October 24, 2011

Week 8 Flyby Distractions

By Christan Shirk

It's that time of the season when things get very interesting. Conference races are heating up or are being decided with the conference tournaments just around the corner.  The NCAA breaks out their pre-tournament regional rankings which always provide a different (and sometimes controversial) perspective on the proceedings to date and frame the final days and weeks leading into the tournament.  The number of undefeated teams dwindles down and some teams find themselves peaking at just the right time while others take a late season stumble with little time to right the ship.  It's exciting, and it can be easy to get caught up in some stories while missing others.  Here are some of the attention-grabbing distractions that kept a thorough set of flybys to be completed this past week.

Fram! Fram! The battle cry of the ram-paging Luther Norse is heard far and wide!  The IIAC regular season title belongs to Luther who struck down the highly-ranked and IIAC favorites Loras midweek and completed the feat with an emphatic 5-0 victory over third-place Simpson on the weekend.  The Norse played Loras even in the first half and by converting two of their few good looks had a 2-0 lead at the break which they made hold up against a Duhawk onslaught in the second half.  It snapped Luther’s seven-match losing streak in the series with their last victory having come in 2004.  The win over Simpson was the 13th straight for the Norse and clinched their first regular season since 2002.  It also was their 12th shutout (tied for second most in nation) contributing to a nation-leading 0.28 GAA.

It's been 6 weeks since No. 3 St. Lawrence has been scored on!  A clean sheet against RIT, their closest competition in the Liberty League race, means it's now been 973 minutes since the Saints’ keepers have last had to pick a ball out of their nets.  A 19th minute goal by Player of the Year candidate Sam DeMello, his 10th of the campaign, was all that was required for the victory, the Saints' 10 straight by shutout. Their 12 total shutouts and 0.29 GAA are both second best in the nation.  Ohh, and did I mention they were unbeaten and untied—a perfect 14-0-0.  No one is suggesting that this team is of the same quality as the 1999 edition that won a national title in perfect 22-0-0 fashion, but this team is making its own mark in St. Lawrence history.  The shutout streak has already broken the school record and they are two shy of the record of 14 shutouts in a season set back in 2000.  But their quest is for a national title to join that of 1999, and there is much work yet to be done to match the accomplishments of that and several other Saint squads over the years.

Rutgers-Camden is officially top dog in the rough-and-tumble NJAC.   The Scarlet Raptors clinched their first-ever NJAC regular season title with a 1-0 win over Ramapo on Saturday.  The history-making goal was appropriately scored by sophomore forward Mitch Grotti who leads the squad with 16 goals, half of them game-winners like this one.  Picked to finish seventh in the pre-season coaches' poll, a position they occupied at the end of the previous two regular seasons, they have not only made the playoffs for the first time in three years but have beat the favorites en route to an undefeated table-topping conference record.  Home field through-out the NJAC playoffs, where Rutgers-Camden is a perfect 7-0-0 in 2011, gives them an excellent shot at a first-ever conference championship.  A second-ever NCAA berth is probably already in the bag, as they would be near the top of the Pool C candidates should they be knocked off in the playoffs, a very real possibility in the competitive NJAC where sixth-seed Kean won the tournament and AQ last year.  Wm. Paterson and Montclair St. are not currently positioned high enough in the NCAA regional rankings to feel confident about their Pool C chances and thus will have extra motivation to capture the NJAC crown.

Get rid of the Pool B berth; nobody wants it!  Maryville's shot at the lone Pool B berth that neither UW-Oshkosh nor UW-Whitewater seem able to lock down was shot down Monday with a 2-0 loss at Centre.  Maryville (10-3-2) has a sub .500 SOS (Strength of Schedule), so they need an outstanding win-loss record to compensate and wins against a few decent teams.  Centre gave them a chance for just a second win against a team over .500 and the Scots came up short.  Their win over Emory on the weekend looks nice, but a case of too little, too late.  Or is it?  Sunday, both Whitewater and Oshkosh suffered losses that tournament-worthy teams should not be losing.  Oshkosh was edged by Lakeland (7-7-3), a mid-table NAC team while Whitewater was out-played by Chicago (7-6-2) who is bottom of the UAA at present.  Whitewater had a significantly superior SOS thru last Sunday, 0.611 to 0.514, something history tells the NCAA puts lots of weight on.  In two weeks Whitewater (10-7-0) and Oshkosh (8-5-2) lock horns in their final regular season game in what may virtually be a Pool B playoff.  However, as the losses pile up, we couldn't forget about UC Santa Cruz.  Their four losses in five games to close out September seemed to have eliminated them from consideration, but three non-Divison III matches followed by a 12-day lay-off kept them on life-support and an intra-state show-down with Chapman on Friday was a perfect opportunity to put themselves back in the Pool B mix with their 6-3-0 in-region record.  But Chapman was more efficient with half as many chances, and another loss combined with a low SOS should be curtains for the Banana Slugs (7-7-0).

All seven undefeated teams held serve last week.  No. 3 St. Lawrence remained perfect while six more teams ranked in the top 12 avoided their first loss.  A goal with under ten to play gave No. 1 Messiah a victory over the surprising Alvernia.  No. 5 Trinity (Tx.) came back from a 2-1 halftime deficit to beat Hendrix.  Amherst and Wesleyan both survived their head-to-head contest without giving in.  The biggest tests for this group this week might by Wesleyan hosting Trinity (Conn.) mid-week, Messiah faces their long-time rivals Elizabethtown on Saturday, and, depending on how the seedings shake out, the NESCAC quarterfinals for Amherst and Wesleyan.

Chapman?  Huh?  The biggest surprise in the NCAA Regional Rankings that were released Wednesday (the first of three weekly pre-tournament rankings by the committee) was Chapman at No. 2 in the West region.  How could a team that lost 8-0 to Trinity (Tx.) be the best the region has to offer besides that same Trinity side?  What about Redlands who only lost 4-1 to Trinity and on the same road trip grabbed a 4-1 win over Southwestern who beat visiting Chapman 4-1.  Redlands has been destroying everything in their path since that Trinity loss, winning 11 straight including outscoring all-comers in California by a 40-1 margin in the 10 games prior to the rankings.  So Chapman got a 2-0 road win at UW-Whitewater recently and early in the season edged Redlands in a head-to-head test with the game’s lone goal coming 23 seconds from the close of the second overtime period.   That combined with a higher SOS (which is known to be unreliable), must have been the deciding factor for Chapman (7-2-1 in-region, 0.578 SOS) over Redlands (13-2-0 in-region, 0.540 SOS).  So what did the two teams do this week?  Chapman downed UC Santa Cruz 3-1 on the road but followed that up with a 1-1 tie on the same field against Concordia-Moorhead (5-8-2) just in from Minnesota—not impressive and will hurt the SOS a little.  Redlands rolled a couple more SCIAC teams (with a combined 5-23 in-region record) to extend their win streak to 13, but their SOS will take a hit. 

Top 10’s clash and there's nothing to separate the best of the NESCAC.  After 13 games each and 110 head-to-head minutes, No. 7 Amherst (11-0-2 / 7-0-2) and No. 10 Wesleyan (10-0-3 / 7-0-2) are still knotted.  Both undefeated overall and in-conference coming in, a 0-0 stalemate was almost predictable with Wesleyan sporting one of the nation's best defensive records and Amherst playing without one of their two best attackers.  So who is better or are they truly dead-even?  The NCAA and D3soccer.com give Amherst the edge in their rankings.  If you think the extra tie for Wesleyan should give the nod to Amherst, just note that Amherst, despite the higher SOS according to NCAA calculations, didn’t play anyone decent out of conference while Wesleyan played Springfield (second in NEWMAC) and WNEC (first in TCCC), both regionally ranked by the NCAA.  So a first-week tie against Springfield is all that keeps Wesleyan from matching Amherst’s win-loss tally, and they hold the edge defensively with a 0.29 GAA and 10 shutouts to Amherst’s 0.51 GAA and 8 clean sheets.  Amherst does better in attack with a 2.38 GSA, 10 multi-goal games, and only this single head-to-head shutout while Wesleyan only scores at a 1.46 clip resulting in 7 multi-goal games and three shutouts, this one included.  The class of the always strong NESCAC, an Amherst-Wesleyan conference final would be fitting, but there are lots of hurdles for both of them to set-up a rematch.

Defending champion Messiah is unbeaten in 39 straight games.  Two wins last week—one comfortably, one a bit nervy—kept the Falcons undefeated through 16 games in 2011 and add to the 23 straight wins they recorded in 2010 after a season-opening loss.  If the Falcons had found a game-winner against Hiram on the opening weekend, they would have now tied Wheaton (Ill.) for the second longest win streak in D-III men’s history at 39.  As it is, they have are tied for fifth longest unbeaten run with that same Wheaton (Ill.) streak.  They trail their own team record of 46 games unbeaten, registered from 2004 through 2006, but could match and break that yet this season with a run at a record fourth straight and record ninth overall national title. 

Swarthmore slumped to a second and third straight loss this week.  A 3-2 overtime loss to Richard Stockton mid-week was compounded when the No. 17 ranked Garnet was blanked 2-0 in their Homecoming game by conference rival Johns Hopkins.  It was Hopkins who inflicted the pain the last time Swarthmore was dealt three consecutive defeats back in October 2004, seven years ago.  An overtime goal against Muhlenberg spared the Garnet from this same fate a month ago after two losses in a row.  With five losses now, Swarthmore (10-5-0 / 4-3-0) can say good-bye to the Top 25, but more critically they can't afford any slip-ups in their final two conferences matches to assure that they make the five-team Centennial Conference tournament.  Tied for fourth with Franklin & Marshall (who they defeated head-to-head) with remaining games against seventh-place Haverford and second-last Washington while F&M and sixth-place Gettysburg still have to play each other, playoffs are certainly expected with a home semifinal not out of the question just yet.  Whether the Garnet will need the conference title and AQ to make their fourth straight NCAA tournament is not clear, but we'll have a better idea on Wednesday when the new NCAA regional rankings are released.

Albertus Magnus Falcons soar to new heights!  Albertus Magnus (14-2-1) defeated Lasell by a 6-0 score on Saturday to finish the GNAC regular season a perfect 10-0, the sixth time in the 15-year existence of the conference that the regular season champions went untied and undefeated.  Previously the Falcons had won just a single regular season title (2003) and one conference championship (1996).  This success comes on the heals of the program-record 15 wins in 2010 and is accompanied by record-setting individual accomplishments.  High scoring senior forward Jamal Howard broke the school’s all-time career goal scoring record last week and in the win over Lasell he broke the single-season record with his 19th tally which also moved him into first in career points.  Setting Howard up for many of his goals is junior midfielder Stephen Zapata who leads the nation with 19 assists.  In the quest for the team’s first-ever NCAA berth, Albertus will be the #1 seed in the GNAC playoffs that begin next Sunday. 


Undefeated Teams

Perfect (1):

St. Lawrence (14-0-0)  |  Last week: W1-0 RIT (H)  |  This week: Plattsburgh St (H), Clarkson (A)

Blemished (6):

Messiah (15-0-1)  |  Last week: W8-1 Albright (A), W1-0 Alvernia (H)  |  This week: Elizabethtown (A)

Christopher Newport (13-0-1)  |  Last week: W4-0 Shenandoah (H)  |  This week: Mary Washington (H), Greensboro (A)

Trinity (Tx.) (12-0-2)  |  Last week: W2-0 Colorado (H), W3-2 Hendrix (H)  |  This week: Austin (A), Dallas (A)

Amherst (11-0-2)  |  Last week: T0-0(2ot) Wesleyan (H)  |  This week: Connecticut (H), NESCAC quarterfinals (H)

Wesleyan (10-0-3)  |  Last week: T0-0(2ot) Amherst (A)  |  This week: Trinity (Conn.) (H), NESCAC quarterfinals (H)

North Park (10-0-3)  |  Last week: W2-0 Millikin (A)  |  This week: Carthage (A), North Central (H)


Active Winning Streaks (2011 recordshown)

15 games (1): Ohio Wesleyan (15-1-0)

14 games (1): Messiah (15-0-1)

13 games (2): Redlands (15-3-0), Luther (14-2-1)

12 games (2): Stevens (13-2-0), Medaille (15-2-1)

10 games (1): Oglethorpe (13-2-0)


Active Unbeaten Streaks (2011 record shown)

39 games (1): Messiah (15-0-1)*

16 games (1): Amherst (11-0-2)*

15 games (2): Ohio Wesleyan (15-1-0), Babson (13-2-2)

14 games (5): St. Lawrence (14-0-0), Chris. Newport (13-0-1), Trinity (Tx.) (12-0-2), Medaille (15-2-1), Albertus Magnus (14-2-1)

13 games (4): Wesleyan (10-0-3), North Park (10-0-3), Redlands (15-3-0), Luther (14-2-1),

12 games (1): Stevens (13-2-0)

11 games (2): Gustavus Adolphus (14-1-2), Rutgers-Camden (14-2-1),

10 games (1): Oglethorpe (13-2-0)

* dating back to 2010


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

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Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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