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Eulogizing the 2014 College Lacrosse Season: High Point

The Panthers were *thisclose* to making the NCAA Tournament.

You spent the better part of four months meticulously dissecting the 2014 college lacrosse season. You shouldn't stop now because cold turkey is a bad way to go through life, man. College Crosse is providing decompression snapshots of all 67 teams and their 2014 campaigns, mostly because everything needs a proper burial.

VITAL SIGNS

HIGH POINT PANTHERS
METRIC VALUE NATIONAL RANK
2014 Record 9-7 (4-1, Atlantic Sun) N/A
2014 Winning Percentage 56.25% 26
2013 Record 3-12 (Independent) N/A
2013 Winning Percentage 20.00% 59
2014 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 45.61% 35
2013 Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation 19.04% 60
Value Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +27.63% 2*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Pythagorean Win Expectation +22* 2*
2014 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 29.23 46
2013 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency 24.81 59
Value Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +4.42 13*
National Rank Change in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency +13* 12*
2014 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 30.94 33
2013 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency 37.09 59
Value Change in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency +6.15 1*
National Rank Change in Defensive Efficiency +27* 1*
Downloadable Team Profile (.pdf)

*These ranking values consider only the programs that competed in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Accordingly, Boston University, Furman, Monmouth, and Richmond are not considered.

"ATTA BOY!" FACT

Austin Geisler continues to impress for the Panthers. The Virginia transfer has been a major factor in High Point's genesis as a lacrosse concern, providing a steadying force between the pipes for a program that has existence for like six seconds. While Geisler has yet to achieve All-America status, the rising redshirt senior has distinguished himself in the cage and deservedly earned top honors from the Atlantic Sun last spring as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.

The team's goaltending profile -- which is essentially Geisler's profile -- reflects (1) a heavy reliance on play from the crease, (2) strong performances from between the pipes that supports the reliance that is put on High Point's netminders to make stops, and (3) an improvement and greater reliance on solid keeping from the 2013 season through the Panthers' 2014 campaign:

AUSTIN'S A HELL OF A TOWN
METRIC 2013 VALUE 2013 N'TL RANK 2014 VALUE 2014 N'TL RANK
Shots per Defensive Opportunity 1.16 44 1.17 51
Shots on Goal per Defensive Opportunity 0.76 55 0.75 64
Ratio of Shots on Goal to Total Shots per Defensive Opportunity 65.11% 60 64.32% 64
Raw Defensive Shooting Rate 31.19% 52 25.90% 14
Raw Defensive Shots on Goal Shooting Rate 47.90% 36 40.27% 2
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 39.44 10 45.07 2
Team Save Percentage 52.10% 36 59.73% 2
Strength of Schedule: Opposing Offenses Faced 29.67 46 30.49 44

Look: Geisler isn't facing a slate of ACC offenses each week with High Point, but the cat is turning away a ridiculous volume of shots while seeing an insane rate of shots that challenge him to make a stop. It's simply bonkers to think about the work that Geisler is putting in for the Panthers: In 2014, Geisler played around 99 percent of High Point's total minutes, facing around 98 percent of the 375 shots on goal that were chucked at the Panthers' net (saving 59.24 percent of those attempts); almost 65 percent of the shots that High Point's opponents triggered were on goal, forcing Geisler to make a stop on the challenge; and on an estimated basis -- this is very noisy -- Geisler was in a situation where he seeing about 1.15 shots per defensive opportunity with about .75 shots being on goal on a per defensive opportunity basis.

And Geisler responded with a massive, soul-crushing effort that pushed the Panthers' defense forward from the team's 2013 effort. Good grief.

"YOU'RE GROUNDED UNTIL YOU QUALIFY FOR THE AARP!" FACT

The team's loss to Richmond in the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship leaves the stinky residue of "Awww, goddammit!" on an otherwise impressive season for the Panthers. High Point didn't struggle all that much in conference play in 2014, going 5-1 through the regular season and semifinals of the conference's postseason tournament while winning those games by an average of around two goals. The Panthers were the strongest team in the Atlantic Sun last spring despite not earning the league's top seed, but it all seemed to fall apart against Richmond at the least optimal point of the year.

After earning a convincing 11-7 victory against the Spiders a few weeks prior to the teams' meeting in Macon, High Point appeared poised to earn an automatic invitation to The Big Barbeque in only their second year of existence: The Panthers held a 61.23 percent chance of victory against Richmond in a log5 environment and LaxPower predicted a one-goal victory for High Point (consistent with a log5 win expectation slightly above that of a toss-up scenario).

Instead of grabbing their first NCAA Tournament invitation ever, though, the Panthers offered up the generic version of High Point lacrosse:

  • Falling behind 2-4 at the break and 2-5 out of the intermission, the Panthers needed to rally to pull square with the Spiders with 11:10 remaining in regulation.
  • High Point was unable to carry forward this momentum, seeing its 4-1 run snapped with a two-goal surge from Richmond that started with a Dan Ginestro bucket with 7:37 left on the clock and ended with a Mitch Goldberg hammer -- the game-winner -- with 3:21 left in the final period.
  • Matt Thistle would claw the Panthers back within one just 42 seconds after Goldberg gave the Spiders all the lead they would need, but it was all window dressing at that point: High Point had possession of the bean in the final minute of the game, but a turnover -- one of 20 (!!!!) for the Panthers against the Spiders -- at the top of the zone gave Richmond the ball and a trip to a May adventure.

It was a terrible day to have miserable moments, and High Point ultimately suffered through that when it had an opportunity to accomplish something amazing. These things happen -- especially for maturing programs -- but it's still an ugly spot for a team that otherwise had a solid campaign.

THE DISTANT FUTURE

The most interesting thing about High Point going into the 2015 season is the team's function in the soon-to-be Southern Conference hierarchy: The Panthers are established -- or at least as established as the program can be -- as one of its league's healthier programs, but with Bellarmine coming into the fold next spring and Mercer, Jacksonville, and Richmond lurking, High Point isn't guaranteed anything a season from now. There is potential fluidity in the Southern Conference in 2015, a feature that the Panthers will both contribute to and potentially suffer from. High Point is in a good position to succeed -- Jon Torpey is getting back virtually everything that he had last season -- but it'll be odd to see how the league takes shape around Panthers and what that means for the growing program.