June 20, 2012

Coyne's All-Americans: NCAA Division III

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The goals have always been there for Salisbury's Matt Cannone (above), but this year he expanded his game, finishing with more assists (67) than markers (63). It was this evolution that made him an easy pick for Coyne's All-America squad.
© Kevin P. Tucker

It was a fantastic year in NCAA Division III. Adrian, a team from Michigan, came within a heartbeat of knocking off traditional power Denison in the tournament and, for the first time, we had a team from Alabama represented in the postseason. We were able to watch one of the best players the division has ever produced and, for just the second time in the history of the Division III tourney, two undefeated teams battled it out in the national championship game.

Despite all of the positives, I still don't think that there were 136 players who deserved All-America recognition, as the USILA did this spring. With just 189 teams in the entire division, that gives an "Absurdity Rating" of 72.0. Although not as bad as MCLA Division I and MCLA Division II, it's still a bit much, especially with the 88 players who received Honorable Mention kudos.

It's this proliferation that has prompted me to put together my own All-America team, consisting of just 12 players – the standard 10 plus a faceoff man and long-stick midfielder in a nod to the specialization in the sport. There were a lot of great players to choose from, but there can be only 12.

Without further ado:

Coyne's NCAA Division III All-Americans

Attack – Matt Cannone, Sr., Salisbury
Cannone was tabbed as first-team All-American by the USILA last year, but I wasn't sold as he still seemed like a one-trick pony. He obliterated that notion this spring. Despite being positioned as the "lefty finisher" in the Salisbury system, Cannone was a true playmaker, finishing with 63 goals 67 assists for 130 points. The fact that he was relatively predictable in how he operated and still posted the huge numbers is a testament to his precision.

Attack – Tyler Russell, Sr., RIT
Is it fair to knock Cannone for being a one-trick pony last year and give Russell – a player who has made his bones mostly showing an uncanny ability to put the ball in the net – the nod here? Considering the depth and talent of players surrounding them, yes it is. Throw in the fact that every team in the tournament knew where the goals were coming from and Russell still averaged 3.3 goals and one assist in three NCAA games this spring, and he's the pick. Russell finished with 53 goals and nine assists, and always produced against the top teams on the stiff Tigers' schedule.

Attack – Beau Wood, Soph., Tufts
Hamilton senior attackman Jon Leanos was the NESCAC Player of the Year, and he undoubtedly had a great season in the first go-around in the conference, but Wood gave the most trouble to opponents this season and played against stiffer non-conference competition. Wood could bury a feed with the best of them, but his ability to create for himself when the situation called for him separates him from the pack. Despite getting the first meaningful time of his career, he parlayed it into 51 goals and 15 assists, including five game-winning goals.

Midfield – Sam Bradman, Sr., Salisbury
Facing every kind of defense known to man – and sometimes all of them in the same game – nothing changed for Bradman. He scored a team-leading 71 goals along with 28 assists. And, once again, he delivered on the biggest stage, scoring six goals along with a dime in the championship game as the Sea Gulls repeated. The accolades rolled in again for Bradman, and they were all well-deserved.

Midfield – Rich Dupras, Jr., Stevens
Even though he was hurt for a couple of games and limited to man-up for a couple more (he had a goal and three assists against Tufts in that role), Dupras finished the season with 52 goals and 32 assists out of the midfield, which were both team highs. Perhaps more impressively, Dupras was a true two-way midfielder when healthy, logging as many minutes on the defensive end as he did leading the Ducks offensive unit.

Midfield – Joe Slavik, Soph., Cortland
The numbers don't blow your mind; Slavik scored 29 goals (four game-winners) along with 15 assists, but the versatility he showed all season for the Red Dragons made everyone else around him better. Even opposing coaches knew how important Slavik was initiating the Cortland offense. In the championship game, Salisbury moved their top pole over to cover Slavik and he still delivered with a pair of goals. He was no slouch on defense when he was called upon to fill that role, as well.

Long-stick Midfielder – Jack Kennedy, Sr., Cortland
The entire Red Dragon defense was stout, but Kennedy was the best Cortland pole. He didn't have the flash of some other LSMs, but his cerebral game fit perfectly into Steve Beville's defensive philosophy. He could get the ball on the ground against all of the top middies. Kennedy scooped up 59 ground balls while adding 24 caused turnovers. On the other end of the field, he added two goals and a pair of helpers.

Faceoff Specialist – Jimmy van der Veerdonk, Jr., Oneonta
Labeling van der Veerdonk a 'faceoff specialist' is technically incorrect. Sure, he was outstanding at the dot this spring, winning 64.5 percent (205-for-315) of his draws while also snagging a staggering 116 ground balls. But it's what he was able to do outside of that realm that seals his spot here. Van der Veerdonk also scored a team-high 36 goals and dished out 10 assists to lead the Red Dragons in points.

Defense – Kyle Holechek, Jr., Stevenson
If the Mustangs were going to successfully transition their demeanor from a deadly offensive team in '11 to a grinding defensive squad this year, they needed a monster season from Holechek. He delivered. Starting every game on the backline, Holechek sucked up a team-leading 79 ground balls while also causing an impressive 54 turnovers. Stevenson once again took on the best of the best from both regions, and still managed to hold opponents to 6.13 goals per game. Holechek was a huge reason.

Defense – Joe Lisicky, Jr., Lynchburg
The Hornets were certainly not a one-man team, but without Lisicky, it's tough to believe Lynchburg would have been anywhere close to its 17-2 mark. He gobbled up 89 ground balls (helped by devastating faceoff wing play) and caused 41 turnovers – both team highs – while being tasked with squaring up with some of the top offensive players in the country. As a result, the Bugs gave up a shade over six goals per game.

The Cabrini backline was an ornery bunch, and John McSorley was the leader of that group. Playing a physical brand of close defense, McSorley was instrumental in helping the Cavaliers allow less than five goals per game on their way to an appearance in the NCAA tourney quarterfinals.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Defense – John McSorley, Sr., Cabrini
The Cavaliers allowed less than five goals a game this spring thanks to the play of McSorley. He set the attitude for the Cabrini backline that liked to manhandle its opponents with a physical brand of lacrosse that was immensely effective. He finished with 35 ground balls and 39 caused turnovers. He also wasn't afraid to be a one-man transition unit, chipping in with five goals and six assists – good for 13th on the team in points.

Goalie – Sean Aaron, Sr., Union
Dutchmen head coach Paul Wehrum said that without a good goalie, nothing else matters. That's definitely the case with Union, as without Aaron, this program does not reach the heights it has in the last two seasons. Aaron capped off his spectacular career with a 6.49 goals against average and a 65.0 save percentage. He showed up on the biggest stage, as well. The Dutchmen made the deepest run in school history (quarterfinals) this spring, and Aaron posted a 68.9 save percentage, including a 16-stop performance against Cortland, and a 4.67 GAA.

Player of the Year – Sam Bradman, Salisbury

Finding some kind of hyperbolic way to fete Bradman even more than he already has been would be a boring task, so I'm going to use this space to gently chastise the Tewaaraton Award committee. Within its mission statement, the Tewaaraton website simply states that the award goes to the NCAA men's player of the year. There's nothing about divisional status, and as such, there are several Division II and III players scattered amongst the predominantly Division I 'watch list' at the beginning of the season.

That's fine. I cover the smaller divisions, but I'm not a pie-in-the-sky dreamer who believes that the guys toiling in the bushes need to be included in everything the big boys do. But if Sam Bradman was not included as a finalist for the award – and he wasn't – there will never be a small college player to achieve that status. With his skill, production and leadership, along with his career accomplishments, he should have been afforded a seat at the final table among the very worthy candidates who were there.

Perhaps the little guys should be happy with their inclusion on a watch list or two. And maybe Bradman couldn't play on the same field as those other guys. But even with the growth of the sport and the quality players who will trickle down to the lower divisions, it may be a while until someone can dominate Division III like Bradman did for much of his career. No omission can take away from that.

Coach of the Year – Mike Mahoney, St. Lawrence

How low was the bar this year for the Saints? Coming off a 4-10 season in which they won nary a game in the Liberty League – a conference that used to be St. Lawrence's fiefdom – and arguably their best player having transferred out for his senior year, it appeared four wins might be ambitious. Mahoney, however, cobbled together a faceless group of players (there wasn't one Saint among the 136 USILA All-Americans) who stayed true to SLU's traditional defensive ethos. They went 6-1 in the first seven games of the season while allowing no more than eight goals.

Even after the first loss – a 7-6 setback to Liberty favorite Union on the road – St. Lawrence was unbowed. The Saints responded with six more wins, including an impressive road victory over RPI to boost their record to 12-1. Losses to a top 10 RIT squad and to Union again in the four-team conference tournament kept SLU just out of the NCAA tournament mix, but it took nothing away from the season Mahoney and his players managed to put together.

Coaches are not only judged by their wins and losses, but also how they teach their students to handle the many obstacles that lie in front of them. On both accounts, Mahoney did better than anyone else this spring.


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