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DII Saint Leo's Merrimack NCAA D2 Championship
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NCAA DII National Championship Game-Changers: Five Moments, Five Years

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… 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.

With the Sunday of NCAA Lacrosse Championship Weekend always being reserved for the DII and DIII men’s championships, it seemed like it would be fun to take a look at the past five years and bring up a moment from each game that stands out to me.

These aren’t necessarily the single best play, or even who had the best game, but what is it that stood out to me that made it feel like a different game. These Sunday games are always the highlight of the weekend for me. The pool to choose from in DII is small and the variety of teams we get in the tournament can seem stale, but with Merrimack moving up to DI after back-to-back titles and COVID-19 shaking things up, the future of the trophy hoist is up for grabs.

Let’s work out way back from recent memory, because those game are still fresh, right?

NCAA DII Championship Game-Changers

2019 Merrimack 16, Limestone 8 “The Goodbye”

This finale, more than anything, served as a Merrimack curtain call.

Knowing that they were going to move onto DI, and that they were the defending champs, there were expectations. Even though they throttled St. Leo for their first championship in 2018, this game had some more weight to it. They had already gotten past Le Moyne after overtime in the semifinals, but the storybook ending could not have been better by lining up the other DII perennial, undefeated No. 1 seed Limestone.

The result?

A game where they never trailed, and were only tied for all of 44 seconds once the scoring started. Merrimack had eight different scorers and truly lived up to the idea of going out on top. Still, to this day, they are the reigning champs and will be for another year.

2018 Merrimack 23, St. Leo 6 “The Reverence”

Memorial Day Weekend always brings out an overflowing amount of emotion amongst the lacrosse crowd.

Three teams get to celebrate in a way that nobody else can that year: as NCAA National Champions.

That means there are also three teams who came closer than anyone else, but still lost. Players react to this in any number of ways. Tears, anger, silence, and sadness are all normal. Some players storm off to the locker room. Others wait in the tunnel, keeping their uniform on for just a few more minutes thinking of what could have been.

The most lasting image for me was the lone St. Leo’s player who stood and watched the Merrimack trophy ceremony.

He was the only one left on the field, maybe 15 yards from the team hoisting their first trophy in school history. But as he stood there, he was bawling his eyes out, face smeared with eye black, just taking in every moment of what could have been. It may have been the most raw emotion I’ve ever seen in my life and is something that has stayed with me ever since.

2017 Limestone 11, Merrimack 9 “The Swing”

2017 marked the first of three championship appearances for Merrimack and was even hosted at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, less than an hour from campus.

What stood out to me in this game particularly was the face-off battles.

With Kevin Reisman taking the draws for Limestone, it wasn’t the final stats that mattered (although those were good), it was when they were won. A mind-blowing three Limestone goals were scored in a total of 19 seconds in the third quarter. The speed in which Reisman could generate the draw into offense was unparalleled.

The blast of action was the absolute best series of the weekend in which less than a single minute swung this game from a 6-4 Merrimack lead to a 7-6 deficit that the Warriors could not overcome. Reisman would go on to be named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and forever one of the biggest NCAA National Championship game-changers the sport has ever seen.

2016 Le Moyne 8, Limestone 4 “The Breakfast”

A true defensive battle, the 2018 rendition and was the send lowest scoring NCAA DII National Championship in history.

As they say, defense wins championships.

Le Moyne was the top-rated defense in the country, holding opponents to just under five goals per game. Limestone was the top offense, averaging nearly 20 goals.

Something had to give.

After holding Limestone to just four goals on 18 shots and a goose egg in the second half, head coach Dan Sheehan had the quote of a year referring to the lack of output by the nation’s offensive leader:

“They took 18 shots. They had 18 shots by breakfast this morning.”

2015 Limestone 9, Le Moyne 6 “The Messenger”

Despite the fact that between Le Moyne and Limestone, the pair have combined to appear in the DII title game 18 times since the year 2000, the 2015 NCAA National Championship was just the second head-to-head match-up.

Le Moyne got the best of Limestone in round one, taking the game to double overtime to secure the program’s first National Championship. 11 seasons after their first meeting in 2004, the script was flipped and the story in this game was Mike Messenger.

Messenger played like he was on a mission from God in this game. There’s no doubt in my mind, and I’m sure the same for anyone who watched, that his finale performance is the key reason why they won.

In the fourth quarter, when Le Moyne was held scoreless, Messenger tallied three goals and assisted on the only other score to seal the win. This is the game I always think back to and laugh when it dawns on me that Messenger is a defender when he plays indoors.

That’s a game-changer.