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Wesleyan Salisbury NCAA D3 Championship Brian Witmer (23 of 24)

Wesleyan: National Champions! Cards Capture First Title over Salisbury

After years of program success, the Wesleyan Cardinals are the 2018 NCAA DIII Men’s Lacrosse National Champions, topping Salisbury 8-6.

WESLEYAN WINS! WESLEYAN WINS! The Wesleyan Cardinals are your DIII champs after beating the Seagulls of Salisbury 8-6. It was the first championship with Wesleyan and they had to work for it. Up to this point, it has been the closest game of the weekend. So, how did it all go down?

This game started out all Wesleyan. It wasn’t as fast of a start as Yale had over Albany yesterday, but it had the feel like it could be possible. But if you have seen Salisbury anytime in the Berkman Era, you know that is something that is not going to last for very long. He’ll make his adjustments and the Gulls will answer back however they need to.

Off to a Good Start

Wesleyan won the very first faceoff, settled it down and got their full offense out on the field. From there, it was just a well-executed dodge from Taylor Ghesquiere from the top right wing to score on their first shot. Salisbury was slow to slide and it was nice way to start things out for Wes. From there, the next faceoff was true ground ball battle, but it was an easy scoop from Ben Shively to win it backwards and setup another possession for the Cards.

That possession took more work and resulted in three shots before anything was bale to connect. It also relied on a push call against Salisbury on a loose ball to let the Cards keep it in their end. But the results was the same as the first time around. Christian Barker ran a nice sweep to win his 1-1 matchup and again, Salisbury had no slide. 2-0 Wesleyan.

Wesleyan Salisbury NCAA D3 Championship Brian Witmer
Photo: Brian Witmer

Wesleyan won an easy faceoff following that goal setting up a dodge from Harry Stanton on a restart and an nice bounce shot to go up 3-0. Three goals, and Salisbury hadn’t even touched it yet. While that’s not a major deficit, it was absolutely the difference in this game. Being down that much without your team even having a chance to look at a defense like Wesleyan’s is a major disadvantage.

After that third goal, Salisbury finally won their first faceoff, got their first possession, and used it to feel out the zone. They felt it out long enough to require a shot clock to be applied. They used a few dodges to see if they had matchups they liked, and nothing developed. Eventually they were called for in the crease, sending the ball back to Wesleyan. That led to an easy clear and goal number four. Seven minutes left in the first quarter and Salisbury officially had to regroup by calling a timeout.

Wake Up, Salisbury

From there, the regrouped Salisbury was able to make an impact. They scored on a bit of a miracle by scoring with just 1.8 seconds left on the clock in the first. Miracle goal aside, Wesleyan wouldn’t be able to answer back until deep into the second quarter. When adding that to the seven minutes in the first, that was a great stand by the Salisbury defense. In that time, the Gulls scored two more goals, and had it within one.

Like I said, the 3-0 start of Wesleyan was not gigantic, but it was enough. That 5-3 would stand the rest of the quarter and the cards took that lead into halftime.

Wesleyan Salisbury NCAA D3 Championship Brian Witmer (7 of 24)
Photo: Brian Witmer

After halftime, neither team had things going right away and were trading possessions for the first few minutes. It was Salisbury that would start the fun off by some gorgeous massing down the left alley, setting up a simple feed inside for a goal on the crease, making it a 5-4 game.

Wesleyan answered right back by winning the ensuing faceoff and scoring right away. They followed that up with another faceoff win and an alley dodge by Corey Aviles which was just his second goal of the entire season. 7-4.

Salisbury then had a man-up chance on their next possession, which they were unable to convert. Wesleyan then cleared and used a long possession to eventually feed the crease and score to double up Salisbury 8-4. That would be it for the third. And it would be the last time Wesleyan scored.

Salisbury only scored two more times, one was on a fast break, and the other on their standard settled offense working it around the outside.  The fast break goal is something that was in short supply in this game.

Wesleyan Salisbury NCAA D3 Championship Brian Witmer
Photo: Brian Witmer

Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said after the game he was not expecting a ton of transition opportunities against a team like Wesleyan. He acknowledged how it’s that same way the other way. They don’t give up transition opportunities through the season based on how they play. They want to force you to play their defense.

Nothing Short of Enjoyable

Despite the lack of transition opportunities and grinding defenses, this was still an exciting game to watch. There was a major lack of shot clock calls for both teams. They played deliberate, but they also were constantly looking for opportunities. Every pass Salisbury made had purpose and it was down with speed. They needed their ball movement to be timely and accurate. The trouble was, it wasn’t always like that.

Wesleyan did a great job disrupting passes and rotating to meet potential shooters. They knocked down passes and forced Salisbury into skip passes that would sometimes go high or wide. Their pressure also meant that when Salisbury finally did get a look, it was rushed. They needed to turn those into meaningful shots quickly, so they often were going wide, or could be saved.

Wesleyan’s offense on the other hand was a great blend of team offense and individual playmakers. They used great one on one dodges regularly while keeping a steady stream of shots flowing. Cards Coach John Raba credited Salisbury with being a team that forces you to do difference things, though. He said the mix of shutoffs, slides, and matchups they have can disrupt your offense and force you out of whatever scheme you had in your mind going in. That perfectly explained the drought the Cards went through in the last first and early second quarter when they needed to figure out a new way to attack the Salisbury cage.

Wesleyan Salisbury NCAA D3 Championship Brian Witmer
Photo: Brian Witmer

Run and Gun

Lacrosse is constantly called a “game of runs”. And that’s exactly what this was. The Cards won this game because of two runs and winning the faceoffs to fuel them. They opened the game with a 4-0 run. They scored three in a row in the third quarter and that was seven of their eight goals. In a low scoring defensive battle, those are big runs and it really mattered.

So a big congratulations to Wesleyan. I loved in the post game press conference how Harry Stanton mentioned two lasting ideas. The first was their desire to be a one of one team. They won their first championship appearance. Make it was a feat, but they knew they needed to be more than just happy to be there. The second point be made was recognizing how winning brings so much pride and joy to so many people. The Wesleyan cheering section showed up in force and nearly took up three entire sections of the stadium.

Wesleyan Salisbury NCAA D3 Championship Brian Witmer
Photo: Brian Witmer

Coach Raba joked afterwards that had they been given another week, they could have doubled that. So to LAS’ own Connor Wilson who is a proud Wesleyan alum, congratulations. This win is historic to the program and one that probably made the famously stoic Wes alum Bill Belichick smile. They played great lacrosse and have joined the illustrious ranks of a very sought after club: NCAA Champions.

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