The Merrimack men’s lacrosse team figures it owes Le Moyne a receipt.
As far as the Warriors are concerned, enough is enough, and it’s time for a change.
(Ed. Note — This story also appears in Saturday’s Eagle Tribune, click here to read the story on EagleTribune.com)
For the past five years, Le Moyne has been a source of pain for the Warriors. Last season, the Dolphins ended Merrimack’s season in the NCAA semifinal. In 2015, Le Moyne bounced Merrimack in the NCAA semifinal, only that was in overtime. In 2013, Le Moyne ended Merrimack’s run in the NE10 semifinals and the year before that, in 2012, Le Moyne beat Merrimack in the conference championship game.
In four of the last five years, Le Moyne has ended Merrimack’s season and the Warriors are on a seven-game losing streak against the Dolphins.
And that includes what happened last week, when the Dolphins beat Merrimack in the NE10 semifinal, in double overtime.
Come May, Le Moyne has been Merrimack’s Achilles heel. But this Merrimack team feels like it’s different. And quite frankly, they’re sick of the status quo.
“We’re tired of it,” said graduate defenseman, and captain, Tom McLaughlin. “We’re really trying to make that push to get to the final stage. That’s our goal all year. But especially for the guys who have been around here for a while, I think we’re all sick of losing to Le Moyne. We played two double-OT games against them this year, both games that we thought we should have won but made some mental mistakes and some breakdowns.”
This is the third year in a row Merrimack has qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Earlier this season, the Warriors earned their first No. 1 ranking in the USILA/Nike 2017 Division II Coaches’ Poll in program history.
A good portion of Merrimack’s current roster has been to Final Fours. This year had to be the year the Warriors circled, where that young core that brought them to two NCAA semifinals were seniors.
It’s not “now or never,” because Merrimack lacrosse doesn’t rebuild, it reloads, but this is still a golden opportunity for the program to do something special — maybe even hang a banner — and they realize that.
“Our previous experiences in the NCAA Tournament were heartbreaking,” McLaughlin said. “But they were also a learning point. Even the games against Le Moyne this year, we look at those games and the things we did wrong were similar both times.”
The Warriors headed up to Syracuse on Thursday and practiced at Le Moyne’s facility on Friday. This week, the team has had razor-sharp focus.
“We made some stupid mistakes in our previous games,” McLaughlin said. “We want to be mentally tough, and we have been this week. We’ve ramped up practices. We’re focused. The pressure is on. Last week (in the NE10 semifinal) we thought we could have won in regulation and then we made some mistakes in the OT. Le Moyne is a great team, we respect them, but we all feel like we should have won both of those games this season.”
Those breakdowns Merrimack has to correct are all little things. The Warriors have been consistently winning all year; the Warriors only three losses have come to Le Moyne (twice in double-OT) and Adelphi, another top team in the region who qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Merrimack beat then-No. 1 Limestone, en route to the program’s No. 1 ranking.
But against Le Moyne, in those two losses, the mistakes were small. However, that doesn’t make them any less costly.
“Watching the film, it looked like we were trying to do too much,” McLaughlin said. “We were trying to make an impact instead of doing what we were doing all year to make us successful. We need to play as a unit, not as individuals.”
Le Moyne’s offense is strong, particularly off the ball, McLaughlin said, and Merrimack’s offense is second-best in the nation. Merrimack’s defense is filled with good cover and 1-on-1 players, yet McLaughlin said that’s where Merrimack lost the previous double-OT games.
“We were either ball watching or we slipped up,” he said. “They had a guy open that shouldn’t have been. We need to communicate more and just play. Don’t try to be a hero, just play. We can’t panic, and we shouldn’t. Everyone but the freshmen have been in a Final Four game. We’ve been here before, and we know what it takes to get to the next step, where we want to be. It’s just another game.”
It is just another game, but it has huge implications, of course. The winner of this game will move on to the NCAA Final Four next weekend and the championship game is May 28 at Gillette Stadium, down the road in Foxboro.