YALE FALL TOURNAMENT EXPOSES DIVISION I PARITY
By Mike Spinner
It was a sunny and warm enough day in New Haven, Connecticut. There was even a hint of Spring in the air or maybe that was all the lacrosse going on. When the 11 teams took the field for the 2002 Yale Lacrosse Fall Classic on October 20, if for only a day, it was like spring. And if the Fall lacrosse season is a sign of things to come, several "mid" Division I teams have a chance to make major waves when the 2003 season begins and parity maybe the word most commonly heard when the real Spring finally rolls around.
"There's no doubt that this tournament is miles ahead of where we were seven years ago when we started," said Yale Assistant Coach Daryl Delia, one of the event's organizers. "We started it as a tournament exclusively for the Ivy League teams, but the way things have developed, it's now for a number of teams who are pretty close in terms of level of play. This is a good group this year-everybody seems to be a program on the rise. I think there was some great lacrosse today."
And while Delia's Yale squad took the field for their home event after only six Fall practices, the result had to be encouraging as the Bulldogs were competitive in every one of their six scrimmages despite playing every member of the team evenly. While many teams were able to showcase a 2003 season preview after nearly 30 practices in some cases, the Ivy League teams (Yale and Harvard) instead had to gain perhaps their only accurate indicate of talent before the season begins.
"This is a great opportunity to see what we have, how good the young guys are, and who has improved over the off-season. After only a few practices, we'd be crazy if we think that we can put guys together in groups and units. The games and the films will, however, be huge in determining what we really have for the Spring," Delia added.
Yale's Daryl Delia and Mike Waldvogel
While the Ivies are only at the beginning of their evaluation process, several teams looked primed and ready for game number one. One of those teams, Tom Mariano's Sacred Heart University squad, took the field with just below 50 members of the team, and the Pioneers looked ready to make major strides in an ultra competitive Colonial Athletic Conference in 2003. Not only did Sacred Heart field a giant squad, but their incredible team speed and ball movement was perhaps the talk of the tournament.
"I think we looked pretty good, this is a very competitive group here so to play as well as we did is a very good sign. We've been coming here for seven years and I can't begin to tell you how much the field here has improved," Mariano said. "I think we're realistic enough that we look good today, but we have a way to go before we're happy. We're in an incredible conference where not only are there a few National playoff contenders but, top-to-bottom, I think it's going to be a very competitive year. Yes, the Hofstras, Loyolas, and Towsons will be excellent as always, but I also think teams like Drexel, Villanova, and Delaware can make a run. This is a tough conference where you need a big and fast team to compete and I think we have that this year…but so does everybody else,"
While none of the coaches would admit that their teams were anywhere near in-season form, the intensity alone proved that there are many teams prepared to make waves in 2003. The field at Yale consisted of two NCAA Tournament participants (Fairfield and Manhattan), two Ivy League schools (Yale and Harvard), four members of the America East (Quinnipiac, Vermont, Hartford, and Albany), two MAAC schools (Providence and Manhattan), and two members of the CAC (Sacred Heart and Villanova). The level of play made it clear that there is a lot of competition all across Division I coming this season.
Yale Tournament Observations
In-season form: Sacred Heart and Fairfield
Both teams were perhaps the most impressive at Yale. It's a shame that these two residents of Fairfield, Connecticut don't play each other during the Spring, because the two teams are rising through the Division I ranks in a hurry and looked very similar-they looked great!
Sacred Heart was most impressive because of some amazing team speed and a toughness that most teams don't possess in the Fall. The Pioneers have a couple of tremendous outside shooters and probably had the best midfield depth of any team at Yale. They have a tough task in a brutal conference, but with a few good breaks, watch for Sacred Heart to continue their improvement. Tom Mariano is putting together a tremendous program.
Fairfield seems to have really gained something from going to the NCAA Tournament as the Stags have everything it takes to win the Great West and advance yet again. Considering that most of the Fairfield faithful present characterized last Fall as a "disaster", the 2003 edition could mean another step for a program that has made dramatic strides since leaving the MAAC three years ago. They opened the day by beating Hartford with only their freshmen and sophomores on the field and really looked good the rest of the day. Fairfield's defense is physically huge and imposing, the team moves the ball as good as anybody, and their goalie played like an absolute superstar. Fairfield scored most of their goals right from the crease as they found a way to fire the ball around-particularly in transition and when up a man. The Stags seem to have everything it takes and it will be interesting to see how this team develops heading into the Spring.
Possible Sleeper: Villanova
Considering the difficulty of the CAC, Villanova actually enjoyed an excellent 2002 season as they ran with all of the conference big boys and even gave Johns Hopkins a respectable effort in a 10-7 loss. Is Villanova at the level of Loyola or Hofstra yet? Maybe not. Are they capable of pulling off some major upsets? Absolutely. Villanova does not seem to possess the depth of the big teams, but they looked like a very smart team with several key weapons and some good goalie play. In 2002 they were five goals off the best in the CAC. 'Nova is at least five goals better this season. The question is: How good has the rest of the conference has become?
Villanova's Randy Marks
Game of the day: Quinnipiac vs. Albany
This was a very exciting game to watch between two teams who could very easily see each other in the America East Finals this season. There were some huge hits in this game as both teams seemed to want to send a message for the Spring and the noise from both benches proved that this will be a great rivalry to come. Albany has had a pretty incredible Fall as the Great Danes played Syracuse to a tie and a team of mainly freshmen and sophomores looked ready to blossom. They allowed a ton of shots in this game but had some great goalie play to help. Albany didn't look like they have as much midfield depth as they would like, but there is a ton of talent in this line-up. Speaking of youth, Quinnipiac boasted a roster that included 27 freshmen and sophomores and most of their key players seem to have three or four years to develop. Like most young teams, the Bobcats looked excellent when they were on, but also made a lot of sloppy mistakes against Albany. This looks like a team that not only has a very bright future but also can win the America East despite their youth if they put things together at the right time. Then again, Albany is in the same boat. It seems like the entire conference is very young but very good.
Not in in-season form: Hartford
The Hawks were a step away from the NCAA Tournament in 2002 as they actually beat eventual America East Champ Stony Brook during the regular season but lost to the Seawolves 7-6 in the Conference semifinals. At Yale, particularly when compared to Quinnipiac, Albany, and Vermont, Hartford did not impress. The Hawks had less than 20 players suited up for the tournament, so they did tire quickly. However, help seems to be on the way. Head Coach Jack McGetrick said he has been hampered in recruiting by a school-imposed roster limit of 28 and injuries have been plentiful during the Fall, but he expects everybody to be ready for the Spring and has several newcomers on the way. "We'll be a much different and much better team when the season begins. Trust me." McGetrick said.
DID YOU SEE THOSE JERSEYS?
Carc's sporting the new REBEL/STX Uniforms!
November 1, 2002