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After failing to qualify for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament in the past two years, Mount St. Mary's coach Tom Gravante challenged his players to avoid a repeat.

Those players not only reached the MAAC tournament for the first time since 2006, but they also finished second, grabbing the No. 2 seed in the tournament, which begins Friday at Canisius. The Mountaineers (5-9 overall and 5-3 in the conference) meet No. 3 seed Manhattan (9-7, 5-3) at 4:30 p.m.

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"I told them to get the No. 4 seed, and they did better than that," Gravante said. "... I think they're capable of potentially winning this. We know there are some things that we need to clean up before Friday, but playoffs create certain types of character in players, and those players who handle the pressure will come out on top. A good example last year is when Johns Hopkins beat Duke. That was the unthinkable in my evaluation. I just didn't think anyone was capable of beating them. But we all watched Hop pull that off. ... That was impressive, and that's exactly what I'm talking about. Playoffs bring out character in kids that could either hurt the team or help the team. I'm asking my kids to get to the playoffs, handle the pressure, and then we'll go from there."

The Mountaineers rank near the bottom of many offensive categories in the league, but they rank near the top in many defensive areas. While this current squad won't remind anyone of the offensive-minded teams that won the 2001 and 2003 MAAC tournaments, Gravante has been impressed by his players.

"This young squad has been playing in playoff games since the home loss to Marist [on March 21]," Gravante said. "This year, we're so young, and we've been very deep in terms of who has been scoring goals. That's a good thing, but we had some impressive young men back then that were going to get their points whether you poled them or not. ... This team has a lot of points spread out. There is promise and bits and pieces of what we had back then, but it's still to come."

If Mount St. Mary's can get past the Jaspers, they could get a rematch with No. 1 seed Siena. The Mountaineers actually owned a 5-3 advantage midway through the third quarter of their April 18 contest, but the Saints scored six unanswered goals to win, 9-6.

Gravante said he doesn't want to look ahead, but he acknowledged being enthused about a potential game against Siena.

"I think anything can happen in the playoffs," he said. "... If we're fortunate to play good lacrosse and get past Manhattan, anything is possible. We're very capable of winning it, but we also understand that we have to play good ball."

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