Five days before its NCAA Tournament Semifinal matchup at Adephi, the Merrimack College men’s lacrosse team – which had already boasted a league-high nine Northeast-10 All- Conference selections two weeks ago – is well-represented again on another postseason awards list, as nine more Warriors have been named to the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) All-New England Division II Team, which was announced on Tuesday.
The Warriors, which went a perfect 8-0 against schools from New England and were the unanimous top-ranked team in each of the NEILA’s weekly regional rankings from start to finish, also were named the New England Team of the Year once again. Merrimack led the region with nine selections – including a New England-best seven all-region first team selections. The next-closest school, Saint Anselm, had seven All-New England representatives, including only three on the first team.
In addition, Merrimack lay claim to the two major all-region awards, as senior Tim Towler (Topsfield, Mass.) – two weeks after being named the NE10 Player of the Year – earned an identical accolade as the NEILA Player of the Year for top bragging rights in all of New England. He becomes the program’s seventh NEILA Player of the Year since the 2008 season, joining graduates Scott Corcoran ’16, Jimmy Holland ’14, Corey Lunney ’13, and Greg Rogowski ’09.
Head coach Mike Morgan, who is in the midst of his 10th season, also earned NEILA Coach of the Year honors for the second time in his career and for the first time since the 2008 season.
The nine overall all-region selections, meanwhile, mark the second straight year that the program has had nine NEILA All-New England picks. The only other season that saw the program garner more all-region selections was in 2015 (10).
After missing all of last season due to injury, Towler returned to the lineup and quickly reestablished his reputation as one of the league’s top midfielders. The former USILA Third Team All-American has put together his best offensive campaign to date with 48 points (34g, 14a) and 25 ground balls to earn his second career all-region selection and second first team appearance. The Topsfield, Massachusetts, native ranks 14th nationally in man-up goals (7) and is the team’s top-scoring midfielder.
Continuing what has been a historic debut campaign for the Warriors, freshman Charlie Bertrand (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) was the Warriors’ lone New England representative on the attack unit on the first team ledger. The NE10 Rookie of the Year did not take long to establish himself as one of the conference – and country’s – top playmakers. The Baldwinsville, New York, native currently ranks 14th nationally in points per game (4.25) and 11th in goals per game (2.94) while also coming in at 40th in assists per game (1.31). The rookie has been the conference’s scoring leader from the onset and sits atop the league leader boards in both goals (47) and points (68) while ranking fourth in assists (21). No other player in the conference has attempted more shots than Bertrand either (140), while the rookie has also contributed 22 ground balls.
Joining Towler on first team midfield ballot was classmate John Bassett (Clifton Park, N.Y.), who has been highly effective in Merrimack’s two-way play this year. The senior has had a knack for some timely scoring and ranks fifth on the team in total goals (21) while contributing four assists for 25 total points, ranking fifth on the team in goals scored and sixth in overall scoring. Bassett has now been named a first team all-region selection in consecutive seasons after doing so for the first time last spring.
At second team midfield, junior Kyle Stenberg (Annandale, N.J.) earned his first career all-region nod at midfield thanks to some terrific offensive numbers throughout the year. The junior and second team all-conference selection ranks third on the team in goals (32) and overall scoring (43) while adding 15 ground balls. Six of those goals were of the man-up variety, helping a unit that ranks fourth nationally in success rate (45.6). The Annandale, New Jersey, native has set new career-highs in all offensive categories and has contributed 11 assists, as well.
Merrimack has owned some of the best possession play down the stretch and that is in large part to the heroics of junior Blake Boudreau (Amherst, N.H.), who has been one of the top faceoff specialists this season and was slotted at Second Team All-New England in that position. Earning his second straight all-region second team honor, Boudreau currently ranks 10th nationally on the X with a 64.4-percent success rate, winning 216-of-335 attempts this season. The Amherst, New Hampshire, native also ranks 12thnationally in ground balls per game (6.13) and leads all Warriors with 110 ground balls on the year. The junior also has contributed seven points offensively, including three goals.
A first-time honoree on the all-region first team short stick defensive midfield position, senior Hunter Schmell (Woodstock, Vt.) continues his breakthrough season after earning similar all-conference honors two weeks ago. The senior and former transfer student-athlete has enjoyed his best season yet with the Navy and Gold, posting career-highs in all offensive and defensive categories. Schmell has been a key component during faceoffs on the wing and in the transition game while also valuable on the defensive third against the opposition’s top weapons. The Woodstock, Vermont, native has contributed 12 points (8g, 4a) and 35 ground balls while causing 12 turnovers to date.
After graduating one of the top long stick midfielders in the country last year in Corcoran, senior Brennen Morin (Wilbraham, Mass.) recently slotted into that spot and that move has paid dividends for the Warriors. The Wilbraham, Massachusetts, native earned all-league first team honors at the spot and now has two all-region first team selections on his career resume after being an All-New England First Team honoree as a defender last spring. He boasts 36 ground balls and has caused 16 turnovers, but the intangibles he has provided go far beyond the stat sheet, as his ability to push the ball in transition to set up the offense while also wreaking havoc in the defensive and middle thirds of the turf have helped him establish his reputation as one of the top long stick midfielders in the region.
Moving to the back end, junior James Bassett (Getzville, N.Y.) – the NE10 Defensive Player of the Year – picks up his first-ever all-region selection on the first team defense position. The all-conference first team pick has been a driving force among a defensive corps that ranks eighth nationally in goals allowed per game (7.53). The Getzville, New York, native has caused 18 turnovers – good for second-most on the team – while collecting 38 ground balls, ranking third on the team in that category.
Graduate student Tom McLaughlin (Billerica, Mass.) once again has been one of the team’s back bones on defense, and the two-time All-American now becomes a three-time all-region first team selection thanks to another solid season on the back line. The Billerica, Massachusetts, native and tri-captain of the team alongside Towler has contributed 25 ground balls and four caused turnovers to help Merrimack limit the opposition to just a tick more than seven goals per game.
Morgan is in his 10th season at Merrimack, where he is the all-time winningest coach in program history and ranks in the top ten in win percentage across all divisions. The 2000 Merrimack College graduate has led the team to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances – and four overall since 2009 – which account for the only times the program has ever qualified for the Big Dance. Winning no fewer than 11 games at any point in his Merrimack coaching career, Morgan owns a career coaching mark of 128-36, good for a winning percentage of .780. He ranked seventh among all active coaches in Division I, II and III in career win percentage and third amongst Division II coaches entering the year.
Merrimack, one of the last four teams standing in the country, now readies for the NCAA Semifinals on Saturday (May 20) at Adelphi University. Game time is set for 1 p.m. with a trip to the national championship game on the line.--
Mike McMahon has covered Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune since 2006 and he also has been a senior writer at College Hockey News since 2005.
You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN and you can follow the site @TheMackReports.