NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack men’s lacrosse Mike Morgan said Tuesday that he’s trying to keep an abnormal week as normal as possible for the Warriors, who play in their first national championship game Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
After beating Adelphi on the road in the NCAA semifinal this past Saturday, the Warriors returned to North Andover as the lone men on campus. They’re the last team remaining on campus for the season, school is out for the summer, and it’s uncharted territory for a team that has been on the verge of a national title for what seems like a decade.
One of the biggest concerns is simply staying focused, but Morgan said this group, which is top-heavy with experience, is doing just that.
“We know what to expect now that we have our itinerary,” said Merrimack coach Mike Morgan. “We have managed the next few days to have more time with the guys. We were playing mini-golf, bowling, just trying to keep everyone occupied and together. Now we’re getting into it. We were light coming out of the weekend, but practice was back to normal (yesterday). The main thing now is just normalcy. We’ve tried to shield guys from the noise and handle stuff behind the scenes, but they seem dialed in. There doesn’t seem like a lot of nerves. That might change when we get down there, but we’re good. They want to get back to normal. At some point, it’s time to stop the Facebook, stop texting, and just focus on us. That’s what I’ve started to do as well. We’re trying to make an abnormal week as normal as possible. These guys want to focus, and we want that.”
Clarke: Merrimack is a “daunting task”
Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke has his team in the national title game for a fourth-straight season, and the Saints have won two out of the last three.
This season, Limestone is 20-1 with its long loss coming to the Warriors (18-13) back in April. Clarke calls this rematch with Merrimack a “daunting task,” for a few reasons.
“Going to Boston isn’t quite like playing Merrimack at their home venue, but it’s close enough,” Clarke said. “Merrimack is the best team in the country right now, I think. And I’m not just saying that. They proved that over the last month. Beating Adelphi and Le Moyne, on the road, is hard to do for anyone. They’ve had as impressive a month as I’ve seen in a long time. They also beat us up pretty good the first time we played, so hopefully we learned from that and got better. Our guys are excited about the challenge ahead.”
Both Teams Healthier
Clarke said he expects both teams to be more on the healthier side than they were in April, when Limestone and Merrimack both had some players sidelined.
“Like us, they had some guys who were banged up,” Clarke said. “The way they play is the way they play. They’re very aggressive and they’re a big, strong, athletic team. They chase you all over the field. They’re so aggressive and I don’t think that will change, because that’s who they are. That’s their program and that’s the way I expect them to play. I haven’t seen them change much other than they have a few more guys in now. They’re playing the style they play and they’re more effective now. Their win over Adelphi on Saturday was impressive to watch. They controlled that thing from start to finish.
“(Merrimack) probably liked the way they matched up with us last time. The good news for us is that we have some guys back who were hurt last time, so we’ll be deeper in the midfield in particular. (Merrimack) is one of the few teams we line up against that I feel might be bigger and more athletic, across the board. That’s rare. Tampa was close, but I don’t think they’re as deep as Merrimack.”
Le Moyne, Adelphi Necessary Steps For Merrimack
It’s definitely appropriate that Merrimack needed to go through Le Moyne and Adelphi to get to this point.
The NE10 rivals have stymied the Warriors in recent seasons. This year, Le Moyne beat Merrimack twice (in double overtime both times) and Adelphi also tripped up the Warriors in the regular season. That’s not including the nearly one dozen playoff matchups between the programs in recent years, most of which saw Merrimack coming out on the losing end.
“It’s been tough,” Morgan said. “Two years ago we lose in OT (to Le Moyne). We had a shot, but both teams were playing well and one team won, and one lost. Last year we were injured going into the Le Moyne game and had to go with a lot of young players. Le Moyne was one of the better teams I’ve seen in a while. This year, if we were going to take that next step, it needed to go through them. There was a mentality there too. They kicked us out two years in a row, and I think the guys weren’t going to let that happen again.”
Travel Headaches Ahead For Limestone
Limestone will head to Foxboro later this week, and Clarke said the team will be on different flights and won’t be able to practice Thursday due to the travel.
“In 2012, the championship was up in Boston and it’s the travel that kind of gets you,” he said. “(The experience in title games) is less of an advantage than it could be for us, being that (Merrimack) is so close. We’ll be traveling on different planes, and I think the travel is a disadvantage for us. Guys will be getting in at different times, and that will create some issues. We can’t practice Thursday. They had another day of prep, playing on Saturday and we played on Sunday. But this time of year, there isn’t so much prep. They know us, and we know them. It’s a matter of who plays their style better and who has fewer turnovers.”