Commentary: Reality checks
Written by Sumner Higginbotham|
March 26, 2015
It is a well-known fact that sports teams like to use the non-conference schedule to expose their squads to new offenses, new looks and higher competition that they normally would not face. Sometimes these games turn into incredible upset — William and Mary football defeating UVA back in 2009 comes to mind.
Most of the time, the favored team easily claims the expected victory and the underdog goes home, brushes off the lopsided defeat and moves on to their comparable competition.
Except for Tribe lacrosse.
In what can only reasonably be called an addiction, William and Mary has scheduled and faced 18 teams ranked in the top 20 since the 2012 season. The Tribe’s record: 0-18.
Not a single one of those ranked opponents plays in the Colonial Athletic Association—meaning the College volunteers for the routine defeats. This scheduling effectively marks an average of 47 percent of the non-conference schedule as losses.
Eight of those 18 teams ranked in the top five, including No. 5 UVA Wednesday night. Three teams actually ranked as No. 1, two of which went on to win the national title. Needless to say, Martin Family Stadium has played host to some of the premier teams in the nation.
So why is that a problem?
From 2012 up to the present, the Tribe won a total of 17 games. In other words, the College played more games against top 20 teams in the past four years than games that they’ve won. Furthermore, the average score in those games: Ranked Team 16.55- Tribe 6.67. To put that in perspective, the running clock, the lacrosse equivalent of a mercy rule, begins when a team leads by 10 or more goals.
Not only does the Tribe consistently lose to top ranked teams– the average defeat is by a mercy rule. Wednesday’s 16-6 loss to No.5 UVA is no different.
Not to mention, these premier teams often slow down offensively and substitute in the backups once they get ahead. Essentially, the lopsided score still may not reveal the true depth of the trouncing. No. 8 Duke led the Tribe 14-0 before ending the game at 17-7. No. 1 Maryland rushed to a 8-0 advantage, before gradually winning 15-5. In the four games against ranked teams this season, the Tribe has been down by 10 goals or more for roughly 94 out of 240 minutes; approximately 39 percent of total time.
I’m all about facing better competition makes a team better, but it’s pretty clear the College has been playing teams well out of its league far too often.
With so many major losses to nationally ranked teams, one can’t help but wonder about the impact on team morale. Training and practice is undoubtedly taxing, but when all the hard work from a tough week disappears in a ten-point loss, it may be difficult to see the benefits of those efforts. It’s not like the Tribe has lit up the CAA schedule either- and overall records hovering around 4-13 aren’t about to draw many recruits.
So what’s the solution? Plain and simple: the College needs to start playing teams more in line with its level of play.
Make no mistake, the Tribe’s team has plenty of talent, spanning across the classes. Senior midfielder Ellen Shaffrey, standing at well over 6ft tall, has consistently been a matchup nightmare for defenses, and is likely to break the College’s draw control record. Freshman attack Abby Corkum has been an offensive force with lighting fast cuts, and sophomore defender Abby Junior has emerged as a leader on defense.
However, the College still has work to do to build the program. Rather than reaching for multiple blockbuster upsets, the Tribe should aspire for more reasonable goals. Competitive games against Virginia Tech and Richmond underline the point.
Not that the Tribe should never face ranked teams: in-state matchups are welcome. But four is just too many. What if the Tribe subbed No. 8 Duke with a game against Temple? Or traded No.1 Maryland for Rutgers, Cincinnati, or any other number of teams in the College’s position: better than conferences like the Atlantic 10, but just outside the top 20.
The games would certainly challenge the team—and provide a realistic measure for the success of a season.