TOWSON, Md. – The lacrosse world is not known for its ability to keep things under wraps. Everyone knows seemingly everyone, and eventually things slip out even sooner than most people could possibly expect.
That said, there is a runaway winner for worst-kept secret in the sport this spring, and it’s the tenuous job security of Towson coach Tony Seaman.
Seaman, of course, is the former Johns Hopkins coach who was ousted from one of the best gigs in the sport in 1998, only to land a couple miles up Charles Street with the task of revitalizing Towson.
That he did, though the Tigers haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2003. They haven’t been to the final four since 2001. And that, plus the presence of an athletic director in just his third year in the Baltimore burbs, turned this spring into a win-or-else death march for the Tigers.
But a funny thing happened Wednesday night in the CAA tournament: Towson throttled Drexel 10-2, possibly turning in its best game of the season at the precise instant it was needed.
Better yet for the Tigers, top-seeded Hofstra lost its semifinal, ensuring Towson (7-9) will play host to Villanova on Saturday with only an NCAA tournament berth on the line.
And, yes, that means Seaman’s long career may well come down to a single game against a program that (a) Has never reached the NCAA tournament but (b) Manhandled Towson 13-4 back on April 8.
“I coach another day,” Seaman said with his usual wry edge. “I’m happy about that, and these kids get to play another day. It’s been very stressful and frustrating. But I think we’re pretty good sometimes. We were against Hofstra and we were against Hopkins and we didn’t finish either game. That’s tough.”
The trouble is, Towson’s vacillated between just-good-enough-to-lose and flat-out awful. The Tigers lost by two to Maryland, squandered a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter against Hofstra and lost in the closing seconds of double-overtime to nearby nemesis Johns Hopkins on a funky shot with an unusual hop.
There was also an 11-2 loss at Virginia, the 14-4 loss at UMBC, the Villanova demolition and – wedged between the Hopkins setback and the pummeling of Drexel – a lame second-half effort against Penn in what on paper was a meaningless game and was clearly treated as such on the field.
But the bad games – just like most of the good ones – exist on an island. And it’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise the Tigers could build a 9-0 lead Wednesday with the help of an insane night from goalie Rob Wheeler (17 saves).
“We’ve had some tough losses, but we’ve also had some great wins,” Wheeler said. “This team, they do a really good job of turning the page after a tough loss and moving on to the next chapter. I thought we showed up to play.”
Such moments are always best left to Seaman to describe. Loquacious when he wins and maybe even moreso when he loses, Seaman is one of the few remaining throwbacks in a sport that inches closer to its big-sport brethren every year.
Call him salty or ornery (both of which are appropriate), but either way Seaman’s blunt, easily recognizable voice is an asset to his sport and his school. He is both the old high school coach and the guy who has taken three universities to the NCAA final four.
And yet this was a season spent under fire from the start, even with a relatively youthful roster. Yes, his top three point-getters are seniors. Only one of the next nine is in his final year of eligibility. His goalie played only 72 minutes before this season.
So the predictable fluctuations have come, but the Tigers still reached the CAA tournament. They – and, by extension, Seaman – still have a chance.
“I’ve been emphasizing for the last two weeks the only two games that matter this year are Wednesday and Saturday,” Seaman said of the CAA tournament. “That’s all. Of course, they believed me going into Penn. That’s my fault.”
There’s credit to parcel out, too, a reservoir of it going to Seaman for emphatically handling matters against an outmatched Drexel bunch on Wednesday.
One more win would mean a grand celebration on Saturday night, the sort a roster filled with guys without much postseason success to their credit could appreciate for some time.
But it might just mean even more to Seaman, a sublime reply he and his team could provide to what amounted to a preseason ultimatum.
“You obviously hear things behind the scenes a little bit,” said Will Harrington, who scored four goals Wednesday. “We don’t really know anything, but I’ve never played for a better coach. I love coach Seaman. He’s the best coach I’ve ever played for. I’d hate to see anything happen to him. If it were up to me, I’d have him here next year because I just love him as a coach.”
Like so much in the sport, the esteem with which Seaman is held is no secret, either. As such, the best story of May could unfold before the NCAA tournament commences if Seaman and the Tigers make yet another stand Saturday night.