ECC Men's Lacrosse: Season in Review

Chris Ryan's mind was racing.

His Mercyhurst lacrosse team held a one-goal lead with 20 seconds to go in the Division II finals. But an unexpected turnover quickly materialized into a fast break for Adelphi, a terrific chance for the opponent to draw even in the game's waning moments.

Seconds later, midfielder Kieran Riegel stormed into Laker territory and unleashed a high-octane shot on net.

"I had thoughts of the 2007 finals when we lost to Le Moyne in the last seconds," said Ryan, whose team fell to the Dolphins, 6-5, on a goal by Mike McDonald with just one second left in the '07 championship. "It was a moment of shear panic."

According to Ryan, coaches are natural worriers. They worry about all of the different situations that could come up and game plan for anything that might arise throughout the course of a game.

And when you face one of the most talented teams in the country like Adelphi, there's bound to be plenty of anxious moments, even with three seconds left on the clock.

But Ryan then recalled a late night film session with his fellow coaches during championship weekend that gave him assurance. He stayed up with his staff until 1:30 in the morning watching tape and logged through countless minutes of footage.

Ryan knew that he had a one heck of a lacrosse team.

"I had a feeling of confidence in the kids," Ryan said. "If these kids had gotten this far, then they'd be just fine for the game."

So with the final ticks counting down in the championship game, Ryan went right back to that thought process. Also aware that one of the best goalies in Division II suited up for his team in senior Zach Nash, he truly believed his squad would finish the task at hand.

After Riegel released his desperation shot, Nash met the ball with an athletic shoulder save. The senior goalie quickly redirected the ball to defender Matt Scherer, who took possession and ran out the clock to preserve Mercyhurst's first national championship.

"Sure enough, they confirmed my confidence in them," Ryan said. "I said to Nash after the game, ‘Last save of your career.' He turned and smiled, ‘Greatest save of my career.'"

ECC Prepares for Postseason Rigors

Perhaps a major reason for Ryan's disposition was due to Mercyhurst's strong schedule within an unforgiving East Coast Conference in 2011. With perennial powers C.W. Post, NYIT, and Dowling once again equipped with dangerous rosters, in addition to upstart programs like Mercy, Seton Hill and Chestnut Hill looming and able to post upset wins on any given day, there's seemingly never a break in the schedule.

As for Ryan and the Lakers, without the daily tests of the conference, it would be difficult visualizing the program hoisting a trophy at the end of the season.

"The proof is in the results that the ECC has an effect on a national level," Ryan said. "The daily grind sharpens you mentally and physically and really develops your team on the field. It gives you the schedule necessary to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend. If you survive by May, you will always be competitive in the national playoffs. It's a testament to the ECC and what it has done on a national level."

The '11 season in the conference proved to be one of the most competitive in history. C.W. Post (16-2) took the regular season title with a 9-1 conference record and finished first in points per game at 19.17 and first in goals against average at 5.28. Meanwhile, midfielder Mike Messina was named ECC Player of the Year and named to the first team All-America team, while Eddie Plompen was also named to the first team at attack.

After falling to Dowling in overtime on March 26, the Pioneers were neck-and-neck for first place with a slew of teams. But an outstanding April saw the squad dispatch tough foes Mercyhurst, Mercy, and NYIT en route to their third straight league title.

Meanwhile, Mercyhurst (14-2) went 8-2 in ECC play to finish second overall, suffering one-goal losses to Chestnut Hill and C.W. Post along the way. However, the Lakers reached the postseason by earning an at-large berth into the Final Four. The squad avenged its earlier season loss to C.W. Post with a 14-4 win in the semifinals before edging Adelphi for the title.

LSM Greg Bensman was named a first team All-American, while Brian Scheetz finished first in assists per game and also sixth in points per game at 3.31. Nash was second in GAA with a mark of 6.50 and sixth in save percentage at .546. The Lakers had seven players score 10 goals or more, with Kyle Kallay leading the way with 35.

Dowling, Mercy, and NYIT all finished 7-3 and tied for third place in ECC play and proved competitive from start to finish. Dowling (11-3) was the only ECC team to defeat C.W. Post during the regular season and remained in the hunt well into the campaign, but a late loss to Chestnut Hill dashed their chances. Led by standout scorer Vito DeMola (46 goals), Dowling led the ECC in goals per game at 12.21. Defender Andrew Casimir was also named a first team All-American.

Mercy (11-3) emerged as the surprise team of the season – especially considering it was just the program's second year of existence. The Mavericks started out 5-0 and then improved to 10-1 by April 14 and remained in the title hunt with wins over NYIT and Chestnut Hill. However, late losses to C.W. Post and Dowling kept them out of the driver's seat in the end. Freshman Jesse Wood finished fifth in points per game at 3.79, while Mike Marzocca and Sal Spinelli both finished with 27 goals.

T.J. DiCarlo was superb in net, posting a .636 save percentage and GAA of 7.58 en route to ECC Goalkeeper of the Year honors and a spot on the first team All-America roster. Head coach Steve Manitta was also named ECC Coach of the Year for his leadership and guiding his young squad to an impressive showing in '11.

NYIT (10-4) also finished ECC play with a mark of 7-3, posting impressive wins over Dowling, Chestnut Hill and Seton Hill, but losing to Mercy, C.W. Post, and Mercyhurst. The Bears were led by standout scorer Chris Lubin and his 37 goals and 21 assists, good for first overall in points per game at 4.46. Bolstered by first team All-American Ryan Amengual at attack and second team pick Joe Herman at midfield, NYIT featured one of the most balanced offenses in Division II.

All the while, three more teams made great strides in '11, paving the way for an unpredictable '12 campaign. Seton Hill (7-7) fielded a competitive squad overall and ended the year 5-5 in ECC play. The team's biggest wins came against Lake Erie and Chestnut Hill. Against the top tier squads, Seton Hill was often in the hunt but typically a few steps behind. The Griffins fell to NYIT and Mercyhurst by one, plus Mercy by three.

Standouts James Delaney (22 goals and 15 assists) and Matt Delmonico (31 goals and 14 assists) led the way, with Delaney being selected as an honorable mention All-American at midfield.

Lake Erie went 7-7 overall and 4-6 in ECC action, falling to both Mercy and NYIT by three goals. Keegan Bal proved to be his team's go-to scorer with 34 goals and 41 points on the year. Additionally, Chestnut Hill burst onto the scene with a 7-7 overall record and a pair of major upsets. After a 4-11 first season in ‘10, Chestnut Hill was much improved in '11 behind new coach Brian Dougherty. The Griffins pulled off stunning upsets over Mercyhurst and Dowling and watched a number of players make a name for themselves along the way.

Mike Melnychenko was named ECC Rookie of the Year after leading the league in goals per game at 3.57. He finished with 50 goals in 14 games. Also, Kevin Festa, Shane Morlock and Mark Winkelspecht all had impressive seasons offensively for the Griffins and should be a force to be reckoned with in '12.

"Week in and week out, you're facing one of the better teams in Division II," said Ryan of playing in the ECC. "There has never been a more competitive year in the ECC than this year."

Looking Ahead: A Bright Future

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