What a weekend of lacrosse! We have a new NAIA Lacrosse Champion in the Keiser Seahawks, who just dominated the weekend and showed everyone they deserved the season’s final No.1 ranking. Besides the dominance of the Seahawks, we saw many other good games, including a newer program toppling the giants of NAIA Lacrosse. We will have one more article in two weeks before we are done for the season where we will recap the best and the worst of the NAIA season, along with my end-of-season awards.
#1 Keiser (19) vs. #8 St. Ambrose (7)
I love the story of St. Ambrose this year. I will say they snuck into the NAIA Lacrosse National Tournament, but most people following them assumed this would happen at some point in the season. After some tough early season setbacks, they battled back in the NAIA Lacrosse National Tournament by grabbing the inaugural Heart of America Conference tournament title. That gave them an automatic bid into nationals. However, that bid got them a date with the AAC Conference Champions and No.1 overall seed.
Interestingly enough, Keiser started the year at No.7, one spot behind St. Ambrose at No.6. While St. Ambrose struck first and probably had Seahawk fans feeling a bit on edge in the first quarter, AJ Badik (who you will see mentioned a few times) got them rolling with a goal. From there, it was all Keiser as St. Ambrose struggled with penalties, and Keiser took advantage. Badik ended up with four goals in this game while teammates Braeden Niemy, Cole Stassi, and Jack Gillen all registered hat-tricks en-route to their 19-7 win. In the cage, the wall that we call Christian Tomei blocked 16 shots.
#5 Webber (13) vs. #4 Reinhardt (12)
This was the quarterfinal matchup I was looking forward to the most! Up-and-coming Webber versus the standard in NAIA Lacrosse, Reinhardt. Webber lost by a goal earlier in the season when a last-second attempt clanked off the goalpost. This time, they made the most of the opportunity, and Christian Tapia found the back of the net after a dish from Chase Jackson to register their first NAIA Lacrosse National Tournament win.
First, congrats to the 5x AAC Regular Season and NAIA Lacrosse National Champions, as they have set the bar high each year. A great team that came up just short in trying to grab another championship should still be very proud of what they did.
This was a great battle, similar to how Webber played Keiser earlier in the year. Webber led at the end of every quarter, even up by four goals before the half. As most lacrosse games go at this level, there was a run, but Webber weathered that run and responded to it, leading by two still going into the final quarter. However, Reinhardt did what Webber couldn’t capitalize on in their first game, and Ethan Lux drilled a goal home with one-second remaining. That was not enough as Webber grabbed the faceoff win, and Tapia scored, sending Webber to the semifinals in what would be the only upset of the weekend.
#3 Cumberlands (14) vs. #6 Concordia (8)
Another grand rematch from a one-goal game earlier in the season, but that game was a statement by Concordia as they were not even in the receiving votes category at that point. Concordia needs to be proud of their season as they beat just about everyone in front of them while taking care of business, including a massive win over WHAC rival Indiana Tech earlier this season.
Michael Toohey stood on his head this game, setting the tone for Cumberlands. His 20 saves made life miserable for Concordia, as they couldn’t find the back of the net. The Patriots led by a goal after one quarter and were up by three goals before the half. The Cardinals did make a run, but the Patriots countered to make it 10-6 at the end of the third, with Toohey stopping seven shots in that period to stop any potential run by Concordia. Cumberlands closed out the fourth quarter with a few more goals to advance to the semifinals.
#2 Indiana Tech (19) vs. #7 Siena Heights (7)
First off, congrats to Siena Heights for a great season by making the NAIA Lacrosse National Tournament as the third team out of the WHAC. While they didn’t have any big signature top-five wins, they had some good quality wins and no bad losses this year.
Indiana Tech played this season with a chip on their shoulder after their loss to Concordia. They didn’t lose the rest of the year after that loss, and this game was over before you could even log in to get the stream working. Tech scored ten straight goals to start the game, ending any hopes of an upset from Siena Heights with the score being 10-0 at the half.
Siena Heights did show some fight coming out of the locker room with three straight goals, but Tech ended that run by making it 15-4 at the end of the third. Tech closed the game with four more goals while the Saints netted three to make it a final of 19-7.
Samuel Bodley had a double hat-trick with six goals and threw in two assists while tallying eight points in total. Kyle Twobulls had an efficient night in the cage with eight saves. Fernando Robinson had an excellent night for Siena Heights at the faceoff dot, going 14-18, but unfortunately for them, they couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities.
#1 Keiser (15) vs. #5 Webber’s (10)
This was a very impressive win by the Seahawks. It takes a lot of work to beat a good team twice in a season. It is even harder to beat them three times, which is what Keiser had to do with Webber. Keiser had the advantage coming into the game, as they had an easier win the day before and got done a little earlier in the day. Webber had to play right after their biggest win in program history, but they fought until the end as expected.
Keiser used that to their advantage as they took over earlier and kept coming at the Warriors, ending the first quarter up by two, and at the half, the score was 10-5. The third quarter saw minor offense, but Webber narrowed the lead to 11-7. One massive play in this quarter was Keiser’s Tomei making a back peddling stop while falling into the goal but being aware enough to keep his stick out of the goal. Huge play!
Jack Gillen ended up with a hat-trick for both goals and assists for Keiser, while Tomei stopped 12 shots. Nick Shaeffer for Webber also had a hat-trick in the losing effort.
#2 Indiana Tech (7) vs. #3 Cumberlands (6)
Cumberlands really ended their year strong. We knew they were good, but they kept being talked about as the maybe No.5/6 team in the country, especially after losing three straight in a gauntlet of games to Reinhardt, Keiser, and Webber. However, they showed that the No.3 seed was a good one for them as they ended up one goal short.
As you can imagine, this was a stingy, defensive battle. Tech was up 3-2 after the first quarter. The Patriots came out strong in the second as they scored two goals to go up 4-3 before Tech found the back of the net before the half, knotting it at four going into halftime.
The third quarter was pretty much like the second, as both teams went back and forth but we still didn’t have a lead, as the quarter ended in a 6-6 tie going into the final quarter of play. The fourth quarter was the stingiest of all, with only one goal being scored with less than three minutes to go in the contest. Devin Macomber decided to make something happen by scoring a challenging goal to put Tech up, and despite some reasonable efforts by Cumberlands, they could not score in the last two minutes.
Bodley scored three goals for the Warriors, while Toohey stopped 13 shots in the losing effort for the Patriots.
#1 Keiser (15) #2 Indiana Tech (8)
This was a rematch of a very early season matchup between these two programs, one that propelled Keiser into that No.1 spot in the country. Keiser beat IndianaTech in early March, 9-8. Tech would then go on to beat Reinhardt the next day by five goals, which showed the NAIA Lacrosse community that these two teams were some of the best in the country.
While the excitement for this game was intense, it wasn’t as close as the first matchup. Keiser started fast and didn’t look back, using a solid third quarter to shut down any chance of a Warrior comeback. AJ Badik scored four out of the five Keiser goals before the half, with the Seahawks leading 5-2. Keiser and Badik came out strong in the third, building a 10-3 lead that started with another Badik goal before finishing the game with eight goals! The Seahawks rode that lead to the end of the fourth, winning by a score of 15-8. Cole Stassi accounted for seven assists, and Tomei made 14 saves in a great tournament between the pipes.
Indiana Tech falls short for the third year in a row and will return next year with a chip on its shoulder again, looking for that first NAIA Lacrosse National Championship win. Still, a fantastic year for the great program that is up there regarding the top class of NAIA Lacrosse. A well-respected program that will be back and in contention for many years to come.
Congrats to the 2023 NAIA Lacrosse National Champions, Keiser Seahawks! What a season for this team! They were dominant all year long, shutting down the top two offensive groups in the country on their way to the title in Webber and Indiana Tech. Holding Tech to three goals in three quarters in the finals says a lot about this team, and their stingy defense coupled with high-powered scorers, was just a recipe no one could stop.
Tournament MVP: AJ Badick, Keiser
Samuel Bodley, Indiana Tech
Chase Jackson, Webber
Tanner Popovich, Cumberlands
AJ Badik, Keiser
Emmett Coleman, Indiana Tech
Jack Gillen, Keiser
Tom Piotrowski, Indiana Tech
Cam Provines, Keiser
Sam Anderson, Indiana Tech
Jackson Marshall, Keiser
Christian Tomei, Keiser