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2018 NCAA Division II & III National Championships: Wesleyan, Merrimack win first ever titles

The Cardinals produced a mild upset over Salisbury in the D3 title game, while the Warriors dominated Saint Leo from the start in the D2 game.

Wesleyan top photo: Steve McLaughlin, Merrimack bottom photo: Jim Stankiewicz

FOXBOROUGH, M.A. — With the day off in the Division I Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, the Division II and Division III championships took place inside a dreary Gillette Stadium in front of 21,198 fans.

Division III National Championship

Steve McLaughlin

Wesleyan went through a gauntlet to get to the national championship game against Salisbury, defeating Cortland, Cabrini, Tufts, and RIT in the first four rounds. Head coach John Raba called it a “murderer’s row.” Tufts and RIT came on the road, so the Cardinals have been battle tested before.

Against the two-time defending national champion Sea Gulls, Wesleyan started out strong with an opening four goal run for half of their goals on the day. But Salisbury went on a 3-0 run to trim the Cardinal lead to one goal. Senior attackman Harry Stanton scored his second goal of the game with 3:07 left to give Wesleyan the 5-3 halftime lead.

But the Sea Gulls got the first goal in the third quarter from Josh Melton to make it a one-goal game once again. But Wesleyan responded with a three-goal run to pretty much put this game away, even though Salisbury responded with two goals in the final frame to win 8-6.

This was a goal that Stanton said began in his sophomore season.

“We felt like we were right there and we had what it took to win those games,” Stanton said. “And we walked away our sophomore year. Then junior year is one of those years where we broke through and we went on that incredible 20-game win streak. I think the moment was a little too big up in RIT last year in 2017. We were down nine. We actually got through the first quarter, and it just felt like we were just happy to be there, and we were. But this year there was a different mentality.

“After last season we started our season with the legitimate goal of winning a National Championship. Maybe freshman year we would say that, but, you know, wouldn’t believe it as much as we probably could. And last year coming into preseason that was the goal. When we talk about ups and downs, in the Coast Guard game, everyone wants to talk about that. But when we talk about ups and downs, a lot of people say it but don’t mean it. We actually went through it. We lost to Tufts twice, lost in the [NESCAC] championship, we could have folded, but we decided we had bigger goals this year.”

Raba credited senior LSM Ben Shively with making a big play toward the end of the game with a ground ball to slow down possession. Raba mentioned the adversity the team faced this season, especially revolving around Shively and his father prior to the first Tufts game.

“His father passed away two days before the Tufts game, and our entire team was down with Ben on Friday,” Raba said. “We drove down to New York, came back, and got on the bus with no practice. We got on the bus and played Tufts the next day.”

Jake Cresta led the Cardinals’ zone defense with three caused turnovers, while Shively, attackman Ronan Jacoby, and Chad Malinowski added two caused turnovers of their own. Out of Salisbury’s 15 turnovers, 11 of them were caused by Wesleyan.

Stanton was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He’s the program’s all-time leader in goals scored with 224 and finishes his career scoring goals in 56 consecutive games, dating back to the 2016 season.

Division II National Championship

Jim Stankiewicz

Merrimack started the game against Saint Leo with a 7-0 run that lasted into the second quarter. After the Lions’ first goal with 13:55 left in the second quarter, the Warriors scored eight more in a row en route to a record-setting 23-6 win for their first ever national championship. The Warriors fell to Limestone 11-9 last year in Foxborough in the national championship game.

The Warriors’ 23 goals tied an NCAA Championship Game record for all three divisions, tying Division II marks by UMBC in 1980 and Hobart in 1977. The margin of victory (17 goals) was the most across all three divisions in an NCAA Championship Game.

Freshman attackman Christian Thomas scored a hat-trick and dished out seven assists in the win, while Charlie Bertrand and Jack Trask scored four times, with Bertrand adding two caused turnovers. Another freshman attackman, Sean Black contributed with three goals and four assists.

The Lions were playing in their first ever national championship after beating Tampa in overtime and Lenoir-Rhyne in the South region. Many didn’t expect them to get there, but they did just that.

Thomas was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

In all four games this weekend in Foxborough, the winning team has started the game with a run of at least four goals.