To show some love to teams at various levels that don’t always get the attention they deserve, we’re continuing a series to shine a light on underappreciated lacrosse programs. Next up: Division III men’s lacrosse.
What’s the criteria? That’s a gray area, but there are some general guidelines. For the most part, a team cannot be a perennial powerhouse or the first name you think of when someone says their division. For example, Salisbury isn’t underappreciated – we all know they’re amazing and the regular top dog in the NCAA.
Now, let’s highlight some organizations that have earned some respect among the underappreciated lacrosse masses.
Underappreciated Division III Men’s Lacrosse Programs
Located in Granville, Ohio, Denison is anything but underappreciated in the Midwest. But the fact remains that anyone outside of the Midwest doesn’t understand the significant of the sustained success that the Big Red bring to the table. Other teams – Hope, Albion, Aurora, IWU, OWU – do it really well, but Denison does it best.
A typical Denison season over the last 10 years looks like this: win 15-plus games, play a strong non-conference schedule, play Ohio Wesleyan extremely tight but win most of the time, beat a ranked team or two from our east, lose to Salisbury in May. The Big Red are an icon in the NCAC conference, the Midwest, and if they were located a few hours east, they probably wouldn’t make this list of undervalued Division III men’s lacrosse programs.
I respect the hell out of a program that works as hard, travels as far, and wins as much as Colorado Springs’ Colorado College. If you look at the team’s schedule, it is a hodgepodge of Division II and Division III lacrosse teams from all over the country. These guys have had a “play anyone, anywhere” attitude born out of necessity, but it’s grown into their identity.
Colorado College’s record over the last 10 years isn’t as consistent as some others, like Denison, but every one in a while, it catches magic in a bottle. Just remember the second round of the 2018 Division III championship.
Wesleyan, Amherst, and Tufts are the names we often think about when discussing elite Division III men’s lacrosse. Not only are they all members of the NESCAC, but seven of the last 10 Division III title games have included at least one of these teams.
Flashback to 2000 through 2002, and we remember a Middlebury team that won three-consecutive championships, then lost in the ultimate game to Salisbury in 2003 and 2005. This is a program with tremendous pedigree that elevated the entire conference to what it is today.
But all this talk about the past isn’t what makes Middlebury underappreciated. It’s the fact that, despite not having won the conference recently, it remains competitive:
2016 – 12-7, lost in NCAA Tournament first round, 11-10, to Springfield
2017 – 9-9, lost to Tufts, 16-13, beat Amherst, 12-11, in NESCAC Quarterfinals, and narrowly defeated by Wesleyan, 9-8, in the NESCAC Final
2018 – 9-7, lost to Tufts, 13-10 and 16-12
2019 – 8-9, beat Wesleyan, 11-7, in NESCAC Quarterfinals, lost to Tufts ,14-13, in the NESCAC Final
The records are a result of strong in-and-out-of-conference play, and while Middlebury hasn’t been able to win the conference as of late, it did get an NCAA Tournament bid in 2016. This is a team that will punish you if you play anything less than perfect. There isn’t a Division III men’s lacrosse coach on the East Coast who looks at Middlebury on the schedule without an unsettled stomach.
Underappreciated Programs Series
Check out the teams from other men’s divisions of college lacrosse that don’t get the love they should: