The 2014 season is complete -- *single tear* -- and that means that it's time for College Crosse to highlight the best of Division I lacrosse this year. These awards and certificates of amazing human achievement will appear in four parts. The honors, however, are not redeemable for any form currency, mostly because macroeconomics is a lie.
Sacred Heart at Holy Cross, April 8, 2014
There's nothing -- from a superficial level -- that stands out about Sacred Heart's 12-11 overtime defeat of Holy Cross in early April. The two teams entered the game -- a Tuesday night date that was overshadowed by Syracuse-Cornell and Lehigh-Princeton -- with a combined 6-15 record, a nonconference meeting that had little impact on the national landscape (so much so that only 189 people showed up at Holy Cross Field to watch). Yet, the Pioneers and Crusaders arguably played the wildest game of the season: Down eight goals -- 3-11 -- at the start of the fourth quarter, Sacred Heart uncorked eight consecutive goals in the final frame against Holy Cross -- taking fewer than 10 minutes to get the job done -- to tie the game at 11 with 2:54 remaining in regulation, netting the game-winning bucket 1:58 into overtime. The Pioneers scored nine unanswered goals in under 15 minutes to turn a guaranteed loss into the season's most dramatic rally. Four different players registered a goal in the run; Cody Marquis led the way with four hammers in the surge while Alex Miller chipped in three tallies of his own in the push. The most potent blast from Sacred Heart -- under first-year head coach Jon Basti -- came in a 3:19 span in which the Pioneers powered in five goals with each goal in the stretch taking less than a minute to generate.
Late-game rallies happen in Division I lacrosse, but Sacred Heart's power-punch to the Crusaders' soul stands as the most ridiculous comeback of the 2014 season.
Most Overachieving Team
There's no shame in overachieving (others may call it "luck"). Maximizing opportunities that are conducive to losses is difficult, but teams each season seem to find a way to generate victories when defeats should exist. Mercer was the most notable overachieving team of 2014: Expected to win around 27 percent of their games in an adjusted Pythagorean win expectation environment, the Bears finished the year with a 7-7 record, serving as the top seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. Going .500 when only three or four wins were expected from Mercer is highly impressive and the team's results bear out where the Bears made up ground: The team earned three one-goal wins -- against High Point (10-9), Lafayette (9-8), and Furman (9-8) -- and three victories -- against Boston University (17-6), Richmond (11-7), and High Point (10-9) -- in which Mercer was in a toss-up game scenario or was an underdog. This overachievement could serve as a platform for the Bears in 2015 or set the stage for the universe to recalibrate around Mercer. Regardless, Mercer deserves credit for finding seven wins when the team's performance expected a notably deflated record.
There has never been anything like the ACC in 2014 and there may not be another six-team league that matches what the ACC accomplished this past season. Not only was the ACC far and away the strongest conference in the nation -- LaxPower has the ACC as almost 3.5 goals better than the Ivy League (the nation's second-best conference) and rankings based on average adjusted Pythagorean win expectation have the ACC with a 76.22 expected win percentage, 18 percent stronger than the next closest league (no team in the ACC was expected to win less than 69 percent of its games) -- but the ACC was also the country's most intriguing conference, featuring a race that ranked first nationally in the standard deviation of the adjusted Pythagorean win expectations of the league's membership. Hell, in terms of average league winning percentage the conference finished with a 71.01 percent mark, almost 13 percent higher than THUNDERDOME!'s 58.39 percent value.
The ACC was -- top-to-bottom -- an assaultive force of concentrated power, one that featured few warts and demanded the near-hyperbolic attention that it received. The volume of television time dedicated to the ACC this season (NCAA Tournament games aside) was almost nauseating , but it was the good form of this-kind-of-makes-me-want-to-puke: We all got to witness arguably the greatest conference ever created.