With the NAIA season in full swing, we have started to see arguably the most parity we’ve ever seen in the NAIA. Some teams who have traditionally been at the top of the league are faltering and some new names are rising up the rankings. This year’s tournament will look much different than last and we might have a new front-runner leading the pack.
This week I’ll recap the Top 5 games that had the biggest effect on the NAIA landscape:
#5 Indiana Tech (13) – #3 Cumberlands (5)
Early in the season, this Indiana Tech team was a team of two halves. They struggled to get started early in games, and would have to rely on strong second halves. Last week they finally put together a full four quarters when taking down #8 William Penn. They followed that victory up with another full four quarters in this game.
They finished the first quarter with a 3-0 lead and never looked back. Cumberlands had every opportunity to make this their game, with FO Nik Kubik going 17-22, they had an advantage in the number of possessions. Kyle TwoBulls stood strong in net behind a lockdown defense led by Tom Piotrowski which prevented the Patriots from gaining any momentum. Louis Czech led the way offensively for the Warriors, with 4 goals and 2 assists.
Indiana Tech looks like one of the strongest teams in the NAIA and are probably hoping to find themselves in a rematch with Reinhardt in the distant future.
Madonna (9) – #1 Reinhardt (14)
Coming off of their first loss after 39 straight wins, Reinhardt was looking to revert back to their old ways. In the first quarter they led 3-0 and looked poised to make it another dominating win. However, in the second quarter Jeff Varner and the Crusader defense stepped up. On the opposite side of the ball, Ian Rush and the rest of the offense came alive and made it 4-4 heading into the half. Rush kept up the pressure in the second half and had his squad leading 8-7 heading into the fourth.
After an early goal gave Madonna a 2 goal advantage, what might have been an upset quickly turned into a blowout the other way. The Eagles finished with 7 unanswered goals to escape another shocking loss.
Lawrence Tech (7) – #2 Keiser (6)
After handing Reinhardt their first loss of the year in the game prior, Keiser put a target on their backs as the best team in the NAIA. That game lasted two overtimes and likely had a lasting effect on the bodies of the Seahawks players. Lawrence Tech came into town and played their own brand of physical lacrosse which caught Keiser by surprise.
Samuel Pickelhaupt and Jake Kidd combined for 7 caused turnovers and prevented Keiser from getting any momentum out of their offense. Maverick Muscat and Eli Lozinski each had 3 points for the Blue Devils. This game could have been a lot worse if not for 18 saves out of Cole George in net for Keiser.
#10 Columbia (8) – #3 St. Ambrose (15)
After Reinhardt’s first loss in years and Keiser getting upset by Lawrence Tech, the No.1 spot in the NAIA was up for grabs. The Fighting Bees didn’t shy away from the pressure going up against conference rival Columbia.
Both teams came out strong in the first and the Cougars took an early 2-1 lead. From that point on, the Bees would go on a 9-1 run to end the half, this was in large part thanks to Hunter Northway who won every single faceoff in the first half allowing St. Ambrose to play “make it take it” lacrosse. It was pretty even the rest of the way but Columbia could never get enough momentum to stage a comeback. Shakerin, Keating, and Danner each had a hat trick for St. Ambrose.
Tennessee Wesleyan (14) – Ottawa (5)
These two teams are receiving votes and looking to crack into the Top 10, with the winner of this game likely to do so. The Bulldogs are a very methodical team, they dominate faceoffs and then take long lasting possessions to wear down the opposing defense. When they control the ball for the majority of the game, their opponents can’t get any rhythm and don’t have a lot of opportunities to score. That was exactly the case in this game.
Kyle Gasior again dominated, winning 16 of 23 faceoffs. Jackson Lollis poured in 5 goals to lead the way on offense for the Bulldogs. The Demarco Brothers, Vincent and Brandon, couldn’t get much going for the Braves offense. Both goalies played solid with Christopherson and Hall had 11 and 12 saves respectively.
NAIA Players of the Week
Offense – Dillan Bousquet – A, Sr., Reinhardt – in 3 games: 14 Goals, 8 Assists, 8 Groundball.
Defense – Hunter Northway – FO, Sr., St. Ambrose – in 2 games: 33-43, 23 Groundballs