NORTH ANDOVER — For each of the last four seasons, the Merrimack men’s lacrosse season has endured a recurring nightmare come May.
In 2011, the Warriors lost to Adelphi in the Northeast-10 Championship. In 2012, it was Le Moyne who stopped the Warriors short of winning the conference title in the championship game. The next season, in 2013, the Dolphins again ended Merrimack’s season in the NE-10 semifinal, and then last season it was Adelphi back to awaken bad memories, defeating the Warriors 13-12, in overtime, in the NE-10 title game.
This year’s rendition of the Warriors are 4-0 to start the season. Today [March 21], they’re on Long Island trying to find redemption against Adelphi for last season’s title game loss. Next Saturday on their home field, the Warriors will welcome Le Moyne.
It’s not a make-or-break week for the Warriors. Not this early in the season. But this is an opportunity for the Warriors to see where they measure up. It’s also a chance to eradicate some demons that have haunted the program the past four years.
“It’s absolutely a big week,” said senior captain Andrew Vivian. “Adelphi and Le Moyne are always tough games. But we win these games, and it could put is in the driver’s seat. It’s such a short season in a lot of ways, that these games are really important. Hopefully we can put something together.
“It’s definitely a rivalry with those two teams. It’s been that way with Le Moyne for as long as I can remember, as long as I’ve been here. With Adelphi, it’s developed into a big rivalry, too. We’re always fighting with them for the top spot in the league. It makes those games fun to be a part of. They’re two really tough teams and that’s the way we like to play.”
As crazy as it may sound, the lessons learned the past few seasons are still resonating, loud and clear, throughout the Merrimack locker room.
There’s plenty to be learned in wins, but sometimes it’s the losses that teach teams the most. The Warriors are hoping to take those lessons on another deep run throughout the Northeast-10 playoffs, but ultimately the goal won’t be fulfilled unless there is a trophy raised in May.
“We learned a lot, especially last year after beating Le Moyne and losing to Adelphi,” senior captain Owen Jarem said. “We’re a talented group, top to bottom. I think what we learned, more than anything, is that we’re a good team, but we need to play with a purpose every game. We’re deep, we’re a good team. We just need everybody to be ready to go. Next man up.”
“We’ve had a taste of what it was like to be in a Northeast-10 Championship,” Vivian said. “It came down to an overtime goal. We know what it feels like to be on the losing end of that. We know what it takes to get there, too. Now we need to figure out how to get over that hump. I think we have it figured out. I think we have it figured out on how to make sure it’s us scoring that game-winner. The experience definitely helped us grow.”
The Warriors are a good team. In fact, traditionally, they’re one of the best programs in Division II.
Much of that foundation has been built on solid recruiting. Merrimack historically is recruiting against not only Division II competition, but also against Northeast Division I programs.
That has shown in the ability of the players that head coach Mike Morgan has been able to haul into North Andover for the better part of the last decade, which has led to a team that has gone 90-27 since 2008, and 61-13 in the Northeast-10 over that same span.
This season the Warriors are led offensively by a pair of sophomore attackmen. Max Allen leads the team with 20 goals in just four games, and Tucker Schwarz was one of the best freshmen in the nation last season, scoring 26 goals and adding 15 assists; he has 12 goals in four games this season.
Allen’s 5.0 goals per game is best in the nation at Division II.
But that’s not what it’s about with this group. The Warriors are focused on their primary, and lone objective: winning games. And nothing is going to get in the way of the Warriors accomplishing that goal. Not if this senior class has anything to say about it.
“All 40 of us are on the same page,” said Jarem. “In the past, I don’t think it was as unified as it is now. No one is worried about individual achievements. It’s great to be a part of this team.
“We set a high standard for ourselves. My job sometimes is pretty easy with the team we have. The second I see someone slacking off, any of [the captains], we can tell them to fix it and we know that there will be 30 other guys behind us backing us up. If there is someone who isn’t honed in on focusing, they’re going to realize pretty quickly that they’re the only one now working as hard as they need to. We all have the same goal, and that is to win a championship. That needs to be our standard.”