By Matt Noonan
The Tufts University men’s lacrosse team will attempt to extend its current campaign to next Sunday, May 25 – the NCAA Division III National Championship. However, before the Jumbos book their plane tickets to Baltimore, Maryland, they’ll need to defeat the top team in the country: Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
Below is a quick preview of the Jumbos’ NCAA Division III semifinal contest, which is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 18.
The Matchup: For the fourth straight season, the Jumbos and Tigers will meet in the playoffs. And similar to 2011, this particular meeting will decide who advances to the title round.
Prior to the start of this year’s NCAA Division III Tournament, the Tigers were ranked number one in the United State Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) poll, while the Jumbos checked in as the sixth best team in the country (the last poll was released on Monday, May 5).
Tufts is coming off an impressive 15-5 win over SUNY Cortland, who earned a trip to Medford on Wednesday following a 14-10 victory against Springfield College. The Jumbos relied on its defense, including goaltender Patton Watkins, while the number one scoring offense in Division III (Tufts is averaging 18.75 goals per game, according to NCAA.com) did its job in helping the Powder Blue and White extend its season to Sunday.
RIT, which earned a first-round bye to commence the tournament, defeated Ithaca College and Union College to setup a date with the Jumbos. The Tigers’ offense is ranked third in the country in scoring offense (16.80), so defense could be the key for both squads.
Tufts’ Chris Schoenhut is second amongst all Division III players in goals per game, as the attack is averaging nearly four strikes per contest and leads his unit with 79 tallies.
Meet The Tigers: RIT claimed its 20th victory earlier this week when they defeated Union, 11-6. The Tigers’ 20 wins are the most in program history (last season and in 2011 they won 19 games).
Ryan Lee leads the Orange and Black with 72 points on 45 goals and 27 assists, Casey Jackson is second in points with 53 markers and 17 helpers. RIT has relied on three goaltenders this season, including Pat Johnston, who has started 15 of 16 games. Johnston leads the trio in saves (202), wins (15) and minutes (801:45).
As a team, the Tigers have scored 95 first quarter goals, 89 strikes in the second and 86 markers in the third. They have outscored their opponents, 336-165. They’re also 24-for-55 on man-ups. They’ve held their opponents to just 28 man-up markers on 83 attempts.
Tyler Brooks-Lambert has won 275 face-offs, and will certainly challenge Tufts’ Conor Helfrich (285 face-off wins) and Ryan Le (54 face-off wins) at midfield.
The Tigers, who finished their season undefeated, captured its third-straight Liberty League crown on Sunday, May 4 when they defeated Union, 13-11. RIT, which has appeared in the semifinals seven times in program history and will be making its second-straight trip, third in four years.
The Series: Tufts is 2-1 against the Tigers with all three meetings occurring in the postseason. Last year, the Tigers defeated the Jumbos in the quarterfinals, 14-5, while Tufts earned back-to-back wins over RIT in 2012 (quarterfinals) and 2011 (semifinals).
Up Next: A win would send RIT or Tufts to Baltimore next Sunday to face-off against the winner of Salisbury-Washington (Md.). Salisbury earned a semifinal bid with a 15-5 win over Denison, while Washington edged Stevenson, 12-11.