting off to a 2-3 start with a loss to Haverford, this team ranked No. 2 in pre-season national polls did finally figure it out. The Bullets have now reeled off 14 straight wins to get to the finals for the first time since losing to Middlebury in 2002.
Included in that streak was a confidence-building 11-10 victory at Salisbury. “It was bigger than I realized,” said Janczyk of that victory. “It gave us confidence that we could play with that kind of team that we had struggled against for so long.”Gettysburg has already avenged two of those earlier losses, closing out the regular season blitzing Haverford 12-5 and knocking off No. 1 ranked Stevenson 12-7 this past Sunday in the NCAA semifinals. Junior middie Kyle McGrath had three goals and two assists in that semifinal victory, while senior goalie Zach Furshman had a season high 15 saves.
Now the Bullets will seek similar revenge against the Red Dragons with a balanced offensive attack led by sophomore attackman Zach Pucci (34 goals-19 assists), junior attackman Joe Brody (19-31), McGrath (32-4) and senior midfielder Tom O’Donnell (18-16).
Of course, Cortland is a different team, too — especially with so many new faces playing more prominent roles.
“We’ve got a pretty good mix,” said Beville of these Red Dragons. “We’ve got three or four guys who have been starters for three years and then a number of guys, like (junior attackman) Brian Krol,who have been waiting their turn.
“Then we have freshman like Mike Tota and Mike Wright who have made significant contributions,” added Beville, referring to his rookie attackmen. “It’s been a really nice mixture of those three experience levels.”
Cortland had 50-goal scorers Billy Fuchs and Ryan Heath graduate off last year’s squad — and people like Krol (39 goals-13 assists), sophomore Jay DiStefano (16-25) and freshmen Tota (48-15) and Wright (22-23) have taken over.
Cortland has All-America midfielder Adam Hyde and faceoff whiz Josh Cittadino graduate off last year’s squad — and fellow All-American Morgan (30-13) and sophomore Chris DeLuca (26-20 and a .697 percentage success rate taking faceoffs) step in.
Cortland loses a tough tandem of defensive midfielders in football players Greg Steward and Keith Greene graduate off last year’s squad — and senior Tom Burke (13-2) and sophomore Eric Parah (8-4) step in.
EVEN ON DEFENSE where senior stalwarts Luke Lemon, Chris Noble and long-stick middie Cody Hoyt stand out, senior Matt Hipenbecker emerged as a consistent goalie while beating out returning starter and classmate Mike Robinson for the job. Sophomore Justin Schneidman as also had a big post-season for a team that limited Western New England to five goals and potent Middlebury to eight goals in the tournament.
So even though some Cortland players have title game experience, Morgan notes: “It’s not a matter of which team has the experience of being her before as to which teams wants it more and comes to play.”
With all the new faces, with the new title game opponent, no wonder Coach Beville says: “Every year it’s a special adventure.”
And though some Red Dragons have played in this frenzied, big-crowd atmosphere before, Morgan down plays that advantage.
“It’s not a matter of which team has the experience of being her before, rather which teams wants it more and comes to play,” says Morgan, who doesn’t expect this side to get caught up in all the NCAA hoopla. “We’re there to play a lacrosse game. Period.”
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