Welcome to the Final JuCo Report of the year – the 2017 NJCAA champs have been crowned, we saw an AMAZING final four (and title game), and we got to enjoy one of the best NJCAA Men’s Lacrosse seasons in recent memory! It’s an exciting time for JuCo lacrosse, and a lot of these guys can be impact players at the next level.
The reigning traditional powerhouse of the NJCAA may have won the title in 2017, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t see a super competitive year of lacrosse, because we did.
At least 4 teams were in serious contention for the title all the way to the end, and no one knew what would happen in any big game late in the season. Howard made their first title game, beat last year’s winner, and almost won their first title, all in the same year. GCC made it back to the final four and was a goal away from a repeat appearance in the year’s last game. Nassau and OCC were both in prime form, as expected, and a number of other teams were creeping for consideration as contenders. This is what expansion, parity, and improved overall quality look like.
2017, what a season!
I’ll run through the Final Four games, how OCC became the 2017 NJCAA champs, some truly excellent NJCAA video, our list of 2017 NCAA Lacrosse All Stars (it’s only TEN players!), coach of the year, and a quick look forward to 2018.
2017 Champs! Brian Witmer’s First Hand Take
Note from Connor: I was obviously bummed to not make the NJCAA Final Four in person (life and stuff, you know), but one of LAS’ finest did make it over to the games, and you can color Brian Witmer as impressed! Brian got over to the games in person on Saturday, and watched online on Sunday, and offered up a great take on the NJCAA final four. Get ready, because it’s a doozy!
I did something the other day that I haven’t done in quite a long time. Honestly, I can’t remember a time I’ve ever done it previously. This might have been a first for me. I went out and watched a Junior College lacrosse game.
I didn’t go to a Junior College, (this five digit student loan bill for a five year party I’ve already been to makes me wish I had) but I’d say I have a basic understanding of how the JuCo season and tournament have gone the past ten or so years. Onondaga Community College is the team to beat, Nassau usually gives them the biggest resistance, and then programs like Anne Arundel and others have hot-then-not-then-hot type swings. The past few years Genesee has been a rising power, even winning the JuCo title last year and dethroning almost a decade of Lazer championships. Besides that, I could barely even name four more schools. This mistake was mine, and I fully admit it.
Six months ago I’m down in D.C. and I’m helping my college buddy, Nate, move an egregious amount of crap out of his apartment, into a Uhaul, then out of a Uhaul, and into another apartment. He tells me he’s got an offensive coordinator or assistant coach gig at a local community college. I say congrats, of course, that’s a college gig! Who’s the team? He tells me it’s Howard County Community College.
I say, neat… good luck!
I had never heard of Howard County Community College, but he goes on to tell me that the team is looking really good, and they’ve got a great coaching staff and they’re shooting for a national championship.
Again, I say, neat… good luck!
Sure enough I get a call from my buddy Nate the day I get back to the US from playing box in Prague (Ed. Note: Yes, we both went to Prague to play box). He says Howard is playing in the semis against Genesee. He tells me there’s a link to watch the games online.
I tell him I’ll do him one better and I’ll be there to watch the Howard Dragons take on the Genesee Cougars in person right after Onondaga and Nassau.
Championship lacrosse. It really doesn’t matter who’s playing. Once you get to playoffs, it’s really about who shows up to play. Why wouldn’t I show up?
On a beautiful Saturday in Upstate, New York (read: miserable) I got to the game in time to see the waning minutes of a 21-10 domination of Nassau by the Lazers. This pretty much confirmed what I’ve always known – OCC is very, very, very good at putting a lacrosse ball in a lacrosse goal.
Dragons versus Cougars. Let’s do this.
Nate and I had been freshmen together at Brockport, and so I got to know the clan very well, and I sat with Nate’s Mom, Mimi, as well as the rest of the cohort from Cortland who knew nothing about Howard County Community College other than the fact that Nate was coaching.
Instant die-hard fans. Each and every one of us. Not because of Nate (honestly I’m still not over that moving fiasco in D.C.), but because Howard’s players were absolutely selling out their bodies and souls on every single play and they were earning their place in this game. Truth be told I haven’t seen such a tight field lacrosse game in person in years. I was loving it.
There must have been ten lead changes, and that is not an exaggeration. Scoring a go-ahead goal was almost a guarantee that the opposition was going to score the next two. I found myself on my feet more often than not, and my fists in the sky every time Howard scored.
Towards the end, and sure enough the boys are down. GCC had scored man-up with two minutes remaining, and they regained possession after the faceoff. The ball heads down to one of the big box players Genesee has had so much success with. I can’t see this kid coughing up the ball to a field player. Long-stick or not, I see this one as over.
Sure enough we see a forced turnover, and the boys come right on down and score with :32 left on the clock. Flag on the play. Howard will be man up the remainder of regulation and :28 seconds into OT should we need it…
Spoiler, we didn’t need overtime.
Chris Reinhart wheels up the left alley to his strong right hand and looks to make the skip pass. He’s so bent on making that skip pass, he temporarily overlooks the fact that the Cougars haven’t anyone to stop Reinhart from scoring. One step, two step, and an underhand low-to-low shot buries under the Genesee goalie with 1.8 remaining on the clock.
Howard County Community College is moving on to play the Onondaga Lazers in the National Championship. If you had said that over the winter, I would’ve given you the same look I gave Nate when he called that they’d be in the hunt for the championship this year.
The next day I expected a thumping. These are the Onondaga Lazers we’re talking about here. They’ve been raking in rings since before I graduated high school. Austin Staats. Russ Oaks. Players from all over including Vermont, Missouri, Idaho, AUSTRALIA, AND JAPAN!
What I saw, was not a thumping.
OCC played their game – high speed and quick in transition, but Howard wasn’t rolling over. Howard fought tooth and nail, and used long possessions of two, three, even five minutes to counter Onondaga’s thirteen-second clinics on “how to play transition offense”.
Howard’s goalie Mark Bowser recorded 11 saves on the day, but if I hadn’t had the power of the google machine I would’ve guessed 20. Standing on his head in the first quarter gave the Dragons the ability to at one point take a 6-2 lead over the Lazers, but OCC is OCC and, they weren’t going to be held to 2 goals for very long. Usually they’ve got two goals before the referees get out of their cars.
At the half, Onondaga and Howard were tied at 6. That right there is worth noting and caps off to the Dragons. I had never heard of you, and you were right there. I will have to admit, that even with a tied score at half, I gave up on you at that point.
I thought you boys had played great, but I didn’t think that the level of intensity and skill that you guys were playing at was sustainable for another half. Not against the Lazers.
Favorite part of the Howard Dragons: I haven’t been right about them yet.
OCC went up 11-8 in the third, and I thought that this is where it all goes south. Wrong again. A back-and-forth fourth quarter shootout led us to a 14-14 tie with four minutes left. Two straight goals from Kevin Curcio had tied the game for the Dragons and the upset was in sight. It was right there.
Onondaga was battling Howard hard, and they weren’t about to drop the program’s tenth title in twelve years just because the new guys deserved a ring. Jake McNabb scored on a beautiful assist from a hobbling Austin Staats with 2:21 remaining, and that would do it for the Dragons.
Chuck Wilbur’s Lazers got their championship, ensuring the tradition that none of the two year players leave without a ring. That is just amazing, is it not? Big clap all around!
Hats off to the Lazers, and I’m always elated to see the trophies come home to Central New York, but gosh darn it if I don’t have a new favorite junior college team.
Following suit, the Howard Dragons women’s team took home second place in the JuCo Championships the same day. The Tribunes out of Monroe County took home their EIGHTY-SECOND CONSECUTIVE WIN to bring home their FIFTH STRAIGHT title!
Junior Colleges have rosters that turn over faster than your traditional four year programs, obviously. While Howard will undoubtedly lose a solid section of its roster as players transfer on to four year schools, I have high hopes for these Dragons in the future. The new Junior College gatekeepers to the South will undoubtedly have a spike in recruits in the coming years, and I won’t be shocked when I get a call in May next year from my buddy, Nate, telling me the game is at 3:30 and I should come watch.
NJCAA Final Four VIDEO
All praise be to Howard for doing unbelievable video work all year, then making it all the way to the finals, and STILL doing amazing video work (and playing truly excellent lacrosse!).
2017 NJCAA Champs – OCC Tops Howard
These guys crushed it on the field all year, and no program even comes close to matching Howard’s unreal video production work.
Howard Vs Genesee – Final Four Game
If you want to watch the whole game, you can still watch it On-Demand on NJCAA TV, but it won’t stay up forever!
Quick Look to 2018
NJCAA lacrosse is incredibly hard to predict year over year. Half of each team disappears each season, new recruits often don’t materialize until late, and lots can change between now and early March. That’s only natural. With all that being said, we can still look forward just enough to make it interesting, even though so much could still change.
Onondaga – OCC will be back, and they will be loaded up with talent. At this point, and until Coach Wilbur leaves, this much is known. WILL COACH WILBUR EVER LEAVE?!?!?!?!? Some D1 school (St. Bonaventure, cough, cough) should pick the man up at some point. He clearly knows what the heck he’s doing. 10 titles says that’s correct, but Coach Wilbur seems to like Onondaga, and if he sticks around, OCC stays at the top.
Howard – Does Howard lose some talented sophomores? You bet they do, but so does everyone. The question is, how do they reload? With great coaching, a really nice campus, and all this recent success my guess is they reload just fine! Plus they have freshman talent already. I don’t think the Dragons are going anywhere.
Nassau – Coach Savage made the transition to NCC look seamless, and I fully expect Nassau to be better next year than they were this year, which is scary, and a lot of pressure, but I know JS can handle it, and so can Nassau’s players.
Genesee – GCC should not be counted out. They nearly made it back to the title game this year, and had a ton of talent. With some top returning scorers and a nicely developed pipeline, GCC will be back in the mix in 2018.
Who’s NEXT? I like Anne Arundel, Essex, Harford, Monroe, and Ocean County as my next 5, but it’s very hard to say where any of these teams will end up next year. Could Union County, Finger Lakes, or Hudson Valley end up above all 5 of them? Could Herkimer make a complete turnaround? It’s SO HARD TO SAY!!! And that’s what I love about NJCAA lacrosse. It’s not easy.
Who else will step up and be recognized? Ancilla in Indiana finished the year at 6-4, and while they need to play more top NJCAA teams, can they make a rapid ascension of the ladder? What about Mercyhurst NE? They’re the only NJCAA lacrosse school in PA, and their D2 counterpart Mercyhurst has been able to draw in talent over the years. Will we see a brand new team enter the fray and see immediate success?
This is the basic question every year… WHO’S NEXT? And I love asking it. 2018 can’t come soon enough.
To all the players, coaches, SIDs, parents, photographers, fans, NJCAA admins, video producers… the list goes on and on… THANK YOU. 2017 was a landmark year NJCAA men’s lacrosse, and YOU are the reason for this.
But don’t rest on your laurels (or your ass). If you were involved this year, you still owe the game something.
Talk to friends who are not in school about getting back in the academics/lacrosse game. Find more teammates, more people you know who need an opportunity. Work your butt off this offseason. Come back in better shape, with better skills, than you thought possible. Push yourself to be even better. Make 2018 your year, whether you’re playing another season of JuCo, have moved on to an NCAA/NAIA/MCLA/NCLL school, or are playing men’s club ball. If you’re coaching, make sure the kids get an unforgettable season, for all the right reasons.
If you’re done with the game (for now, right?), give back to your program in other ways. Even small donations help, but if you can’t afford money, offer up your time or help out with an lacrosse alumni organization. If your program doesn’t have an alumni organization, start one!
Find a way to give back to the game that has already given you so much. Work for continued improvement in the NJCAA, for your program, and for yourself and those you love. Lacrosse is a beautiful gift, so this offseason, be a giver of gifts (and work your tail off at whatever you’re doing!).
I wish you all nothing but the best.