FOXBORO — The Warriors are champions at last.
After falling short in last year’s national championship game, Merrimack College left no doubt on Sunday against Saint Leo, cruising past the Lions, 23-6, to claim the 2018 NCAA Division II Men’s National Championship.
The win gave the Warriors their first national title in program history, and it’s the first national title for Merrimack in any sport since the softball program won the national title in 1994.
“We’ve just got to emphatically win this thing and put the journey to bed,” said Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan. “This has been a long time coming.
“I felt like the alums that have come even before me as a player, it’s been a long road, and I think Coach (Bryan) Brazill who has been with me for eight or nine years now, and he was alum as well. I looked at him with 3:00 minutes left, and it was like we’re going to be national champions. It didn’t hit me. Even when we’re up to 13 with eight minutes left, like we’re still coaching. We’re still coaching.
“Then it got to the point where I thought it was in hand, and then you see your family come on the field. It’s overwhelming. It’s a weird group our guys want it as bad for the alums and families as they do for themselves. That tells you they respect the tradition that is our program. It’s been great. We’ve had some really good teams here and there. This one just solidified themselves as really something special.”
Saint Leo pressured Merrimack early, generating the game’s first four shots, but the Lions weren’t able to find the net on any of those chances. From there, the Warriors took over and put the pedal to the metal.
Jack Trask scored at the 7:12 mark to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead; Merrimack would go on to score the game’s first seven goals.
Freshman attack Christian Thomas found the net twice in the first quarter and also set up two goals, assisting on goals from Charlie Bertrand and Kyle Stenberg.
Merrimack continued to roll in the second quarter, scoring seven goals to take a 13-1 lead at halftime.
Despite the big lead, Morgan wasn’t worried that the Warriors would let up. Not this team.
“We wouldn’t be here and have a 13-goal lead if we had guys who would change the way they were playing because they have a lead,” he said. “They were going to stay on it. We talked about it. Third quarter, we’re going to empty the tank and throw everything we have at them. Then the fourth quarter, if we get there and we still have this lead, we’re in good shape to win this thing.
Saint Leo began to chip away in the third quarter, but the deficit was just too large. After the Warriors made the score 15-1 on goals from Trask and Bertrand, the Lions scored three straight to bring the deficit to a still insurmountable 11 goals.
Then Bertrand found the net for his fourth of the game — 62nd of the season — at the 4:46 mark of the third quarter and the Warriors were back in control. From there, they never let up.
“This is the most amazing moment of my life,” said Thomas, a freshman attack. “This has been our dream all year. To win it with this group is really special.”
Added Schmell, “Walking off the field last year was probably the biggest disappointment that we could have had as a team.
“I know personally, it’s kind of corny, but my background on my phone has been the picture of Limestone with the trophy ever since that game ended. It’s them holding the trophy up. So the whole goal is for me to look at that the entire year, and know that that needs to be us this year. I think the entire senior class and the fifth-years and everyone else underneath us bought into that. Just feels great, better than I could have imagined.”