With the No. 1 ranking in Division III presumably at stake Sunday, Stevenson at times found its own exuberance as big an obstacle as opposing Western New England.
Once the second-ranked Mustangs began to settle down, however, the 16th-ranked Golden Bears didn't stand a chance. With their lead cut to one shortly after halftime, the hosts regrouped to reel off six straight goals, building a commanding lead on their way to an 11-5 win.
"We really gave them chances when we should have been burying them," said Mustangs coach Paul Cantabene, whose team struggled to clear the ball early. "I thought we were panicking on the sidelines a little bit, but we settled down, bounced back and kind of got into a flow."
The victory, combined with top-ranked Cortland's loss to No. 3 Gettysburg on Saturday, means that Stevenson (4-0) could well find itself at the top of the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association coaches' poll this week. It's a familiar place for the team, which spent much of last season at No. 1 before falling in the NCAA semifinals.
"It's great to have it - I think the program and school really get a lot of excitement out of it - but for us it means nothing," Cantabene said. "We were there all last year, and we still ended up at home. Our goal is a little bit higher this time."
Attackman Richie Ford (Towson) played a large role in making that a possibility, leading Stevenson with three goals and an assist, including a pair that helped stake his team to a 4-0 lead. The Golden Bears, however, took advantage of turnovers to score a pair of goals in the final minute of the half, then cut the lead to one early in the third on Corrigan Harreys' power-play effort.
"We just knew we had to pick up the intensity," Ford said. "Just focus a little more and stop making stupid mistakes like throwing the ball away."
Despite coming up empty on all 10 of their extra-man opportunities, the Mustangs soon began to roll, scoring six straight goals, including a pair by midfielder Dave Cougler, to build an 11-4 lead.
Meanwhile, their defense held Western New England (0-2) scoreless for a span of 23:19, sealing the win.
"We just had to make the simple plays and do our best to stop their transition game," midfielder Kyle Moffitt said. "We felt like they couldn't play with us six-on-six." W. NE 0 3 1 1 - 5Stev. 2 3 4 2-11Goals:
WNE-Santare 2, Mariani, White, Harreys; S-Ford 3, Dailey 2, Moffitt 2, Couglar 2, Kazimer, Maguire. Assists:
WNE-Zaleski, Santye, Santare; S-Ford, Kazimer, Dailey, Moffitt, Clift, Cougler. Saves:
WNE-Knowlton 15; S-Hebert 6. A: