Rivals RIT and Nazareth to meet
Victory will give Tigers an undefeated regular season record
There have been a number of big moments for Jake Coon and his RIT Tigers this season, but the second-year head coach at RIT is looking forward to another one on Saturday, when his Tigers take on Nazareth.
It’s not about the team’s “Tiger Den” event – as part of a department-wide program set up by the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the rest of RIT’s student-athletes will turn out on Saturday to cheer for the Tigers – although Coon is certainly looking forward to the support.
“I think it just breeds a nice atmosphere for each of the particular games,” Coon said of the Tiger Den program. “What we’re trying to do here at RIT is get some other people involved, not just the athletes. We’re trying to get the student body involved as well, and try to get them to come out and support the team as well, not just our team, but all the teams.”
It’s not about the chance to complete an undefeated regular season, either. In fact, while no coach or player ever goes into a game hoping to lose, Coon is concerned about how the Tigers’ 14-0 record and school-record winning streak will affect them going into the postseason.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” Coon said. “I think we have to try to put that behind us come Empire 8s and, hopefully, after.”
However, after the season that the Tigers have had – RIT is one of only three undefeated teams in Division III along with Colorado College and No. 12 Wittenburg – finishing off the regular season with a win against the archrival Flyers would certainly make for a special moment. Having now seen both sides of the rivalry – he won an NCAA Championship at Nazareth in 1997 as a player, and was an assistant coach there for five years – Coon has a deeper appreciation for the battles between the Flyers and the Tigers than he had before.
“I think the guys will be up for this one,” Coon said. “So will Naz. I’ve been on both sides of it now, so I know how it is, and our guys will certainly be excited for this game.”
Not so excited, however, as to change anything in their approach.
“It’s the same,” Coon said of his team’s plan of attack. “We’re trying to keep things consistent.”
It’s that consistency that has helped make the Tigers the No. 2 team in the country according to the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association’s poll, the ability to go out and take care of business from game to game, and not get distracted or rattled.
“It’s what happens at the end of the season that counts,” Coon said. “We’ve been trying to preach that to the guys. We didn’t have on our goal-sheet, ‘No. 1 midway through the season’ or ‘undefeated.’ Our goal sheet was all about the postseason, so hopefully, we can accomplish our goals, peak at the right time and finish it.”
Still, after defending NCAA Champion Tufts lost to Endicott on April 12 for its first defeat of the season, and Stevenson (the Jumbos’ successor at No. 1) lost the CAC title game to Salisbury the following week, Coon was preparing his team for the possibility of being the No. 1 team in the poll. However, when the poll came out on Monday, it was Salisbury in the top spot, with the Tigers coming in behind by three points.
Coon hasn’t seen the slight snub have any effect on his team, but if anything, he hopes it will help light a fire under his team.
“The guys haven’t even said anything about it,” Coon said. “Maybe it ticked them off. I hope so.”
Not that they need it. After all, the Tigers haven’t needed any extra motivation all season, and they’ve certainly been clicking on all cylinders. RIT is one of the top-10 teams in the nation in scoring offense (14.85 goals per game), scoring margin (7.31), and perhaps most importantly, assists per game (9.0).
The fact that none of the Tigers is individually among the top 50 in the country in the assists category only strengthens the image of the Tigers as a true team.
“They’ve done a really nice job of staying humble,” Coon said. “They work together. I think they’re playing good team ball, and sharing the ball and playing together, sticking together in the tough times.”
And if there are tough times ahead in the NCAA tournament, the Tigers won’t let their regular-season success weigh on them. Toward that end, playing a fierce rival like Nazareth to end the regular season is good practice.
“We’re going to approach it as a new season,” Coon said. “A lot of teams do it that way. We talked about it already this week, with the Naz game. Nothing before this game matters. Nothing, because it’s such a big rivalry. Naz could be 0-50 and we could be 50-0, and they’re going to come ready to go.”
And, regardless of what happens on Saturday, the Tigers will be ready to start again in the Empire 8 tournament.
“I don’t think it matters what you’ve done,” Coon said. “I think what we’re going to do is the most important at this point.”
That starts on Saturday with Nazareth.