By Matt Noonan
Before the first game of the 2014 college lacrosse season had been recorded, I thought, ‘could a Massachusetts team reach the NCAA semifinals or finals in May?”
The answer: Yes.
Tufts University, one of the teams I was eying at the end of February and early March, captured its second NCAA Division III crown with a 12-9 victory over Salisbury University on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens.
The Jumbos concluded the 2014 season as not only champions, but also record-holders in goals (423 goals, a new NCAA single-season record for all divisions) and assists (45 helpers in the postseason, a new NCAA record, too). They also finished with a program-best 21 victories and a 14-game winning streak.
Junior Cole Bailey, who registered a game-high six points on five helpers and one marker, was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player. Bailey was instrumental in helping the Jumbos rally from a 4-1 deficit in the second quarter to claim their second national crown in program history (Tufts defeated Salisbury for its first NCAA crown in 2010, but lost to the Sea Gulls a year later).
“I wouldn’t have that award without the guys who are playing with me,” Bailey told the media following the conclusion of Sunday’s championship. “They set me up for so many successful plays. It’s an honor to play with them, so that’s that.”
Bailey will return next year, but capping their four-year run with the Powder Blue and White were seniors Patton Watkins and Kane Delaney. Watkins, who is the unit’s goaltender, turned away 17 shots, including eight attempts in final stanza. Delaney recorded five ground balls.
“So honored to be a part of this. I couldn’t be happier right now,” Watkins told the media. “I don’t even know what to say. The emotions are just all over the place.
“It was so much fun.”
Tufts head coach Mike Daly, who guided the Jumbos to its fifth-straight New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) crown earlier this month with a 20-13 win over Amherst College, told the Boston Herald how proud he was of his seniors, as well as each member of the squad.
“I’m certainly proud of this team, all the guys, our senior class,” he said. “It’s an amazing achievement.”
The Jumbos are the only Massachusetts squad to capture the NCAA Division III crown since 1980, according to NCAA.com. Middlebury College – a school from Vermont and one of Tufts’ conference foes – has won a few titles, but hasn’t appeared in the championship since falling to the Sea Gulls in 2005.
While the win may or may not have set in for Daly and his players, this Jumbos squad will certainly be remembered for their high-powered offense, but also their passion for the game of lacrosse.
“The only thing that gets bigger in the second half is our smiles, and just go out there and show everyone how much fun we have playing this game, how much passion this team can play with, and just smile,” Daly said of his team’s halftime chat.
The passion was always on display. Whether they scored a goal or made a great stop on defense, the players exhibited their excitement both on and off the field.
Tufts will certainly be one of the team’s to keep an eye on next season, but so will Amherst, Endicott College, Springfield College and Western New England. And while we continue to eye these programs’ schedules and box scores, let’s also not forget about the remainder of the pack that continues to get stronger.
Becker College and Emmanuel College, two teams from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) should certainly improve next season (The Hawks will be moving to the NECC next spring). The Saints defeated the Hawks in the conference championship, while the Hawks fell short to Salve Regina in the ECAC title match. Both teams are well coached and have players that are excited to build on this particular year.
Other teams to watch include Lasell College, Babson College, Clark University, MIT, Regis College and Wheaton College. All six teams ended their respective campaigns with different marks, but showed signs that they’re going to be a lot better in the future. Babson, Clark, MIT and Wheaton all hail from the NEWMAC, and should certainly provide challenges for the Pride, who has won 56 consecutive conference games.
Also, let’s not forget about Williams College, a squad that defeated the national champions on April 1, but fell to the Jumbos in the NESCAC semifinals. The Ephs rarely played in Williamstown due to construction on their new turf field, but exhibited resiliency in each game and practice.
All in all, it was certainly a fun and exciting season for the local Division III squads. Expect the excitement to continue next season and beyond, but for the time being, let’s also enjoy this particular win for Tufts, as well as Massachusetts.
QUICK NOTE: Quotes from Tufts’ players came from the athletic department’s release on Sunday.