With the bracket announced, the question of what the NAIA tournament selection committee would do about an incredibly deep WHAC conference is over. There was little doubt that three WHAC teams would make it (Indiana Tech, Aquinas, and Lawrence Tech), but a lot of people, myself included, thought a fourth team was a long shot. The last at large bid was between Missouri Valley, Madonna, and SCAD with Madonna being the lucky recipient. With the field set I examine what looks to be an incredibly competitive first round.
#1 Reinhardt (13-1)
#8 Madonna (13-4)
What better way to prove you deserve to be in the tournament then by playing the reigning NAIA champion, in a rematch of last years overtime championship game. Reinhardt’s only loss this season was to Cumberlands (13-12), a loss they avenged in the AAC tournament in convincing fashion winning (12-1). Madonna surprised many last year with a massive recruiting class propelling the program to a 22-1 record. This year the Crusaders have had some ups and downs, with last year’s standout goalie Gary Cutler not registering a single minute, and Cole Gingell missing most of the season, Madonna found themselves on the wrong end of 4 conference games. Madonna has an edge at the faceoff X but spotty goalie play has haunted them in their losses. Reinhardt is a heavy favorite in this one, but anything is possible in this years NAIA.
#4 Cumberlands (12-4)
#5 Benedictine (10-4)
The Patriots return to the national tournament as the No. 4 seed for the second consecutive season. Coach Campbell has proven that year in and year out his team will be tournament ready. A 12-4 record with all four losses coming from top ten teams, look for the Patriots to come out on fire after a tough 12-1 loss in the ACC finals. Benedictine is a program on the rise and it’s fair to say that this season they took the next step. Through March they were 4-4 with losses to quality opponents. These early tests lead to an undefeated April which included beating Missouri Valley and Columbia twice each. A convincing 21-9 win over MVC in the KCAC championship game solidified the Ravens spot in the national tournament. Experience is on the side of Patriots, but the Ravens have a lot of momentum.
#3 Lawrence Tech (11-6)
#6 Aquinas (10-4)
In the all WHAC match anything can happen. This will be the third matchup between these teams this year. Aquinas took Game 1, 14-13, LTU took game two in the conference semi-finals 14-10. Here’s what we know, Aquinas will win the faceoff battle, everything else is a toss up. In the WHAC semi’s LTU was able to take better care of the ball with only 12 turnovers, and had an excellent offensive game plan. Throw in the eight penalties for the Saints and LTU was able to secure the victory. If both teams limit turnovers this could be the most exciting game of the first round.
#2 Indiana Tech (15-2)
#7 Keiser (8-6)
Keiser is a team that I can only describe as streaky. Steady goaltending and a balanced offense (six players with 29 or more points) mean that the Seahawks are capable of winning every game, but an 8-6 record shows that they are vulnerable on defense. The Seahawks are 0-4 when their opponents score more than 10 goals. If they can keep Indiana Tech under 11 they have a chance. Here’s the thing, IT averages 13 goals a game. For Keiser to win they will need to find a way to shut down 60 goal scorer Chandler Peterson, who has scored in every game this season including an absurd 13 GOALS against Siena Heights. Throw in the fact that the Warriors are on a seven-game winning streak which includes four wins against other NAIA tournament teams and Tech is a heavy favorite.
The first round will kick off Wednesday May 8th with games at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m.