Tigers Defeat Alabama 11-5
Apr. 17, 2012
CLEMSON SWEEPS THROUGH THE HEART OF DIXIE TO CLOSE REGULAR SEASON
Tigers defeat Auburn and Alabama to finish 15-4
The Tigers enjoyed the opportunity to sleep in on Sunday morning as the game with the Tide was scheduled for the afternoon, 4 pm Central. The team was able to stay in their rooms until the prescribed check-out time of 11 am, and then boarded the bus for the 3-hour drive from Auburn to Tuscaloosa.
It was sobering both before and after the game to see the devastation remaining from last year’s tornadoes. One sees bare foundations, tortured trees, buildings still showing tremendous damage a full year after the storms touched down, making it impossible to comprehend what it must have been like in the hours and days immediately afterward. You almost can’t help but think “there but for the grace of God, go I”.
The coaches’ concerns about Alabama included the fact that this is a program which has made tremendous strides the last couple of seasons and is not the Alabama of old. Four seasons ago, the Tide competed in the MCLA DII ranks because they were not competitive enough to succeed in DI. The then leadership of their team had the courage to step up to DI, rightfully predicting that is where the program belonged and hoping that their players would respond. The success of this prediction is evidenced by the fact that Alabama is on the verge of clinching their first bid to the SELC Championships pending a win over Ole Miss this week. Knowing that and acknowledging it can be two different things though, and we were concerned our players could be caught basking in our 15-4 win against Alabama in 2010. It also remained to be seen how our offense would respond to Will Patch’s injury and how well we’d be able to hop off the bus and get into game mode.
It did take us awhile to get rolling. After allowing an opening goal by Alabama, the team took a 2-1 lead at the end of 1 and held onto the 1 goal margin 5-4 at the half. The Tide was definitely improved and showed a discipline that worked for them. They were quite deliberate on offense and defensively were led by their keeper who denied a number of quality opportunities. He, in turn, was aided by a number of Tiger shots off the goal pipes.
One thing our team has developed is an ability to stay on course and persevere until things start working. That became evident in the 2nd half as the Tiger offense came to life and the defense shut down the Tide, holding them to only one 3rd period goal. Clemson outscored Alabama 6-1 in that half to end up on the good side of an 11-5 win. Key was possession; the Tigers won that battle decisively in the 3rd period, holding court for probably 75% of the period in our offensive end. That in turn allowed our defense to stay fresh and in a position to harass the Tide offense throughout the 2nd half. Alabama could not get any sustained possessions other than when they were man-up, and the Tiger man-down D denied the goal to them throughout. Instrumental in our possession game was the continued improving play at face-offs of Danny Milk and Chad Michaels who combined for 11 of 20 at the X. We also got improved wing play on the face-offs in the 2nd half which made a huge difference as well.
Score by Quarters:
Clemson 2 3 3 3 11
Alabama 1 3 1 0 5
Kilbourne 4 (4g), Brennan 3 (3g), Buechele 3(2g,1a), Ahern 2(1g,1a), Conlon 2 (2a), Fochtmann 1(1a), Haille, 1 (1g)
Murray: 10 saves/ 5 goals allowed
Milks: 6 of 11; Michaels: 5 of 9
- Senior co-captain middie Jon Kilbourn tallied a season high 4 goals. He could have had several more but banged a number off the pipes.
- Freshman attackman JP Brennan notched a hat trick with 3 tallies.
- Only 3 of 11 goals were assisted.
- The defense held Alabama to 1 goal in each of two quarters and shut the Tide out in the 4th.
- Clemson's injury-plagued season continued as attackman Tom Reddish received a concussion on a drive around the crease. The Alabama goalie was penalized for a high hit on the play. Fortunately, Reddish has time to make a complete recovery by the time the Tigers take the field next at the SELC Championships.
Some End of Regular Season Observations:
- Senior attackman Chris Buechele concluded the regular season with a 4 PPG (points per game) average, with total points of 72 (41 goals, 31 assists), good for 2nd in the SELC and 3rd nationally.
- Senior attackman Will Patch concluded the regular season with a 3.5 PPG (points per game) average, with total points of 60 (38 goals, 22 assists), good for 4th in the SELC and 7th nationally.
- Sophomore goalie Demetrius Murray ranks 1st in the SELC and 7th nationally in save percentage at .679%. Fellow sophomore Alex Branton ranks 5th in the SELC and 16th nationally in save percentage at .648%. These guys continue the tradition of excellence in cage exemplified by class of 2011 goalies Brett Becker and Ian Thompson who both finished in the top 20 nationally last year.
- The Tiger defense allowed double digit goals in only 4 of 19 MCLA games. Their “goals allowed” average is a stellar 6.36 goals. 3 of the 4 teams we played that broke the 10 goal mark are ranked in the MCLA Top 25 (Boston College, Georgia, Virginia Tech) and the other was NC State in our season opener. Given the rash of injuries this unit has experienced, this is a truly remarkable achievement and well-deserved kudos to coaches French and Campbell and the guys who have stepped up all year. To their credit, the Tiger D held 9 opponents to 5 goals or less.
- Offensively, the Tiger O posted double digit goals in 13 of 19 contests, scoring a high of 21 against Missouri and a low of 5 against Boston College and New Hampshire (ironically the 5 against UNH were in a 5-2 win). The Tigers racked up 215 goals for an average of 11.32 per game.
The Tigers have a light week coming up with just one official practice on Thursday night, no games this weekend, and the team relaxing off campus at their annual Mountain Weekend. We will resume our regular practice schedule next Monday in preparation for the SELC Championships in Atlanta the following weekend.
At this point the only thing we know is we will be playing at 8 pm Friday, April 27th at one of four locations against an opponent to be determined. Virginia Tech was upset last weekend by West Virginia which throws that region into confusion. The game this weekend between VT and Kentucky and games between Richmond, West Virginia, and Tennessee will all have bearings on how that region sorts out. If VT wins, they will likely be the top seed unless West Virginia wins out and also finishes 3-1 in the region. It’s kind of amazing that with one weekend left in the season, all 5 teams in that region remain in the running for post-season play. I’m glad we settled our group early, at least as far as the Tigers are concerned. The 2nd seed in our region will be determined by the Wake Forest – South Carolina game this weekend.
After the opening round, SELC semifinals will be played on Saturday afternoon/evening and finals on Sunday afternoon. Naturally, the Tigers have expectations of playing again on Sunday this year.
Nationally, the MCLA field will be announced I believe on Monday, May 7th. Over half the conference championships will be decided that weekend. 16 Division I teams will qualify, 11 conference champions and 5 at large teams. Obviously, the “easiest” way to advance is to win the SELC, but I think even if we fall short of that goal, our body of work all season long will keep us in the discussion as an at large team. Facts such as beating Colorado in Colorado before the Buffaloes went on to defeat BYU and Arizona State are big in our favor, as are our overall out of conference record of 6-2 and the fact that our 4 losses were all to highly-qualified teams in the MCLA Top 25. Admittedly, our loss to Georgia doesn’t help our cause but there is a likelihood we can avenge that next weekend in Atlanta.
Regardless, this team has an awful lot to be proud of. More teams fail to live up to the hype than succeed, and I think it is clear that this team has lived up to its preseason billing and expectations. That is to date and we’ve got more work to do, but these guys deserve a ton of credit for putting us in position to realize our biggest goals. Especially when you think about………………………………….
WHAT’S WITH THIS EPIDEMIC OF INJURIES THIS YEAR?
First, let me say that I’ve never experienced a year like this one in terms of serious injuries, neither as a player nor as a coach. It seems every week we have added a player or two to the list and can’t seem to get one off the list nearly as often. For one team to experience 6 broken bones in one season is very, very unusual fortunately. Unfortunately, this season that team is Clemson University.
This year is unique in not only the number of injuries but also the fact that an inordinate amount have occurred to defensive players who are the guys usually dealing out the checks and hits.
Parents have raised questions about whether bad officiating has contributed to it and/or whether we are playing teams with a mean streak. While it is possible that in specific instances either of these two could be factors, I don’t think they apply in a broad sense. For the past couple of years, the officials have been instructed with a point of emphasis to protect player safety, particularly against high hits to the head as awareness of the extent of concussions becomes more wide spread. Given this emphasis, one would expect officials to be more protective of players and less tolerant of physical play with the result of more penalties assessed. As a result, from my personal point of view, I think the officials have over-reacted and are flagging hits that do not merit it. I am gaining a strong resentment to the phrase “targeting” as I think it applies to a very minimal number of actual collisions because it connotes an intention on the behalf of a player that I don’t think is truly often there. I’ve seen more legal hits flagged this year than illegal hits not flagged which is not where we want to be. But I digress……..
I also think if our experience were mirrored by a number of other teams, then we would have to consider officiating and team play as potential factors. But I have neither seen nor heard of many other teams who have experienced a season like we have. I’m afraid we’re kind of the poster child this year in this regard.
I do think that the size and speed of the athletes of today is part of the issue (don’t want to say “problem”). Players are simply bigger and faster than in the past and the resulting collisions are occurring with more impact and velocity than before. Should this change the game? I personally hope not and I think we will see equipment manufacturers respond to the challenge by continually improving safety equipment. Whether they ever catch up to the pace of the game is another question.
With that said, when I played at Rutgers, shoulder pads were not mandatory, mouthpieces were basically unheard of, helmets were made of multiple panels that could easily be compressed or distorted, face masks were thinner gauge and often lacked vertical bars, yet I never saw this degree of injury. Nor were our players then all that much smaller or slower than today’s college players (particularly at the MCLA level), especially considering a lot of college lacrosse defensemen back in that day were linebackers and safeties recruited from football teams to play defense. Horace Bilderback won 6 straight national championships at the Naval Academy using that approach.
So ultimately, I think it is the luck of the draw, karma, or something similar. For some reason in this season, too many of our players have found themselves in the wrong position at the wrong time at the wrong place, thus experiencing serious injury. We have to bear in mind that not all of our injuries have been contact related. Knee injuries suffered in recent games by Dan Huettenmoser and Will Patch were both incurred during non-contact circumstances.
And it also seems that a higher percentage of the injuries we have incurred have been major compared to the minor bump or bruise or tweak one might normally expect. For some reason we have come out of each injury this year with what amounts to almost the worse possible conclusion, from Mike Schwartz’s wrist in the 2nd game of the season to Harry Luttrell’s fractured humerus in our 17th game.
We’ve all heard of promising college football and NFL teams that have been hurt by injuries to key personnel and who fade back into the pack as a result. I think it is a testament to this team that we haven’t allowed that to happen. For every guy who’s gone down, we’ve had somebody else step up to take the reins with our team remaining on course to achieve its goals. With every injury, the grade has gotten a bit steeper but we’re still moving upward.
Just as I’ve never experienced a season like this, I’ve never seen a team respond so well in this fashion. If you asked most folks what would happen to a team that has lost 4 long poles and a short stick defender, most people would think that defense would be toast. Not so with this bunch. We are getting thinner and thinner and are approaching the point where we’re way deep in the well, but our defense continues to play at a very high level.
What is all the more impressive to me is we did not return a starting close defenseman or our top two keepers entering this season, so we were new to start with. In that situation one can’t help but anticipate growing pains, but this group of players and coaches has not only overcome the fact we’re new but also that we’ve lost almost 50% of the players originally available to us. For them to put up numbers like a 6.36 “goals against” average and to hold 9 opponents to 5 goals or less is beyond impressive.
It should also be noted that Clemson University has upped their resources dedicated to the club athlete this year, so lack of availability of care has not been a major factor. Club Sports now has a professional trainer who covers club games, and my understanding is that they are intent on increasing that capacity to two certified trainers in the near future. In the past, the team had to find and hire a trainer themselves. Additionally, there is now an ongoing trainer based in Fike Hall available to our athletes outside of practice hours which is also new.
I would like to see Club Sports adopt baseline concussion testing for all athletes involved in contact sports. This is the best quantitative and qualitative means of gauging the extent of a concussive head injury as currently exists. The team looked into this on its own prior to the spring season and found the cost to be very reasonable. Given that we have experienced more concussions than we’d like this year, I think the team will take the pre-emptive step of putting baseline testing into practice even if the University does not require it for next season.
So I think we basically have to weather this storm and hope that it doesn’t return. We’ve had more serious injuries this single season than those incurred in my previous 6 years at Clemson or, for that matter, my 3 years at Wake and the 9 at Tennessee. For everyone involved, let’s hope it’s all in the past now and everyone can heal 100%. One consolation we all have is the manner in which this 2012 team has responded to the challenge. It’s as if we’ve coined the definition of “step up.” I’m humbled by it.
Copyright 2013 - CLEMSON MEN'S LACROSSE | Website by LaxTeams.net