This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Mar. 13, 2009

Well the NCAA Tournament bracket has been released and I think it’s safe to say there were a few head scratches for some of the women’s Division III hockey faithful.

Middlebury garnered the top overall seed, hosting rights to the Frozen Four, and most importantly, a bye through the first round of the seven-team NCAA tournament, which begins play this weekend at three on-campus sites.

Elmira won their second consecutive ECAC West championship and garnered the number two seed in the East. The Soaring Eagles will host ECAC East champion Norwich this weekend. The Cadets will be making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in just their second season of having a women’s program in Northfield, Vt.

Elmira defeated Plattsburgh 3-0 in the ECAC West championship on Sunday and Norwich downed Salve Regina 4-0 in the ECAC East finals. Salve Regina upset tournament host and favorite Manhattanville 1-0 in the semi-finals. The Valiants will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The loss ends their streak of being the only Division III women’s program to compete in every NCAA Tournament since the NCAA started sponsoring a women’s D-III tournament in 2002.

Gustavus Adolphus won the MIAC Tournament by defeating St. Thomas 3-0. The Gusties are the top seed in the West and they’ll be taking on NCHA champion Wis.-River Falls. Gustavus Adolphus is riding a 26-game unbeaten streak coming into Saturday’s Quarterfinal showdown with the Falcons.

The Falcons are riding a hot streak of their own, as they are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. Their last loss came on Jan. 27 to Gustavus Adolphus in a 5-3 decision. The Falcons will be looking to make their second Frozen Four. The Gusties will be attempting for their fourth. The winner will once again be saddled with the flag of the West as for the seventh time in eight years; just one western team will be headed to the Frozen Four.

An eastern school has hosted every Frozen Four in the eight year NCAA Tournament history. I’ll address this issue later in the column.

The third and final quarterfinal will be taking place in Amherst, Mass. The Lady Jeffs lost to Middlebury 4-3 in overtime in the NESCAC Championship. Amherst will be hosting an ECAC West school for the second straight year in the quarterfinal round. The Lady Jeffs will be looking to avenge last year’s loss to Elmira as they take on the two-time defending national champion Plattsburgh Cardinals.

Although Plattsburgh won the head-to-head meeting earlier in the season 4-1 against Amherst and throttled R.I.T. 7-3 in the ECAC West semi-finals, the Cardinals were the last team into the tournament and will travel to Orr Rink on Saturday.

The Selection Process Explained…A Little.

Given the controversy sparked on the message board, I did my best to try and find out exactly why R.I.T. was left home after heading into championship weekend ranked first in the NCAA Eastern Rankings.

First off, R.I.T. didn’t do itself any favors losing in the ECAC West semi-finals, and throttled at that, 7-3 to Plattsburgh. Out of R.I.T.’s three losses on the season, two of them were blowouts at the hands of Plattsburgh and early in the season the Tigers lost 6-1 to Elmira.

With the loss to Plattsburgh, R.I.T. fell behind Plattsburgh in the comparisons. Even though Amherst lost 4-3 to Middlebury in the NESCAC finals, and lost to both Plattsburgh and R.I.T. in head to head match-ups earlier this season the Lady Jeffs were aided by their strong strength of schedule that helped them overcome the head to head losses.

“Amherst was in the unique situation when it came to secondary criteria that its losses to Gustavus Adolphus and St. Thomas hurt their winning percentage but helped their strength of schedule greatly,” said Bill Kronschnabel, NCAA Division III Women’s National Committee Chairman.

In an email, Kronschnabel said:

“The Committee spent a great deal of time reviewing and analyzing all the numbers in the NCAA online score reporting system, and the make-up behind the numbers. We had several teams, all of which are capable of winning a National Championship, and two available slots.

When it became apparent that the two slots would go to Eastern Region teams, the Committee then also considered the recommendations from the Eastern Regional Advisory Committee, which had met earlier on Sunday after the conference championships, had been concluded. (Note: The Middlebury coach (Bill Mandigo), who is a member of the Eastern Regional Advisory Committee did not participate in that meeting in any manner whatsoever.)

Both the National and Regional committees evaluate and rank teams based on the established primary and secondary criteria that is utilized by all Division III team sports
committees.

The National Committee closely reviewed the comparisons of the top teams in the East Region and determined that Plattsburgh and Amherst would receive the two at-large berths.”

The primary selection criteria includes: in-region win-loss percentage, in-region strength of schedule, in-region head-to-head competition, in-region results against common regional opponents and in-region results against regionally ranked teams.

The secondary selection criteria includes: out-of-region head-to-head competition, overall Division III win-loss percentage, results versus common non Division III opponents, results versus all Division III ranked teams, overall win-loss percentage, results versus all common opponents, overall Division III Strength of Schedule, win-loss percentage during the last 25 percent of the season.

“The committee can give as much or as little weight to the criteria as they want,”
Kronschnabel said.

Western Frozen Four?

Eight years, eight Frozen Fours in the East. However, good news western fans, as long as the current policy stays in place, the Frozen Four will be in the West next season no matter what.

“The policy is that one in every four years the Frozen Four has to be hosted in the West,” Kronschnabel said. “We’re now in the third year of that cycle and next year as long as the current policy stays intact, the Frozen Four will be in the west. However, everything is always subject to the NCAA D-III Championships Committee and that could possibly change with the economic conditions our country is in.”

In the same email, Kronschnabel said:

“After the seven teams had been selected, the Committee then considered the
hosting sites. With only two teams from the West being selected, and the
NCAA guideline against creating flights in the first round, the River Falls at Gustavus match-up was a given.

The Committee then again analyzed the criteria and considered the Eastern Regional Advisory Committee evaluations and awarded Middlebury the first round bye and hosting opportunity.

The two Eastern quarter-final pairings and host sites were then determined by both the primary criteria and the NCAA guideline that if geographical proximity (i.e. within 500 miles) can be maintained, teams from the same conference do not have to play each other in the first round.”

NCAA Memorandum

Here is the NCAA Memorandum from Jan. 17, 2007:

“The NCAA Division III Championships Committee, based on a recommendation by the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Committee, has approved the opportunity for a region to host the finals if that region has not hosted the championship within the past three years.

Therefore, effective with the 2006-07 season, if the next three championships are in the East region, then the 2010 championship will be held in the West region, regardless of participants (e.g., three teams from the East region and one team from the West region) or seed. The NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship has been held in the East region all five years the championship has been in existence. Based on the current sponsorship of Division III women’s ice hockey (East – 26; West – 16), the committee was concerned that this trend may continue.

The committee confirmed its previous position that Division III women’s ice hockey would not benefit from a predetermined site at this time, but the committee strongly believes that providing equitable hosting opportunities to both regions is important to the continued growth and development of women’s ice hockey.

This initiative will ensure the championship will be held in the West region once every four years. If it happens that the West region was to host the championship round naturally, the once-in-four-year clock would re-start.”

After reviewing all the information and talking with Bill Kronschnabel, I feel that the committee got it right using the guidelines and policies put forth by the NCAA. If people want to complain, complain to the NCAA about their policy for Division III sports, not the committee for selecting the participants correctly based off of the guidelines they are given. Is it fair that Gustavus Adolphus didn’t host this year? No. Is it fair that R.I.T. was left out? No. But that’s the NCAA policy that limits the selection committee on what they can and can’t do.

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