Imagine the disappointment of the women’s lacrosse team at Le Moyne College.
Ranked No. 3 in Division II, zero losses in a 12-game regular season, victories over seven top 20 teams by a cumulative 104-44, the only blemish on the record a 9-8 loss to nine-time and reigning national champion Adelphi in the semifinals of the Northeast-10 conference.
A remarkable showing in a COVID-19 season for a small Catholic college that’s a stone’s throw from Syracuse University in central New York. The reward for the Dolphins’ excellent 13-1 season? Not being selected by the NCAA selection committee moments after the unbeaten Le Moyne men were placed as the top seed in the national tournament.
Worse yet, the women’s brackets were released on social media moments before Sunday night’s selection show aired.
The Dolphins had to watch the show just to make sure their disappointment was real, not imagined. Bentley (12-2), which lost twice in league play, captured its first NCAA Tournament bid after defeating Adelphi, also by 9-8, for the conference tournament title.
It was a difficult moment for a team, especially after losing last season to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our girls were devastated,” Le Moyne athletic director Bob Beretta said Tuesday. “We thought they had a great chance to win the national championship.”
And why not? Kathy Taylor had done just that three years ago, guiding the Dolphins to their first national title.
Now coaching nearby at Division I Colgate but still keeping close tabs on her former team, Taylor said she went on the NCAA website Sunday night to check the brackets to see where the Dolphins were seeded and was dumbfounded.
“I was shocked and asked another person to look it up because I could not believe what I was seeing,” Taylor said. “Obviously, I was heartsick to see that somewhere along the way, someone, or some people, made a very, very bad mistake.”
Le Moyne senior midfielder Sydney Meagher was on her way with teammate Erin McMullen to the school’s athletic center to watch the selection show when a screen shot of the brackets popped up on her social media accounts.
“We were really confused. I didn’t tell any of my teammates because I didn’t know if it was true,” Meagher said. “After it all started matching up, we knew that it was right. It was pretty tough. It was probably silent for about five minutes. Coach was at a loss for words. I had my head down, girls were crying. We were all pretty much in shock because we definitely were not expecting that.
“I don’t understand it,” Meagher said. “Maybe if we could get some clarity of some sort, why the decisions were made, how they were made, I feel like it would make us feel better. We were so blindsided.”
Le Moyne coach Liz Beville is still in shock and still hasn’t seen the data the selection committee used. A call by The Associated Press seeking comment from national committee chair Dean O’Keefe was not returned.
“The NCAA talks about the student-athlete experience, and it’s pushed even more so at the Division II level. That’s what D2 athletics is all about, that student-athlete experience,” Beville said. “We’re going to leak something early that should be a very special moment for people getting in the tournament, but for people completely not expecting to be left out of the tournament, that’s unfortunately a memory that they’re going to carry with them forever. You don’t forget moments like that.
“We’ll strive to fix it in the future, but it’s really hard to not be in shock or not continue to be upset.”
The women’s tournament has just 12 teams this year, down from the normal 16 because of a money-saving plan because of COVID-19, and there were no automatic qualifiers. All teams were at-large selections and picked in four regions. In the East Region, Le Moyne lost out to top-seeded Roberts Wesleyan, Mercy and Bentley. In the Division II coaches poll released May 3, at the end of the regular season, Bentley was ranked No. 14, Roberts Wesleyan No. 15, and Mercy No. 16. Le Moyne was ranked third and the only team besides No. 1 Indianapolis to receive first-place votes.
“There’s just so much of it that’s really unexplainable. It seems like at our level everything has been a secret,” Beville said. “That’s how I feel. I just keep repeating myself. I don’t have answers because none of it really makes any logical sense to anybody.”
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