No. 4 Merrimack and No. 3 LIU Post will open the 2016 men’s lacrosse season with a top-5 matchup on Saturday (noon) at Martone-Mejail Field …
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The NCAA Tournament is three months away, but for the Merrimack College men’s lacrosse program, the path that the Warriors hope leads with another berth in that field begins on Saturday, when the fourth-ranked Warriors take on No. 3 LIU Post at Martone-Mejail Field (noon) to open the 2016 regular season.
The Warriors are coming off a season in 2015 that featured a run to the Final Four in Philadelphia, where they fell in overtime of the national semifinals to Le Moyne. With a good portion of last year’s team returning, especially on the back end, the Warriors are hoping to build on that run, which included the program’s second NCAA berth in history, as well as its first postseason win in the NCAA Tournament.
Merrimack will jump right into the fire against an LIU Post team that also figures to be one of the best teams in the East Region.
“We know it’s going to be a fight,” Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan said. “Maybe sometimes you would prefer to ramp up to a big game like this and open with a lighter opponent, but the fact is we need to play good teams. The season isn’t very long and with strength of schedule — we’ve been the first team out of the (NCAA) tournament a couple of times — you need to play the best teams.”
Post will be a good indicator for the Warriors to see how they measure up. Merrimack returns the bulk of its defense from last season, including two All-Americans in Tom McLaughlin and Brennen Morin. The Warriors ranked fifth in the nation last season in goals allowed per game, surrendering about 7.5 goals per game.
The defense could be especially relied upon early, with Merrimack’s attack returning only one starter, there will be plenty of new faces up front and Morgan said that the group is still finding its way as a unit.
“Our defense is solid, we know that,” Morgan said. “Those guys battle hard and we know that from game one, they’ll be ready to go and will be playing at a high level. Our offense, we’re looking for some consistency there. We are excited and there are a lot of new faces, but we need to find some consistency there, and with the way the schedule works out, we need to find it quickly. But we’re excited because we know the talent up there is strong, it’s just about finding that consistency level. That’s what we have been working on in practice and we have two more days to go before Post, so we’re going to make it worth it.
“Starting with a team like LIU Post, we’re going to know where we are. We told the guys, you can’t be too focused on them. We need to go in there and play our ball and if we play our ball we’ll be alright. We can do some scouting but they’re going to be a little different than they have been in other years, so are we. We can’t be too focused on who they are, and we are familiar with them, but it’s about us and making sure we’re playing the way that we need to play.”
Post isn’t an NE-10 opponent for the Warriors, but it might as well be. With the top of the rankings being a somewhat exclusive club, there becomes a lot of familiarity for even the non-conference opponents within the region.
LIU Post and Merrimack have met the past two seasons, with the Warriors earning one-goal victories in both games. Morgan said Post is on the schedule for 2017 as well.
“We don’t have room for a lot of nonleague games,” he said, “but the ones we do have, you really have the make the most of them. It’s always a balance. We’ve played teams over the years like Post, Limestone and Molloy. Those are all top teams. It’s a big way to start the year and I know our guys will be ready for it.”
The Warriors began scrimmaging two weeks ago, and leading into the opener have taken the field with Division I Boston University, Quinnipiac and UMass Lowell. Morgan said that the Warriors treated those scrimmages as much like games as possible, in an attempt to prepare for the upcoming season.
“We were messing around with much,” he said. “We went with the lineup we thought we would go with. We treated those all as actual games. We tinkered here and there, but for the most part we wanted to treat those as games because that’s what would prepare us most for the season. It gets the blood flowing again and gets these guys out there in a competitive environment against another team.”
The games will count for real on Saturday.