Mercyhurst has arrived in Baltimore for the 2011 Division II Men’s Lacrosse Championship with unfinished business.
The unfinished business has nothing to do with championship opponent Adelphi – the last meeting between the teams was a 17-10 Lakers victory in 2009 – or even the championship itself, as this is the first trip to the championship game for all of the Lakers’ current players.
Rather, the unfinished business has to do with a bell. The Sister Damien Bell was presented as a gift by the Class of 2005 and installed on campus in memory of Sister M. Damien Mlechick, a nun who operated the main phone switchboard until she died in 2004.
“It was amazing to watch her work because she never looked in the phone book,” head coach Chris Ryan said. “People would call, you’d ask for someone and she’d just punch the number in and off you were.”
In addition to her prowess with the switchboard, Sister Damien was known for her passionate support of Mercyhurst athletics, which Ryan felt during one memorable game in his tenure as an assistant coach.
“We were playing RIT one year,” Ryan said, “and we’d taken a big thumping from them the year before, and we were up pretty big in the game and RIT came back and scored the tying goal with I think 12 seconds left, and we’re going into overtime.
“It was a beautiful day in Erie and we’re in the team huddle and I feel rain hitting me in the head and I turn around, well it wasn’t rain – it was a picture-perfect day – it was Sister Damien leaning over the railing spraying us all with holy water, and we won the game about 40 seconds into overtime.”
In memory of Sister Damien, the bell is rung three times for major athletic victories – “you’ll get a ring for the school, you’ll get a ring for the team and then you’ll get a ring for Sister Damien,” Ryan explained. The Lakers’ win against two-time defending champion C.W. Post on May 21 certainly qualified as a ‘bell ringer.’
The Lakers 14-4 thrashing on the C.W. Post’s home field, made an emphatic statement that turned the head of Adelphi head coach Gordon Purdie.
“When I first saw the score I was very surprised,” said Purdie, whose Panthers advanced to the championship game with a 14-11 win over Limestone. “I just wanted to get my hands on the film very quickly and to see what Mercyhurst was doing to score 14 goals and to only give out 4.”
What the Lakers did, among other things, was get great play in goal from Zach Nash, who made 11 saves against the Pioneers after making 14 in the first meeting. What they didn’t do, however, was ring the bell for Sister Damien upon their return to Erie, Pa., late that night.
“We got into campus late,” Ryan said. “The bus was yelling to go ring the bell and I guess out of my respect for the neighbors we didn’t at that point. Maybe I should have pulled the trigger on that one.”
Should the Lakers win on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, NCAA.com video stream), they’ll have no such problem.
“Hopefully we win on Sunday,” Ryan said, “and if we get home late in the morning it will ring.”
Purdie, for his part, can understand a strong connection to a school’s traditions. Purdie starred for the Panthers during the program’s Division I era, setting a single-season record for ground balls (109) and leading the team into NCAA tournament twice. Purdie’s ties to Long Island have only grown deeper since he graduated, as he spent the ‘90s playing for the New York Saints in the National Lacrosse League, coached at the Waldorf School in Garden City, and finally returned to Adelphi as head coach in the summer of 2007. Now, bringing the Saints back to the NCAA championship game for the first time since 2001, Purdie has full appreciation of what it is that his team is doing.
“Taking on the coaching responsibilities here at my alma mater is just something that I really feel needed to be done for me personally,” Purdie said. “I got an opportunity to come to this country and play for Adelphi and I loved every minute of it, and Adelphi taught me and gave me the opportunity to go play pro for 13 years.
“We’re excited to be back. It has been ten years since we won a national championship in Division II, and it’s about time.”
To make it happen, Adelphi will need to find a way to get past a defense that held the defending NCAA champions to four goals twice this season, and allows just 6.40 goals per contest. Much of that defensive success comes from a methodical pace on offense, but when junior goalkeeper Eric Janssen stops the Lakers, he’ll be asked to jumpstart his team going the other way.
“We’re going to be looking to push the ball from Eric,” Purdie said, “because Eric’s got a great outlet pass. I feel that we’ve got some opportunities out of the faceoff that Jesse Colamussi can give us, or Shane Wynn can give us.”
For Mercyhurst’s part, it’s going to be a matter of sticking to what’s worked.
“I think we’ve run our systems and I think we’re smart – at least I hope we are – with the ball and we make good decisions,” Ryan said, “but I don’t think it’s going to be too much of a clash of cultures on the field. I think it’s just going to be people executing their game plan and the systems that they have and then having that good decision making come into those systems on the field.”
And if all goes well, Ryan will be happy to make a different decision when it comes to the Sister Damien Bell.