NORTH ANDOVER — This afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the field will be 110 yards long. But the national championship could be decided on the small X located right at the center.
Limestone’s Kevin Reisman is probably the best faceoff player in the country. Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan admits that Reisman is one of the best he’s ever seen.
But Merrimack’s Blake Boudreau, a junior, is one of the most underrated player on the Warriors. He’s been one of the top faceoffs players in the NE10 this season, winning 229 out of 362 he’s taken.
“Blake is tough,” Morgan said. “Reisman is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and I don’t think anyone would argue that. The first game we had, those two guys dueled. Blake did well, and our three versus their three is huge. We might put some balls where it will be a scrap. We need to fight for those possessions. They’ll win some, but if our three guys can outwork their three guys, that will be important for us. We’re two teams that are so close, faceoffs will be huge. It will come down to possession, and if it skews one way big, it will make a huge difference.”
Boudreau won 13 of 32 faceoffs against Limestone in a regular-season matchup this past April, which the Warriors won, 18-13.
Morgan said that Boudreau presents a difficult matchup for opponents on the faceoff X, in particular his athleticism is something most faceoff players don’t possess.
In high school, the New Hampshire native helped lead Bishop Guertin to four consecutive Division I State Championships and was named a 2012 U.S. Lacrosse All-American. He also played football, where he was a defensive end.
“I think that helps me a lot on faceoffs,” Boudreau said. “Especially playing the position I did, a lot of the same movements I’d use there help with faceoffs. I also think I have a pretty high motor. I’m not giving up on anything.”
There’s where Boudreau can really differentiate himself.
“He doesn’t quit and he’s so athletic, along with just being relentless going after the ball, he’s tough to beat (on faceoffs),” Morgan said. “There are a lot of components that will go into the game on Sunday, but his is definitely a big one.”
“It’s not just me, but the wings too,” Boudreau added. “I think we’re all really aggressive. None of us quit and we want to do everything we can to make sure we get possession.”
Bassett Key To Merrimack’s D
When the opponent does win the ball, James Bassett is most like shutting them down. Recently name the USILA Defensive Player of the Year, this is essentially his first year as a starter, after appearing in 18 games last season but starting only three.
“He’s super smart,” said Morgan. “He’s not a loud kid, but he’s very direct and he’s dialed in right now. That’s how we’ve gotten this far, because of the effort he’s putting in along with some other guys defensively, including Tommy McLaughlin or Brendan Morin.”
Bassett, who was also the NE10 Defensive Player of the Year, said a lot of what the Warriors do defensively comes down to communication.
“We’re aggressive, so communication is very important,” he said. “When we have played really well, I think a lot of it is how well we are communicating. When we have had some problems, the communication hasn’t been there. That’s really important (today).”
Crowd Support Strong
According to college officials, Merrimack is looking at several thousand fans in attendance this afternoon. There were about 2,500 originally expected, but that estimate could be on the low side.
There is an alumni tailgate and several alums have organized events around today’s game, including a few hundred t-shirts that alum Tim Murphy organized. Another alum, Greg Kleva, has organized a mini-reunion of about 20 players from around his class year (1990) and Corey Spinale, a 2010 All-American goalkeeper, is flying in from Chicago to meet up with players he played with.
Those are just a few of the stories.
“It’s really exciting,” said attacker Max Allen. “We’ve heard about all the alumni support and I know the guys that I’ve played with are really excited.”
“I’ve gotten hundreds of texts,” midfielder Tim Towler said. “Facebook messages, I know there are people selling shirts, it should be an awesome crowd.”
For many Merrimack lacrosse alums, this is a day they’ve been waiting years for. So many teams have come close to the nation’s biggest stage, but fell just short. In most years, it’s been Le Moyne or Adelphi that cut the Warriors dream season short.
That’s why it’s appropriate that the Warriors needed to go through those two teams en route to this stage.
“I think we always knew we’d have to go through them,” Allen said. “It’s always that way. That made it feel more special. So many guys I played with were pumped after the Le Moyne game, because they’ve been such a rival. I know they’re excited (for today) and we want to finish it for them.”