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Wilson’s Wheelhouse: NCAA Tourney is POPPING Edition

Last weekend was certainly a lacrosse bonanza both online and on TV.  This weekend is no different and there are huge games in all 3 NCAA divisions.  To shake things up a bit, we’ll start with Division Three and work our way up.

Tufts, out of the NESCAC, travels to Upstate NY to take on SUNYAC Champion Cortland.  Cortland dropped two early games, each by 2 goals or less, to Gettysburg and Salisbury.  From that point on, while they did see some close games, they were perfect.  Cortland has a strong attack line and one of the best do-it-all middies in the game in Chris DeLuca.  They also have a young but now tested D and a freshman goalie in Mike Kaminski who has stepped up this year when the Red Dragons needed him.

Tufts plays transition lacrosse and they have the athletes to do it.  Their goaltending has been a question mark all year but their fast and tough D, led by Eytan Saperstein has been able to shoulder a lot of the burden.  Tufts has had a string of really solid goalies before the current starter, so this is somewhat of a change for them.  However, the offense is still the same and it still gets the job done.  DJ Hessler runs the show for the Jumbos and they have big shooters all over the place.

Cortland was my early number 1 and I like them to take this game although my NESCAC allegiances and thirst for new National Champions persuades me to hope for Tufts to pull off the upset.

In the Southern Bracket we see a re-rematch of the Stevenson-Salisbury games.  Each team took one during the regular season by at least 4 goals but I think this one could be just a bit tighter.  Jimmy Dailey, Steve Kazimer, Richie Ford and the Stevenson Mustangs barely got by Roanoke in OT and a big part of that was the Stevenson goalie had upwards of 25 saves.  Stevenson has a literal stable of guys who can play and a revamped D that is stepping up.  They play fast and loose, just like Salisbury used to do.

Salisbury now plays a little more disciplined lacrosse and its been paying off.  They don’t have the same takeaway, game changer on D but LSM Conor Burgasser comes pretty close.  The D is different but still top notch and the previous sentence is not meant as a slight whatsoever, just an observation in a change of style.  On O, Salisbury has a balanced approach that features a good mix of guys who can beat you a lot of ways.  Not a lot of D3 teams can say that, hell, not a lot of D1 teams can say that!

Salisbury has been THE Division 3 program for the past decade, at least.  Sure, Middlebury and Cortland have made their mark but the past 15 years probably belong to the Gulls.  So I’m going with Stevenson.  Things have been changing all over the D3 landscape and this is going to be the year it happens.  Or we’ll see Cortland-Salisbury again.  That’s actually OK too.

Division 2 gets a rough draw when selecting its teams because they only get FOUR teams into the NCAAs.  Yes, four.  I know; unreal.  This year Dowling, CW Post and Mercyhurst all played each other once and won on the road.  CW Post took the AQ from the region, Dowling got the single at-large bid and Mercyhurst was left out.  LeMoyne and Limestone took the other two Region AQs.  That’s tough.

CW Post hosts Dowling and when someone says, “Post”, someone else says, “Mike Cama“.  Cama is around 72% in face off wins and has been dominant.  He’s a game changer and with the graduation of some pretty solid players on offense, possessions are that much more important.  And Mike Giordano will need to be good in goal for Post if they want to take down Dowling.  He was a big part of the reason they beat Mercyhurst a few weeks back.

Dowling has some real talent on attack and it’s somewhat of a let the players play system for the Lions.  I like that.  They placed two attackmen on their conference’s first team and their conference is the best in D2 and they have Canadians on their roster and if there’s one thing we know about NCAA lacrosse these days, it’s that you simply gotta have some Canadians.  The Dowling D is also pretty strong and Post will be hoping Cama can generate some transition O off the face offs.  I’m not going to comment on who I want to win or who I think will win because I’m providing the color commentary for the webcast.  Professionalism.  Should be a great game though!

On the other side of the bracket LeMoyne hosts Limestone out of Gaffney, SC.  Yup, South Carolina.  Limestone has maybe 900 students and they’re in South Carolina.  They’ve also won 2 National Championships and have made a number of SemiFinal appearances.  LeMoyne, on the other hand, is in a lacrosse hotbed in Upstate NY and they have won 3 NCs.  LeMoyne is the favorite in this game even though they just lost to Merrimack in OT in the NE-10 Championship Game.  They got in by still having the number one ranking in the North Region.

On a totally irrelelvant side note, both of these teams have wonderful uniforms.  I know it’s superficial but D2 really delivers when it comes to their uniforms.  Why this NCAA division doesn’t get more respect baffles me.  However, with the expansion of the sport to places like California and Arizona, I hope a West Region is added and at least 6 teams get into the NCAAs.  It needs to happen.  I think D2 is poised for growth in the next 10 years, mostly in non-traditional areas, and really hope to see it happen.

The big boys in D1 have been disected by everyone from Quint to your 5th string attackman.  The match-ups are great and we’re seeing traditional powers but also a lot of new faces.  Seeing a new champion in division one would be pretty amazing and teams like Notre Dame, Duke and Stony Brook must be salivating if they weren’t already, especially with the departure of Syracuse at the hands of Army.

Cornell is a familiar face and they take on the giant killers out of West Point.  Cornell is a really solid team and I think they’ll take this one and dash Army’s dream but I would be surprised if goalie Tom Palesky and the rest of the Black Knights have other plans.  If they can do well on face offs and have productive offensive possessions, they can pull it off.

Duke plays UNC and everything points to Duke, which is exactly why I like UNC.  This Duke team is totally different than any of its predecessors, so much so that they just changed goalies a week or two ago!  However, when all signs point to Duke, they have often choked.  Combine that with something special at UNC and booya, the Heels take it.

Notre Dame is taking on another very strong ACC team in Maryland.  Notre Dame has a top notch goalie in Scott Rodgers.  If Maryland rushes shots, they will lose.  If they are patient and wait for great looks, they will win.  It’s really that simple.

Virginia is the fourth and final ACC school to offer lacrosse.  They are also the fourth and final ACC school in the QuarterFinals.  Why more ACC schools don’t offer lacrosse might be the single most confusing thing to me on the face of the planet.  And don’t say Title IX because Knox already proved that to be categorically false.

Back to the game… The Wahoos take on Stony Brook, which features some talented, hard-nosed players.  Virginia just has too much talent and I can’t see them losing this one.  They’re the closest thing to lock we have in terms of making the SemiFinals, although I don’t expect them to win by more than 4-5 goals.

A good weekend.  SO. MUCH. LAX.

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.

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