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Viewing Guide Part I: The NCAA Division III National Championship Lacrosse Game

Part One: Tufts’ Players

In my three-part preview of the DIII championship game between the Tufts Jumbos and the Salisbury Sea Gulls, we’ll take an in-depth look at the key players for the Jumbos.  With fans on both sides having limited opportunities to have seen the other team in action this year, this “who’s who” of both squads (Part Two coming soon!) should help frame the X’s and O’s preview that is coming in Part III. Without further adieu…

The Tufts Jumbos

D.J. Hessler, Attack: This man needs no introduction but I will give one anyway.  The preeminent feeder in college lacrosse right now (yes, that includes the big boys of D1), Hessler is the man that makes everything work for the Jumbos. As a feeder, he is unparalleled with both hands and his first two steps are as quick as any player in the DIII game. The separation created by his change of direction ability allows him to feed with impunity coming out of a dodge. That quickness also allows him to turn the corner with his right hand if the defender gets his feet messed up trying to catch up to Hessler. He lacks a powerful outside shot and is not a threat to score with the stick in his left hand, but those are the only blemishes on an excellent skill set.

DJ hessler08
All-American DJ Hessler leads the charge for the Jumbos.

Ryan Molloy, Attack: He is a jack-of-all-trades whose versatility provides a vital balance to the Tufts starting attack. He will spend a lot of time inside paired with Kirwan and is an excellent finisher in close thanks to extremely quick hands and a deft sense of where to be in order to free himself up for a quickstick. While not a threat to take a pole on the perimeter, Molloy is more than capable of dodging past a short stick and drawing a slide, in addition to being able to take advantage of a defenseman who takes a bad angle or gives him an opening, particularly in transition. While perhaps a bit unheralded by his linemates’ lofty standards, Molloy is a key cog in the offensive juggernaut.

Sean Kirwan, Attack: One-dimensional as a player, but when you’re as good as Kirwan is at catching and scoring within five yards of the crease it doesn’t matter if you have other skills. Even more so than Molloy, Kirwan can find space inside even with a pole draped over him and put a quickstick past the goalie before the pole can land a check. Kirwan will make you pay for ball-watching or sloppy off-ball play with slick cuts and easy goals.

Matt Witko, Midfield: The biggest name in the Tufts midfield, Witko is something of a volume scorer. He loves to shoot on the run, even under duress from a pole, or from distances that would discourage many others from shooting. That means he does tend to settle for shots, but he will sometimes land a spectacular shot like his NESCAC title game-winner this year from about 14 yards on the run from left to right. That’s right.  He wasn’t even running towards the goal and he rose up and stung one against an All-NESCAC goalie. When you’re finished murmuring in amazement, take the time to appreciate that he can shoot with both hands which gives him the benefit of being able tododge in either direction. His combination of significant size and decent speed makes himone of the tougher covers in DIII.

Tufts Salisbury Lacrosse Lax
What a season...

Kevin McCormick, Midfield: McCormick’s emergence this year has helped to ensure the continued effectiveness of the Tufts offense. McCormick spent most of his year punishing the SSDM’s that tried to stick with him. Very quick with a decent shot, he is particularly fond of dodging down the alley and rolling back for a quick lefty shot. His shooting is not elite and his shot selection reflects this, as he avoid some of the shots that Witko takes.Diss

Nick Rhoads, Faceoff Specialist: A big, strong player who is solid but not elite at the X.  His stick protection as well as his defense leave something to be desired. He is not afraid to go to the goal and force the issue if he thinks he has an offensive opening.

Sam Diss, Midfield: Diss is here to represent all of Tuft’s SSDM’s, of which he is the most dangerous. He is the best 1 v. 1 defender of the group and is very athletic (a defensive back in football as well for Tufts). He will use that athleticism to attack the goal in transition.  As a group, the Tufts SSDM’s are extremely aggressive in attempting to create offense inunsettled situations.

Alec Bialosky, Longstick Midfielder: Bialosky is the X-factor for the Jumbos. As adefender, he is very good but not great. He has a tendency to gamble for big checks instead of relying on good positional defense as evidenced by his over-the-head check in the waning seconds of the Cortland game last year that required a Steve Foglietta save to bail him out, and send Tufts to their first national championship. A year later, very little has changed in this respect. Where Bialosky excels is between the lines, as he is capable of creating offense against a short-stick and has a powerful, accurate shot that he gets off despite often absorbing a significant amount of contact in the process. He is an elite scorer as far as poles go and did so well as to register 4 goals in a game this year against Trinity.

Matt Callahan, Defense: Tufts’ best defender. Callahan is a fundamentally sound 1 v.1 defender with above-average athleticism and good size. While not an elite defender, Callahan provides a solid first option for defending the other team’s top attackman. He is most comfortable working from the wing or at X, and struggled when his attackman took him up top and used the extra space to create as a dodger. Callahan has a decent over-the-head check and can land it if his man gets lazy and hangs his stick.

Pat Watkins, Goalie: The key to Tufts’ defense, Watkins is a big kid with very good vision and quick hands. He is excellent on outside shots and can rise up and steal some inside looks that seem to be sure goals. He has played at an All-NESCAC level since being installed as the starter and likely would have been recognized as such had he started every game. Watkins excels at making a save and quickly outletting the ball the other way. Only a freshman, he seems destined to be an All-American in the future.