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NCAA DIII National Championship Game-Changers: Five Moments, Five Years

With the Sunday of NCAA Championship Weekend reserved for the DII and DIII finals, it seemed fun look at the past five years and the game-changing moments.

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.

With the Sunday of NCAA Lacrosse Championship Weekend breaking up the DI madness so perfectly to host the DII and DIII men’s championships, it only makes sense to pay tribute to the loss of over beloved finale for 2020. The throwback is simple, I reminisce with you on the past five years and the game-changing moments from each National Championship that stand out to me.

I’m not looking for the best play, the biggest goals, or necessarily even the MVP. Instead, I’m hoping to celebrate the truly unique moments of each content that, to me, made the completely special. Sunday match-ups are always my highlight of the weekend. They are almost always nail-biters and were fast even before the shot clock. The purity of DIII lacrosse is unmatched due to the massive listing of institutions coupled with the lack of scholarships and media exposure. It’s lacrosse played by some of the people who will truly do anything for the love of the game.

We’ll start with the most recent NCAA DIII National Championship in Philadelphia and work our way back. Shall we?

NCAA DIII Championship Game-Changers

2019 Cabrini 16, Amherst 12 “The Home Team”

Remember this breath of fresh air?

The 2019 NCAA DIII National Championship marked just the second time since 1998 that the final did not feature Salisbury, Tufts, Cortland, or Middlebury. What made this bout stand out even more to me is getting to witness the “hometown” team, Cabrini, represent a new face for DIII and win in Philly.

These games are exciting because of the atmosphere. They’re solid lacrosse selections on T.V., but when  the crowd is packed with local fans, it’s an added bonus and creates a completely unique buzz.

The game itself was also exciting in terms of play. Fans were pulled back and forth for the entire time and 28 combined goals gives any fan a ticket worth its money. Each swing in the direction of Cabrini just made the place go crazy, and that’s what this tournament is all about. Nothing beats a new champion winning at home

2018 Wesleyan 8, Salisbury 6 “The Zone”

As the first-ever championship for Wesleyan, this game meant a lot to the people that make up the Cards lacrosse family and did they ever celebrate.

The magic of the game was just as amazing. Tying their lowest scoring total in 18 NCAA DIII National Championship appearances (also lost 9-6 to Tufts in 2010), Salisbury just could not figure out the Wesleyan zone defense.

Everyone knows Wesleyan runs zone. It’s a thing.

I’m usually not someone that gets overly excited about the X’s and O’s of a lacrosse game. But sitting in the press box watching Salisbury try to figure out the defense was riveting. The Gulls seemed to know where the gaps were. The question all came down to whether or not they could move the ball around the perimeter and time their cuts fast enough to get off the shot.

Well, they couldn’t.

Wesleyan’s defense was just operating at a different level and it was beautiful to watch.

Holding Salisbury to six goals should get some sort of award, or better yet, a trophy!

2017 Salisbury 15, RIT 7 “The Lockdown”

The next two games are examples of why 2018 was so head scratching. Salisbury never had trouble scoring when it counts. With offense on lock, the story for the 2017 title game was their defense.

The dominance of Salisbury on defense was both incredible, terrifying and made for the history books.

The RIT offense was sixth in DIII scoring (Salisbury was fourth) going into this game. But, the Tigers were leading the country in assists, finding help on nearly 75% of their season’s goals. Coach Berkman and the Gulls of course knew this and ground the Tigers offense to a halt.

RIT’s leading scorers, Ryan Lee and Chad Levick combined for just a goal each in the loss, coming at the end of a season where they combined for 209 points. Also, only three of the seven RIT goals were assisted, all coming from the midfield.

What was even more impressive about this effort from Salisbury? Not a single time served penalty for them in the entire game. Salisbury’s 12th NCAA DIII National Championship was flawless execution of a game plan.

2016 Salisbury 14, Tufts 13 “The Runs”

A fresh rivalry to the Memorial Day Weekend stage, the 2016 NCAA DIII National Championship would match the fourth title game between Salisbury and Tufts in only seven years. Tufts held the winning record coming into the game, claiming two out of the other three in 2010 and 2014.

Coming off back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015, the Jumbos were facing Salisbury in the way of a three-peat. Both teams deserved to still be standing on Championship Sunday, both entering the finale with polished game plans and heads full of steam.

What made this game crazy is it epitomizing the whole concept of “lacrosse is a game of runs.” Despite the one goal difference final score, Salisbury practically ran away with the game once they broke things open at the end of the first quarter and road the wave through the third, outscoring Tufts by a whopping 11 goals to one.

The lopsided tilt would be answered by a late Tufts comeback with seven-unanswered goals of their own to make it 12-11.

From that point on, it was a true championship battle. An equal one-for-one exchange would continue until Zach Richman would bank the final score of the game, holding out for a little over three more minutes for Salisbury to become champions.

2015 Tufts 19, Lynchburg 11 “The Handcuffs”

The question going into this game was what Tufts would do to slow down Austin Stewart?

The challenge at hand was something that nobody had completed that year. It may have been Lynchburg’s first NCAA DIII National Championship appearance, but Stewart’s 109 goals on the season broke a 19-year-old NCAA DIII record and making the Hornets a highly anticipated opponent for defending champion Tufts in the finals.

While part of the game plan was focused on limiting Stewart, just as much energy was going into putting the ball in the back of the net. Luckily for Tuft, both plans came to fruition and Stewart would be held to just two goals on 17 shots. 19 tallies on the other end propelled the Jumbos to the program’s third National Championship victory.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GlGDvDBIGg

 

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