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Quint Kessenich’s NCAA Lacrosse First Round Recap

The pace was relentless. The shot clock era of playoff lacrosse delivered in a big way. Years ago these first round games were hide and seek of slowed down affairs and not very fan friendly. Saturday was awesome. The Ivy League stood proud and advanced in four of their six games. Delaware delivered the exclamation point on Sunday night, a shocker in the Swamp. Exuberant overflow crowds soaked up the action at Brown and Rutgers. It was a great weekend. Seven games remain on our way to crowning a NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Champion.

#1 Maryland (21) – Vermont (5)

The Catamounts overwhelmed Manhattan in their Wednesday play-in game. Vermont took their tenth straight game. A low RPI cost them a chance to be placed directly in the bracket and I feel they would have given seeds #3-8 everything they could handle. As it turned out, drawing Maryland in the first round is the fastest way to start your summer.

The Terps’ 21-5 victory showed air tight schemes. Where is the window of weakness to exploit? I didn’t see any.

The Terps scored nine consecutive goals in the first half. The victory of 16 goals set a record for largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game in Maryland history. The Maryland offense struggled a little bit early before the second midfield accelerated things into turbo. Anthony DeMaio has been on a year. Sixteen different Terps had points. Defense was stout throughout. Maryland hasn’t always played great in this first round, coming off finals, and so this was a warning flare to the nation.

FOGO Luke Weirman won 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) on Sunday. He’s been a machine all spring. Coach John Tillman is now 25-9 in NCAA tournament games.

Virginia (17) – #8 Brown (10)

An electric environment of 3,200 hovering fans in Providence was the backdrop for a heavyweight fight on Saturday under the lights.

Tied up 7-7 at halftime featured 51 total shots. Cavalier’s goalie Matt Nunes (16 saves) turned up the heat in the early third quarter becoming a brick wall as UVA built a 9-7 lead only to see Brown scrap their way back to a 9-9 tie with two goals in :27 seconds. Brown’s depth of scoring was on display as they got goals from all sorts of personnel. However Virginia would show their championship pedigree.

Virginia spurted to take a 13-9 advantage at the end of three quarters. Virginia FOGO Petey LaSalla was dialed in, his clamps and rakes gave UVA a 14-9 lead which bubbled to 17-9. Brown didn’t have another gear. When your defense isn’t making stops and you can’t win a faceoff bad things tend to get worse.

Connor Shellenberger ran the show. Long pole Ben Wayer was impactful. Finisher Peyton Cormier found rope when he wasn’t trying silly between the legs Instagram shots. UVA probed the interior for second half layups. The two time defending champs were +12 on groundballs, +9 on faceoffs and -6 in turnovers.

Coach Lars Tiffany, a Brown alumni clearly understood what this arena and battle would entail. His troops never flinched. Brown, valiant and spirited as they were, couldn’t hang for 60 minutes.

A 17-10 final margin places Virginia into the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals in the Horseshoe in Columbus against Maryland next Sunday. It’s a game worthy of Memorial Day.

I will break the quarterfinals down later in the week.

#5 Princeton (12) – Boston University (5)

The Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the merits of faceoff dominance, groundball control and active sticks that created turnovers. Watching the Ivy League tournament from home may have stung, but the rest, recovery and upgrade of their systems was shrewdly orchestrated by head coach Matt Madalon. Princeton was fresh and sharp. Defender George Baughan was the show stopper blanketing Boston’s attackmen in the coverage game, intercepting passes, blocking shots, scooping groundballs, and handling the ball cleanly up the field. The senior put on quite a show.

Princeton led 6 to 1 in the second quarter and held Boston University to 13 first half shots.

Boston University will grow from this NCAA playoff experience as this was their first lacrosse postseason bid in an historical year. They’ve been a great story this season, playing defense with their hair on fire along with riding and creating turnovers. Their seniors should be super proud. They’ve left the program better than they found it and have raised the bar for future Terriers.

Alex Slusher and Christian Ronda both recorded hat tricks. Sam English was omnipresent, a true throwback two-way 60 minute man. The Tigers showcased more depth on defense and goalie Erik Peters ate up nearly everything the Terriers threw at him. Shorty Beau Pederson is a monster in the middle of the field with mates Luke Crimmins, Andrew Song, and Jake Stevens. Their work gave Boston a migraine headache. FOGO Tyler Sandoval tilted the field for Princeton all day long and never gave Boston a chance to build a run.

It Was Princeton’s first NCAA lacrosse playoff win since 2009 as they held the uber productive BU attackman trio to double bagels. They’d been averaging 13.3 points per game. Princeton was slow to slide as the Patriot League Champions could not win any matchups on the perimeter. Boston needed to earn the slide. They couldn’t.

The Tigers snapped a two-game losing streak in emphatic style and march to Hofstra for the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals

#4 Yale (18) – Saint Joseph’s (16)

This game had a wickedly frenetic pace. Scoring came early, often and in bunches. Making defensive stops was in short supply. Yale outlasted St Joe’s on Saturday afternoon 18-16. The Bulldogs advance to Hofstra to play Princeton.

Yale’s #54 ranked defense continues to flounder. Goalie Jared Pacquette finished with 16 saves and was a bright spot amongst the confusion. Whether it’s poor on ball coverage, bad slides and recoveries – this unit is a ticking time bomb. They’ve given up 102 goals in their last seven appearances – an average of 14.6 GPG.

The attack trio of Matt Brandau, Leo Johnson, and Chris Lyons each contributed six points. Hawk FOGO Zach Cole was dominant in the first half. Yale added James Ball to their faceoff rotation in the second half; a player who’d only taken 28 draws during the regular season. Ball won 4 of 6 in the third quarter and 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter and proved to be the most unlikely hero. The young Eli’s benefit from depth across the board. Yale played 60 minutes with zest, hunting goal scoring opportunities for four full quarters.

#3 Penn (11) – Richmond (10)

Penn escaped with a home overtime 11-10 win over Richmond. 2,061 fans soaked up this nail biter at Penn Park, as Franklin Field was being used for graduation.

Richmond was :49 seconds and one clear away from the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals. Credit Penn senior Ben Bedard for creating the game making turnover. With a one goal lead, Richmond played not to lose, a cardinal sin in lacrosse for those who remember the Towson vs Maryland in the NCAA first round game in 2019. In the shot clock era, it never pays to stall when you’re up one goal or tied. Extend your lead. Pull away. Don’t wait to get caught. If in doubt, throw the ball down the field, cheap it. Ice the puck and ride. Time is on your side. A turnover in your own zone is the one play that can’t happen.

Penn freshman sniper Ben Smith finished with five goals including the game winner and was the hero of the day, although his post game fish celebration wasn’t quite up to par. Sam Handley was his usual dominating self with three goals. The Quakers were +9 on faceoffs, and goalie Patrick Burkinshaw once again looked rock solid.

Penn is banged up, not particularly deep, and got no goals from non starters. The Quakers were fortunate to survive and advance. They go the distance. Battle tested for sure. You have to admire the toughness of this bunch. A normal six day week of prep, recovery with academics in the rear window will have them back at their best next Saturday on Long Island.

The Quakers have now played nine games decided by two or fewer goals. They’ve won five one-goal games. They live on the edge, they’ve become must see TV.

#6 Rutgers (19) – Harvard (9)

Ross Scott scored eight times, seven of them in the second half, as the Scarlet Knights sent Harvard packing in front of 5,212 rowdy fans at Yurcak Field. Bada bing. Bada bang. Bada boom. It was a fabulous day to be a Scarlet Knight.

Scott is a jackrabbit. He hit on 8 of 11 shots and left defenders in the dust. His acceleration and change of direction are elite. Since the Penn State comeback win a few weeks ago, he’s been the go-to guy.

Harvard is ahead of schedule under coach Gerry Byrne. After beating Colgate 7-6, the Crimson lost four of their last five games. The lopsided 19-9 score had backers of Notre Dame and Duke once again chirping at the selection committee. They had good reason to be upset.

Rutgers has 27 seniors on their roster. Harvard has 24 freshmen, many of whom play starting roles. The age, experience, and physical maturity difference was obvious. Rutgers owned all the one-on-one matchups and when they didn’t, goalie Collin Kirst bailed them out. He was explosive. Controlled all of his rebounds and burst outside the crease to scoop up grounders while clearing the ball with perfect passes. When’s he is on, there is no better netminder in the game. His time is now.

Transfers Mitch Bartolo and Brian Cameron along with Jersey native Shane Knobloch were a handful to cover. Rutgers shorties Cole Daninger, Tommy Coyne, Zack Franckowiak, and Brennan Kamish were sturdy on the perimeter. Nick Teresky dished out three assists.

RU shot 19 of 47.

Rutgers reruns to the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals at Hofstra. They lost a heart breaker to UNC on that field in 2021, when fourth quarter clearing issues submarined their season. That experience goes a long way next week. They are right where they wanted to be.

#7 Cornell (15) – Ohio State (8)

Cornell spurted away from the Buckeyes, pouring it on with an impressive first round victory.

Gavin Adler and CJ Kirst were the heroes. Kirst found the net seven times. Adler shut down Buckeye quarterback Jack Myers. Weather delays and an early 4-0 deficit would not derail the Big Red. The 15-8 win was decided by a 10-2 run in the second and third quarters. A 21-9 groundball advantage and 21-7 shot advantage in that time period speaks of domination. 2,149 fans in Ithaca had to be proud of this team who have continually played with grit and effort in 2021.

The attack line of John Piatelli, CJ Kirst, and Michael Long were a matchup problem for OSU. They combined for 12 goals. Chayse Ierlan made 13 stops and scored a goal on a long range bomb against the ten man ride.

Delaware (10) – #2 Georgetown (9)

The Blue Hens dispatched Robert Morris on Wednesday at home, scoring a season high 20 goals. They entered the Sunday game with confidence after defeating Johns Hopkins for the first time in program history and Saint Joseph’s during the regular season. The Hawks strong showing at Yale had to give them hope. Delaware lost to UMass, Villanova, and Hofstra before starting what is now a seven-game win streak.

The late Sunday game has a history of being wonky. No.2 seeds also have been vulnerable in the NCAA tournament for some odd reason. Combine that with a 45 minute lightning delay and the Hoyas had too much time to think about destiny. Softened by their Big East schedule, the burden of pressure had them gripping their sticks too tight. Delaware moonwalked over their dreams on the way to Columbus.

The Hens got off to a fast start. That’s key for confidence. They played to win. They didn’t play to keep it close and hope to win. Four goals in the first quarter showed they meant business.

The Hen’s offense got stagnant in the second and third quarters. It made you wonder whether they had the legs to pull this one out. Meanwhile, goalie Matt Kilkeary and defenders Kevin Lynch, Owen Grant, and Tate Wasson made the Hoyas earn it. Grant was perhaps the best player on the field. He was impactful on every possession, a real menace and finished with four groundballs and three caused turnovers.

Their 4-1 lead dissipated into a 5-4 deficit. Then it became 7-5, 8-6 and 9-7. They clung within striking range, always within a flurry of something big.

Once Mike Robinson hit the behind the back shot, all the energy and juice was on their side. Drew Lenkaitis then Ty Kurtz tied the score at 9-9 with 2:13 to play. JP Ward scored the game winner from the high right slot with :08 second to go. How was he so open?

History repeats itself. A few weeks ago I had former Hen defender Evan Washburn on my podcast and he discussed the improbable Delaware run to championship weekend in 2007. A year that saw them beat No.2 seed UVA on the road in the NCAA lacrosse tournament. They did it again on Sunday night.

The Hens canned their shots late, capitalizing on the few opportunities that arose. They hit on 4 of 9 shots in the final quarter. They stayed out of the penalty box and held sharp shooter Dylan Watson to no goals on five shots. The Hoyas shot 1 of 10 in the final quarter.

Shorty Will Godine broke this thumb this week in practice and did not play against Delaware. His absence hurt two ways. Dylan Hess ran more shifts on defense and less on offense and this impacted both units production. You don’t need depth until you do. Those who don’t invest in their depth early in the year pay the price when injuries hit. 

Georgetown’s lack of depth caught up with them. They played just 19 guys. No bench scoring and no second midfield production shifted too much reliance on too few.

The night belonged to Delaware. They started with fire and finished with dynamite.