Sunday of Championship Weekend always gives us phenomenal lacrosse, and this year will be no different as we have the “Kings of the North,” the Mercyhurst Lakers, taking on the “Kings of the South,” Lenoir-Rhyne Bears. Lenoir-Rhyne had to become the true champions of Florida to get to Championship Weekend by first beating defending champions Tampa and then the No.1 seeded Rollins Tars. What is their reward for conquering the trap that is playing in Florida? A date with the Limestone Saints, who beat them in the SAC Tournament Championship. The first No.5 seed in NCAA D2 Men’s Lacrosse history to get to the title game cruised past Limestone 18-11 to get themselves a date with the surging Mercyhurst Lakers.
The Lakers took down No.1, heavily favored and undefeated Le Moyne for the first time in 11 tries. Both Lenoir-Rhyne and Mercyhurst were lower-seeded teams winning on the road, continuing a trend in this year’s NCAA D2 Men’s Lacrosse Tournament. How they got here is essential, but we can throw records out the window at this point. Both staffs have been to the championship game, and Lenoir-Rhyne has been there most recently. Chris Ryan and his staff know what it takes to win the big game. They last won in 2011, but their most recent trip to the championship game in 2013 was not so victorious.
This game is going to come down to defense. Lenoir-Rhyne’s solid defense will be tested against the Lakers, averaging over 16 goals per game and led by the two-headed monster at attack in Myles Hamm (53 goals) and Ethan Landymore (50 goals). The train runs through those guys, and Lenoir-Rhyne will have their hands full down low. If Mercyhurst can continue to get production at the midfield and attack from multiple areas, that will put pressure on the stingy defense of the Bears and their phenomenal goalie Robert Pensabene. Colin Tardiff has put together an outstanding freshman season and could be the X-factor for the Lakers to put themselves ahead of the Bears. The Bears are also a very similar team in their ability to look to multiple weapons on offense. They are led on the attack end by Toron Eccleston and Myles Moffat. Both have proven they can dodge or feed, forcing the Lakers to be on high alert on the defensive end. The Bears are also averaging just north of 16 goals a game and have shown they can sling the rock around. This game will be a high-scoring game that will be won in the middle of the field and in transition.
These games are traditionally close; this one will come down to who has the ball more. The faceoff men for both squads will be crucial to their team’s success. Mercyhurst is facing off at 71% behind the exceptional play of USILA D2 Men’s Lacrosse Northern Player of the Year Shawn Doran, who is also an offensive threat as he’s put up 22 points and 176 groundballs this season. On the other side, Lenoir-Rhyne will rely on the two-headed monster of John Paulus and Matthew Mancini. As we have seen, teams with depth in the faceoff position can give teams trouble relying on one singular player. Expect it to be an epic battle, as Lenoir-Rhyne needs to control the faceoff battle to put themselves in a position to win the title.
Lenoir Rhyne’s Rob Pensabene has had a phenomenal year saving almost 62 percent of the shots he sees. For Lenoir-Rhyne to hold the trophy, he must be his usual consistent self. On the flip side, Brett Olney has been outstanding for the Lakers this season, saving nearly 60% of his shots. This will be a battle to watch as the game unfolds on Sunday.
Both of these teams are so evenly matched it’s going to come down to the little things and the hard plays. The team that wins the groundball battle has a great chance of walking away from this one victorious. Groundballs equal possessions, and in this one, each one will count.