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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Conference tournaments can make you or break you

In most cases, in most sports, conference tournament winners receive the automatic NCAA tournament bid, instead of awarding it to the regular-season champion. When these tournaments produce an upset champion, especially one that is unranked and would not otherwise qualify for the NCAAs, often the conference gets an extra team in the big show. The ranked teams and the new upset champion go. But in lacrosse, we have nine at-large spots and too many conferences to offer the same accommodation.

This weekend Colgate won the Patriot League tournament title, rolling past Navy and then Bucknell, who "upset" Army in their semifinal. Colgate was not going to the tournament without the title. Army and Navy were pretty assured of spots having tied for the conference regular-season title. Army holds the upper hand after ending a 13-game drought against their rival. Colgate and Bucknell would not have likely been in consideration for the at-large spots before this weekend. With the two conference tournament victories, Colgate reached out and took an at-large spot from someone. We won't know the victim until next week, but it could well be Army or Navy.

Even Bucknell could now spell big trouble for both Army and Navy. With a 10-5 record, two wins over Army and a win over Ohio State, they have the victories. Their losses are a 4-3 overtime loss to Navy, twice to conference champion Colgate, No. 1 Duke and Penn State. Only the Penn State loss looks bad now. Otherwise, Bucknell trumps Army and maybe even Navy. I mean, how many bids can we count on being given to the conference after an upset champion shrinks the field for everyone?

Conference tournaments often offer the opportunity for redemption, like the Patriot did for Colgate. But sometimes a team neither needs nor really wants a second chance. Sometimes, perhaps half the time, a team is perfectly happy with the result of the first contest. That's likely the case of Albany, who played Stony Brook this weekend in their regular-season finale, winning 10-7. Their reward -- they play Stony Brook next week again in the America East tournament. Stony Brook's redemption could come very rapidly. Beating a team twice is always tough. Beating them twice in a week may prove even harder. But Albany will be fighting for their season, literally. With quality wins, showcasing the 10-2 victory over poll voter-darling Princeton, they might not need the tournament title to gain entry to the NCAAs. But they will need that seventh win in the tournament semifinals to go with the seven losses they have just to qualify for at-large consideration. Stony Brook, at 7-6, in my opinion, needs a win this weekend themselves for consideration.

COME JOIN US AT THE AMERICA EAST TOURNAMENT THIS WEEKEND AT UMBC!

Why wait for the NCAAs to start? Get into playoff lacrosse this weekend. Thursday at 4 p.m., Albany and Stony Brook will be playing for their lives and a chance to face this year's surprise contender, UMBC. At 7:30, the high-flying Retrievers will have to hold off Ed Stevenson's Binghamton squad, which specializes in defense and low scores. Come on out Thursday and Saturday for all the action.

April 24, 2008
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