Wilson’s Wheelhouse: NCAA Finals Edition
The end of the college lacrosse season is rapidly approaching and by about 6pm on Monday May 31st, it will be over (barring an 8 OT game in the D1 Finals). But don’t fret because the last hurrah of action is some of the absolute best you’ll see all year. These are the games you work towards all year and where you pull out all the stops. Each NCAA division features some unbelievably interesting games and we’re right here to break it all down for you.
On Saturday the Division 1 Semifinals are on tap and that’s always a particularly excellent brew. 2 games featuring 4 of the top teams in the country equals consistent awesomeness. I’ve been to a number of Final Fours and the Semis usually produce some very exciting plays, goals and final scores.
Duke takes on Virginia in an all ACC Semi and this game has instant classic written all over it. You’ve got two teams that have both been maligned by lacrosse outsiders and insiders alike, by off-the-field incidents. Both of these programs would like nothing more than for people to start talking about what they’re doing on the field again so it provides an extra incentive. Throw in the fact that these two are huge rivals and this could easily be the game of the year.
Duke has rotated goalies in recent weeks and while both are good, neither has shown the flashes of brilliance that the UVA goalie, Adam Ghitelman, displayed last week against Stony Brook. He also uses a dyed goalie head so props for that. Back to Duke’s goalies… they’ve seen shooters and have seen Viriginia’s shooters twice but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop them.
If the Brattons can hit corners early, it could get ugly but if the Duke keeper du jour steps up and makes some saves and that forces Virginia to take forced shots, Duke could roll. I don’t know that either of those things is going to happen though because Duke has a really solid and athletic set of longpoles and Virginia has so many weapons, they can always match up on a shortie if need be. So basically, I think it’s going to be even. Groundbreaking, I know.
The real game changing match up is on the other end of the field where Duke attackman, Ned Crotty, and Virginia Dman, Ken Clausen, will undoubtedly tangle. I could see Virginia putting someone else on Crotty but Clausen may be the only one on that D with the footspeed to cover Crotty, who should be a shoe-in for the Tewaraaton. The problem will come for Virginia if Clausen gets greedy and throws takeaway checks. Playing takeaway on Crotty is simply not an option if you want win.
In the other Semi, Notre Dame takes on Cornell and this game has the potential to be low-scoring but exciting, all at the same time. Cornell will need to move the ball, get good inside looks and spread the field. By spreading their sets on O, Cornell can force the Notre Dame D to extend, cut to the ball and then look for backside goals. The Notre Dame D is strong with players who can both run with offensive players and move the ball in transition.
On O, Notre Dame will look for possessions and good shots. A lot of team do that but ND does so more methodically than most. The Irish feel like they can win games by only scoring around 10 goals and they like to dodge the wing, move the ball and then re-dodge once the D is out of position. Coach Corrigan has been able to install very solid game plans recently and I would look for that trend to continue.
I like Cornell in this game but only if they are able to score and then get the ball back on face offs. If ND dominates at the face off square and goalie, Scott Rodgers, has a big game, Cornell could be in for a long day.
The D2 NCAA Final on Sunday features two New York teams; one of the Upstate variety in LeMoyne and one of the Long Island typology in CW Post. The LeMoyne Dolphins (really, dolphins? you’re in Upstate!) were almost everyone’s number 1 until they lost to Merrimack in their final pre-NCAA game but they were already in based off of their regional strength so I tend to discount that result somewhat.
CW Post barely got by a solid Dowling squad last weekend, while LeMoyne beat Limestone (SC) in the other Semi. CW Post relies heavily on their face off domination and they need their goalie to show up with big saves from time to time. They struggled in this area earlier in the year but changed goalies and have since seen a big improvement between the pipes.
If Post’s D can keep LeMoyne at bay when they do get the ball and if Post’s poles can clear the ball without too many turnovers, Post will take it in a close one and repeat as National Champs. If LeMoyne can ride effectively, they can generate lots of quick strike goals and can push the envelope if they get a lead. Post can play catch up, as they did last weekend, but they would prefer to get out in front, maintain possessions and force the D to push out.
Also playing on Sunday are Salisbury and Tufts, and they do so for a chance to be crowned D3 NCAA Champs. This is Salibury’s 1000th trip to the Finals and Tufts’ first trip. Salisbury and Tufts both have really solid D-poles and while both can throw a lot of checks, they are also both athletic and prefer to run with their offensive players.
Salisbury is diverse and talented on offense and have players on the defensive end that can push transition. Tufts has had quarter long lapses in certain games this year and that simply can not happen if the Jumbos want to win as Salisbury will make you pay if you let up at all.
Tufts loves pushing transition and they have the athletes to do it. Attackman, DJ Hessler, runs the show on O for Tufts and he can be effective settled or in transition although he really flourishes in odd man situations. Tufts needs to win face offs, push the ball down the throat of the Gulls and never let up.
Salisbury is the favorite to win and if Tufts suffers any let down, the Gulls will make good. If Tufts puts together a complete game and their keeper shines, I like the Jumbos to take home their first National Championship.
Overall, there is a ton of lax action this weekend (especially if you throw in the MLL games!) and it will be the best we’ve seen all year as the stakes just don’t get any higher. It’s a fine time to be a lax fan so get out there and enjoy! Or sit at home and watch it unfold on TV.[photo credits: Lax.com] ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
About the Author: Connor is a life-long lacrosse player who doesn’t know when to give up on the game. He played and coached at Wesleyan University and now plays for the Southampton LC in NYC. Connor lives with his fiance in Brooklyn and thanks her for allowing him to keep the dream alive.
Contact him at email@example.com.