Editor’s note: Thanks for joining us over Memorial Day Weekend 2020 to help you heal those lax-blues… we didn’t even get to say goodbye… LaxAllStars.com and our social outlets will be pumping out a non-stop stream of content from Thursday until Monday completely focused on some of the greatest NCAA National Championship moments, DI, DII and DIII, from the past. We hope you stick around.
Similar to was we did yesterday with Division II and Division III, today I am going to take a look at the last five championship weekends. Instead of breaking down the game-changers of each NCAA National Championship, instead I’m recalling a story from each Division I men’s tournament that continues to stand out to me for that year.
It may be from the championship, it may be from the semifinals, but it will be something from Memorial Day Weekends of the past. Just to frame things a little more, this weekend is always my favorite of the lacrosse year and likely the same for the vast majority of lacrosse-lovers.
The void created by not sharing this weekend together in 2020 will be a tough one, if ever, to fill. Absense will make our hearts grow even fonder of 2021. Until then, we look to the past.
NCAA DI Memorial Day Weekend Moments 2015 – 2019
Final Four: (1) Penn State, (2) Duke, (3) Virginia, & (5) Yale
Finals: Virginia 11, Yale 9
One of my least favorite cliches in sports is the “team of destiny.” But every once in awhile, it starts to feel like a team finally has everything together and just might do it.
Last year, it was Penn State that seemed to have called on Elwood Blues as a spirit animal to the sideline just to mutter, “we’re on a mission from God!” whenever the Nittany Lions showed up. Their offense was unfathomably explosive, lighting up the scoreboard game after game. Penn State caught fire and straight blazed their way into the Final Four. They torched UMBC 25-10 in the opening round and followed but by smoking a Pat Spencer-led Loyola squad 21-14 in the quarterfinals.
But the inferno became distant, smothered memories in an instant. Yale broke open the 2019 NCAA semifinals with 10-1 run in the first quarter alone. The fire was out of fuel. Those opening minutes of the game were the last time Penn State would have control of their season. Guess that’s what we get for talking about destinies. The Nittany Lions would eventually pull within three, but that was the closest they ever got to cutting the nets.
Final Four: (1) Maryland, (2) Albany, (3) Yale, & (4) Duke
Finals: Yale 13, Duke 11
One of the things that jumps out to me from the 2018 tournament was the absolute dominance of Yale over Albany in their 20-11 semifinal win. The thrashing of one of the most talked about teams in the country would instill the confidence in the Bulldogs to finish the job on Monday afternoon.
It’s important to note that I didn’t enjoy the beating because of Albany losing. It was enjoyable because it felt like one of those situations that sometimes happens in sports where one team just does everything right.
Yale essentially neutralized (their future star) TD Ierlan in face-offs, an order that seemed fit for no man. Once they had the ball from draw-man Conor Mackie, the All-American attack duo of Ben Reeves and Matt Gaudet became unstoppable. The attack pairing combined for 11 goals and four assists in the Final Four to earn the bid to the finale.
When watching a team that can operate at this level play like they can do no wrong, it can really be an incredible thing to see.
Final Four: (1) Maryland, (3) Ohio State, (5) Denver, & Towson
Finals: Maryland 9, Ohio State 6
This was the year that Maryland finally did it. They finally won. This is a program where National Championships were so far in the past, it was essentially a different lifetime.
Maryland maintained their place amongst the elite in the lacrosse world and could not be overlooked because they remained a playoff contender for so long. Between 1975, the year of their second title, and 2017, they had made it to nine championship games. In addition to those nine trips, there were another 10 semifinal appearances. Adding to the pile, from 2011 through 2017, they only missed the semifinals once (2013) and turned every run, except 2014, into a shot at the title game.
Facing an unlikely challenger in fellow Big Ten opponent Ohio State in the big showdown, the monkey was officially thrown off the back. Topping the Buckeye 9-6 at Gillette Stadium, John Tillman and the Terps would finally return the ultimate pride to campus in College Park.
Final Four: (1) Maryland, (5) Brown, (7) Loyola, & North Carolina
Finals: North Carolina 14, Maryland 13 (OT)
The 2016 National Championship and the pair of semifinals preceding it may have been the best three Division I games as a whole in the history of the tournament.
That’s a big claim, I know.
These were incredible games.
For me, the storyline that can’t be forgotten is Dylan Molloy. There’s plenty to the story, but in short, Molloy had broken his foot in the opening round game that year. This meant that he would sit out of the quarterfinal game and this was kept exceptionally quiet.
After Brown won without Molloy, all eyes turned to the absence of the eventual Tewaaraton winner. It was absolutely legendary when he walked out onto the field in full uniform and played his way to a two goal performance, eventually falling to Maryland in overtime.
At the postgame press conference, Molloy showed up with his cleat still on as a makeshift cast. He wasn’t playing at 100% by any means, but after the game he had no regrets. His final thoughts were simply put:
“I’m happy I did it for sure,” Molloy told the press. “We haven’t gotten the x-ray just yet, making sure there’s no displacement of the bone or anything like that. Hoping that turns out well. But happy I did it. And I was proud to be out there.”
Final Four: (1) Notre Dame, (4) Denver, (6) Maryland, Johns Hopkins
Finals: Denver 10, Maryland 5
Originally, I was going to go with the Wes Berg diving behind the back goal against Notre Dame. It wasn’t the game-winner, but it was hugely important and was a big reason why Berg was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
But, what really stands out to me regarding Denver in 2015 is actually a press conference moment.
I don’t remember exactly which one it was that weekend, but it was after a game where there were a little bit of “extra-curricular” activity on the field at one point. Someone in the room asked the players about what was said or what caused that. The players up at the table laughed and looked like they were about to enlighten us to at least some degree of detail.
Then you could see a few of them look over towards Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney out of the corner of their eyes. Tierney had his head down and gave just the slightest of motions shaking his head. All of it was almost unnoticeable.
But once that happened, the players clammed up, gave a short non-answer and the press conference moved along.