Stevenson revels in first NCAA tournament semifinal in school history
After the Mustangs’ 12-8 win against Salisbury on April 4, I asked coach Paul Cantabene about the importance of that victory, which snapped the Sea Gulls’ 105-game winning streak in the Capital Athletic Conference.
On Thursday, we had a similar conversation, in which I asked Cantabene to elaborate on the significance of his team’s 11-9 win, a victory that bounced eight-time reigning national champion Salisbury out of the NCAA tournament quarterfinal round.
"It’s pretty meaningful because it’s the first time a program at our school has ever been to the national semifinals," he said. "If you’re considering it from that aspect, I think that it means more than the first time because it’s more significant to the program. But I think it means a lot to us to beat a conference foe for the second time in the season in kind of like a three-game series. I think it meant a lot more to the guys because of how we played in that second game [a 13-5 loss to the Sea Gulls at home on April 19]. I thought we were a little embarrassed by how we played. Usually, you don’t play that way at home, and we were a little embarrassed by that. So I thought they came out with a good chip on their shoulders and got the job done. … I think it just proves that our program is moving on. Each game is another step for us in the development of the program."
Blessed with an offense that averages 13.6 goals, Stevenson’s defense has quietly stolen the show. A unit anchored by junior goalkeeper Geoff Hebert and senior defenseman Mike Simon has limited Cabrini and Salisbury – the Nos. 3 and 5 offenses in the country – to a combined 16 goals. (Both Cabrini and Salisbury had averaged 16 goals per game.)
"You have to play great defense," Cantabene said. "You can’t always outscore your opponents because at this time, everybody has film, everybody has scouted, everybody knows about each other. It’s a little easier to play defense because you know so much about the other team. And I think our offensive guys are doing a great job of controlling the ball. They’re not just looking for the first shot. They’re looking to get the best shot possible and make teams pay. And our defense is making stops when we need to get stops, which, in the past, we hadn’t always gotten. So I think they’ve picked up their game, and they understand how important it is to play good defense and that every possession means something."
Sophomore attackman Jimmy Dailey dislocated his right shoulder for what Cantabene called the "seventh or eighth time" this season, but Dailey is expected to play in Sunday’s semifinal at 1 p.m. at home against Gettysburg.
"He was yelling at me during the game that he was coming back in once it happened. I said, ‘We’ll see,’ and he said, ‘Coach, I’m going back in.’ When you have a kid that wants to play that bad, you kind of have to go with your gut feeling," Cantabene said with a laugh. "That’s why we put him back in. I doubt he’ll miss Sunday. He’ll be fine."
One final note about Sunday’s game: The Furshman family will be a conflicted bunch as Greg, a senior midfielder for the Mustangs, will try to lead his team to victory against his brother Zach, a senior goalkeeper for the Bullets.
Cantabene said the family was somewhat uncomfortable during the team’s lone contest back on March 4, which Stevenson won, 16-6. (Greg Furshman recorded a goal and an assist, while Zach Furshman made eight saves and surrendered 14 goals.)
"I think they’re like any other brothers," Cantabene said. "They want to beat each other when it comes down to it in the end. Greg gives a few tidbits to his teammates on what he knows about him, and I’m sure that Greg’s brother is telling Gettysburg’s defense how to defend his brother. He’s played against Greg his whole life, so he probably knows Greg’s tendencies. I think it goes both ways."