Unfinished Business

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It’s been nearly two weeks since the Patriot League tournament, and many of us have had time to think about the season and what lies ahead. The tournament was certainly worthy of its participants, with every game being decided by one goal. The championship was within any team’s grasp that weekend, and for Lafayette I know the team is anxious to begin training and a shot at next years prize.

It was an atypical year for the Leopards, with a very slow, yes maybe even dismal start to the season, losing to teams we probably could have beaten at the end of the season. But something happened at midseason that changed. All of sudden with wins against Drexel, and Penn we seemed to find our stride. But it was at Holy Cross when we started to do things we didn’t do all year. We found a high press, that gave us offensive opportunities we didn’t have before. We developed diversified threats that kept defenses guessing. But best of all we found a team spirit. At the beginning of the season you could see our bench sitting on the sidelines, but by midseason they were up and cheering.

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That change in attitude comes from good leadership and I give a pat on the back to our three captains. But as well, I can point to our seniors who showed the underclassman how to play through adversity. Sadly, not all were to get the recognition they deserved, but ladies it did not go unnoticed. You have left behind a legacy that will be carried forward.  At the end of the game in Boston we all knew there was unfinished business ahead..now grab it!!

The league itself should be ready to advance with three coaches who have no more than three years under their belt. Colgate had virtually no seniors, Lehigh was loaded with underclassmen, and Holy Cross had very few seniors. American will return with at lot rising underclassman and Boston seems to reload every year. Bucknell can always be dangerous and beat Lafayette in the last game of the season. It is rumored that Holy Cross will be recruiting overseas this year. Lafayette has a lot of very good players returning but will need to develop a stronger bench. November 14 is the first NLI date, and perhaps we shall see what talent arrives for all of the League members.

The League itself has not improved over the last six years. It has an average RPI of 56, This year its average RPI is 61 across its 7 teams,  the lowest average in six years. Its highest RPI was 53 in 2014. The six year average of its bottom three teams is about 68, and 32 for its top four teams. There are 77 teams in Division one.

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I would expect the bottom three teams will begin to improve next year which means Lafayette with an RPI of 50, this year can not stand still. Make no mistake, I think we are better than the record, and have momentum on our side. So it’ll be back to the weight room, continue to  practice skills, and get ready for the spring. In the spirit of Raph Waldo Emerson, this team has “earned the appreciation of honest critics,” and I may be one. But I am a “homer” and an unapologetic fan. I believe they are good enough to win it all. next year.

Leopards Battle The Terriers To A 2-1 Heartbreaking Loss

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Co captain Van der Geest puts the stop to Boston

I hate to say a  team “deserved” to win a game, but if there was a situation that called for that observation, this was it. The Leopards battled like champions, showing all the skill and heart they displayed in the last part of the season. The Leopards had 8 shots to Boston’s 13, but out cornered them 3-1. Lafayette turned away the Terriers time and again with their gritty defense, and an exciting offense. Sure, there were several questionable calls, as happens in many games.  Petra Hall of Boston University in the end connected twice, the first at  19 and 1/2 minutes into the game and broke the one one tie with six minutes left in the game.Caroline Turnbull had tied the game at 24:49 in a scrum after a corner that seemed to go on for 10 or 20 seconds.

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Liza Welch chases down the ball

Sarah Park was magnificent in goal, as freshman Ally Abbot was brought in after a call for a stroke in the first period.  The freshman stood tall and stopped the Alley Hammel shot preserving the tie. The call that lead to the stroke was a mystery to most, as it was called against the goal keeper inside the circle. ‘

In the second half Molly McAndrews, rifled a shot that deflected off the body of a defender in the circle, To mosts people, a stroke was called for, but never happened. Lisa van der Geest was used at the kicking back position at the end of the game, but the Leopards were unable to take advantage.

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Molly McAndrews chases a Terrier

Rachel Bird played a key role on the defense not only turning back Terrier plays, but initiating passes through the use of her strong hits. Sam ‘DiMaio was strong on the offense as well. Freshman McAndrews was a presence, driving and going toward the goal. Theresa Delahanty showed her courage and skill on both sides of the field making plays all game long. Lisa Welch showed she could mix it up with the vaunted Terrier defense. Kristen Taylor was her classy best, and calmly helped direct the midfield and attack.

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sophomore Grace Angelella reaches for the interception

The Leopards return many from this team next year. There will be a thirst to return to the playoffs for a little revenge. Perhaps next year they will skip the slow start they had this fall.

All in all, they performed like they belonged there, and perhaps a run for the title will be in their minds next year. Our senior’s play and their loyalty to their teammates will be something to build on in the future.

 

Playoff Time And The Key To A Victorious Performance

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Liza Welch moves the ball along the baseline

We are now at the last act of the 2018 season and the joy is available to every team that has performed well enough to reach their playoffs. It was not a small journey, starting last spring continued into a grueling preseason, and ended last week in a finale of games. It is a test of talent as much as persistence. The anthem for the Leopards has been “never give up.”  The season started in what seemed to be a disappointing string of losses. But this team has been tested, and by mid-season they found their stride.

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Every team member has contributed by practicing their hardest and challenging each other during the week. What makes their accomplishments that much more significant is they are all good students, who are challenged in the classroom. There are no gut courses, and there are no faux courses for athletes at Lafayette. This June all our seniors will graduate with degrees in chemistry, economics, neuroscience, and engineering. Whatever the outcome in the playoffs they deserve accolades.

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Coaches and school administrators should be helping this team to  have their emotional energy ready for the challenge. This is a unique experience, especially for our seniors, that can not be relived. It will be something they will take with them in the future and when they reach their 50th reunion , they will reflect and remember these moments.

The playoffs are cruel as well as exhilarating. They have earned the right to be here when others are sitting at home. However, in the end only one team will remain an undefeated playoff competitor. We know this will be their best effort, no matter what the outcome and pride could not higher. You will have known “Success,” and it is just the beginning of a lifetime of successes I am confident of that. Good Luck!!!

Bill and Pam Rappolt

Leopards Fall 1-4 Against Bucknell

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Kristen Taylor closes in on a Bison attacker

As we left the cold rainy confines of Bucknell’s field hockey field there was a feeling there was more to be done. For the first time since 2015 this individually talented team will be playing in the post season…..and the records will revert to 0-0 again. The Leopards will be playing Boston University and have a chance to show some of the resurgent skill demonstrated in the second half run they had in the regular season. The last meeting with Boston resulted in a 4-7 score in which the Leopards came back in the second half to show their mettle.

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Rachel Bird and the Lafayette defense scramble in front of the shooting circle

Today ended a run that gave the Leopards a chance for a .500,season, the first non-losing season in six years, That last winning season produced a 2012 championship  in which Lafayette went 17-3. However, the Maroon and White will be returning to the. post season for the only time since 2015.

Bucknell on the other hand, has been to the playoffs for all 11 seasons of Coach Jeremy Cook’s stay at Bucknell and perhaps some of that playoff energy, and experience was at work. As in the case of many Leopards games, some of the statistics were in Lafayette’s favor. Despite Leopard edges in shots ( 11-8) and corners (7-3) the Bison were ready, and looked like a lot of scouting was used, to thwart Lafayette as they approached the shooting circle.

Right from the opening, when Rachel Bird’s opening lift was blocked by Buckell, it looked like the orange team from Lewisburg  were expecting Lafayette’s tactics. There were some individual fine efforts from the Leopard’s excellent players. Bird’s defensive skill was evident all game,  and Grace Angelella’s brilliant goal at 56:39, which magically found it’s way to the back of the cage, lifted the spirits of the Lafayette faithful. Bucknell was to use its bench successfully, as on may occasions I saw Cook substitute as many as six players at a time. Angelella’s goal was spurred on, when Lafayette had used some fresh legs in the 52nd minute which created  opportunities and energy.

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Captain Theresa Delahanty and Sam DiMaio press Bucknell

The game was hard fought, but Bucknell was able to penetrate Lafayette’s circle defense and find openings, when they became apparent. All the Bucknell goals came from seniors , the last goal coming as the Lafayette coaching staff had pulled their goal keeper in the hopes of generating a comeback. Bucknell’s junior goal keeper proved her statistics were not an accident after coming up with 4 saves, many which occurred following corners or scrums in front of the cage.

It’s on to Boston, and hopefully the Leopards will reorganize for their second shot at Boston University by having an intense week of undistracted preparation. Boston had a good regular season with 27 year head coach Sally Starr, reloading successfully from last year’s championship run.  I do believe Lafayette has the talent to surprise the Terriers and will shake off today’s disappointment. I believe in these players.

Leopards Travel To Lewisburg To Reach .500

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Kristen Taylor lets one go as Theresa Delahanty follows

These last league and regular season games can be as emotionally charged as a playoff game. Although the Leopards are guaranteed a slot in the playoffs, as are the Bison, seeding comes into play. For both teams, it is also a contest to make .500 and/or a winning season. These games between the two rivals have always been played hard. Last year, the Leopards prevailed at home, this year on Bucknell’s new turf, they will be playing for higher seeds, as well as bragging rights.

Using just inconference statistics we can look for key differences, Lafayette is 4-1 and Bucknell is 3-2. Lafayette has scored 18 goals but given up 16. ( recall that game with BU which Lafayette lost 7-4). The Leopards have taken 82 shots and have 39 corners, Bucknell has 16 goals and given up 6. They have taken 86 shots and taken 38 corners. But the Leopards are playing the best hockey of the year and the defense has seen a resurgence.

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Individually, Molly McAndrews is ranked fourth in the league with 17 shots, Lisa van der Geest  is ranked fifth in the league with 16 shots, and Brittany Willwerth from Bucknell is ranked 6th with 16 shots. Kristen Taylor is ranked 8 with 11 shots, 2.75 per game and Lexi Quick is 9th with 13 shots but 2.60 per game. ( Kristen missed one game). Molly McAndrews leads the league in points with 13, Willwerth is third with 12, Delahanty is 5th with 9, Turnbull is 6th with 8, and van der Geest is 10th with 6.

In goals, McAndrew is 2nd with 5, tied with Willwerth, Delahanty is 6th with 3, tied with Turnbull with three, while DiMaio is 10th with  2.  In assists, McAndrews and Delahanty lead the league with 3 each, and tied for 6th is Taylor, DeLongis, Sawer, van der Geest, and Turnbull. The bottom line is the Leopards have many weapons, and they use them effectively. Rachel Bird leads the league defensive saves. ( two in League games and 6 all season long).

So the question in the end will be, can the Bucknell defense stop the Lafayette offense, and can the Lafayette defense hold the line on Willwerth and stop the Bucknell corner offense.

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This game, which will probably be played in the rain, may come down to who has the most “emotional energy.”  Dr. Jarrod Spencer in his book the “Mind of the Athlete,” describes emotional energy.  ” In sports the goal is to break your opponent physically, mentally, and emotionally. Do that and win. ….But you can be too anxious, too nervous, and distractions flood the preconscious mind…..For student athletes , its not just about physical readiness, training or nutrition. Emotional energy management is vital.” He defines emotional energy as your psychological capacity to effectively deal with the  immediate stressor in your life.  No doubt the playoff atmosphere adds a level of on the field stress.

Lafayette has been playing great field hockey these last several games and I believe this team will have the capacity to justify confidence in a good outcome!!

HIGH SCHOOL PENNSYLVANIA PLAYOFFS

Last night my wife and I attended one the PIAA District one playoffs games and was not disappointed. The game was Downingtown East against Conestoga. It was played on field turf, but you might never have known it, as the passing and shooting made in look more like a mid level college game. The game had special significance as the Head Coach of Downingtown is Megan Kohanowitz (nee Monahan). Meg was an all American at Lafayette in 2002 and still holds the Patriot League record for goals in a career (65), goals in a season (33), points in a career ( 160) and season (80). She is a Lafayette Hall of Fame honoree.

Her team was playing  second seeded Conestoga High School with Charlotte DeVries, the second leading scorer in the country. So, given Megan’s background and not seeing the team before, we expected offensive fireworks. Megan had put together a defensive scheme that stressed circle and corner defense.The Cougar junior goal keeper, Ava Irwin stood tall, and stopped every corner attempt ( 13 SOG) and when the offense had their chance, senior Caroline Webb took a pass from Paige Wolfe and scored the only goal of the game, giving Downingtown East the win, and the right to play on against Perkiomen at the home of WC Eagles on Friday.

Megan said of the game, ” Everybody on the field stepped up tonight. Ava Irwin is the backbone of our defense and has been all season, and she totally rose to the occasion,” The last two years Conestoga has eliminated Downingtown East from the playoffs so it was especially sweet. Kohanowitz sprinted into the melee at the end of game finishing with a tremendous leap in the air….she’s still got it!!!

 

How Did The Leopards Get Here??

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The Lafayette Leopards are now 8-9, headed to playoffs with one regular season game to play with Bucknell. When did the turn happen and why?  The early part of the season was certainly disappointing with the first 10 games not predictive of the final stretch. In the first ten games the Leopards scored a mere 17 goals but gave up 35. One would have expected a team that had performed well in the spring and had the additional time in South Africa to post a better record. Yes, there was the important game with Lehigh ( the first league game) that ended in an overtime victory. However losses to Fairfield, Richmond,Temple, Albany were not encouraging.

But something happened around the Drexel/ Boston University Axis. Lafayette battled to a 2-1 well deserved overtime win at Drexel, then lost to Liberty 3-1 at home. But on Sept 29 came the second half of the Boston University game. Yes it was a loss but the Maroon and White scored four goals against the vaunted BU defense. Could it be that a strong offense could also be a good defense as well?

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The Leopards put that idea into practice by instituting a high press against Villanova which resulted in significant turnovers which not only stopped the Villanova attack but ending putting up five goals in the. process. Three wins later including a moral boosting 2-1 against the University of Pennsylvania sent the Leopards into a crucial game with Holy Cross who had Lafayette’s number three years running. Not this time. In a magnificent display of game plan execution the Leopards stunned the Crusader for a 3-1 loss. The only goal to be scored by Holy Cross in the remaining seconds of the game.

Holy Cross was only the appetizer as Lafayette found each other and stunned the American Eagles the following week with a 3-1 win with American’s only goal to be scored with no time left on a penalty stroke. Not only was the team on the field engaged we began to see the entire team off the bench urging on their teammates.

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Grace Angelella speads down the sideline

Cornell was not a pretty victory but the 2 overtime win emphasizes the saying that good teams can win ugly too and this has become a good team. It was a game after a long bus ride and little time to prepare.

Steve Jennings, the American coach said something that should be repeated, ” In the end the outcome was earned by their commitment to each other.” The season is not finished and there are games yet to be won. A win against Bucknell will lock up the second seed and then there will be Championship week end in Boston which could be a two game ordeal.

In the end it may be fitness or practice intensity. It could be individual heroics or  the play of a bench player who in the end may determine whether the season ends there or moves on to bigger things. In any case, this is a together team and coaches no doubt will encourage that togetherness, prepare for unexpected strategies and in the end appreciate “their commitment to each other.”  Go Pards!!!

DiMaio Scores With 50 Seconds Left In The 2nd Overtime To Win 2-1

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Sam DiMaio steals the ball

Grace Angelella used a strong reverse stick assist to give Sam DiMaio the winning shot in the Leopards  2-1 double overtime win against a game Cornell squad. Cornell opened the scoring in the first half with a shot that hit the backboards with only 25 seconds left in the first half. Trailing by 1 goal the Leopards redoubled their efforts in the second half. Lafayette dominated the statistics but were unable to solve Cornell’s zone and strong circle defense. Using a persistent attack from the right sideline ,Lafayette was to get close to the circle but were unable to find the combination that would get around the Big Red’s circle defense. In the end, the Leopards were to have 17 shots to Cornell’s 7. Lafayette’s 12 shots on goal were turned away 10 times by the alert Cornell goal tender.

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Rachel scored the first goal for Lafayette against Cornell

Rachel Bird was to score at 53:17 during one of Lafayette 8 corners, using a Van der Geest assist. Cornell had no corners at all. The Leopards were to use the right sideline all game long to move the ball forward but were unable to turn  circle opportunities into goals. It was a long bus ride to Ithaca, and it is understandable there might be an emotional let down after Saturday’s game against American University. Three Lafayette players saw 89 minutes on the field only one being the goalie Sarah Park. There were three bench players seeing action. Cornell was equally miserly in bench minutes with two of their players aside from the goalie seeing 89 minutes. They used 4 bench players on the afternoon.

Lafayette is now 8-9 with one game remaining against Bucknell. A win will not only lock up second place but could technically tie BU for first place with a BU loss to Holy Cross. A tie breaker would still  give BU the home field. A win in Lewisburg will give the Leopards a .500 regular season. They will travel Friday for the 2 pm Saturday start.