Last season’s men’s lacrosse team proved that they had conquered all that there was to conquer in Division II.
The Warriors won their second national championship in as many seasons, beating No. 1-ranked Limestone, 16-8, in the championship game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Impressively, the Warriors won four straight games in the NCAA Tournament and all of them were away from home, beating Mercyhurst on the road as well as Adelphi and Le Moyne before meeting Limestone — the program that beat the Warriors in the 2017 national title game — in Philadelphia.
“Obviously it was a special year,” said head coach Mike Morgan. “I think we knew going into the year that we were one of the top teams but our guys stayed motivated all season long and we got better as the season went along.”
It was a run of revenge for the Warriors, who beat Le Moyne in the national semifinal (15-14 in overtime) after losing to the Dolphins in the NE-10 semifinals just a few weeks prior as well as erasing the nightmares from 2017 by beating the Saints in the title game.
The loss to Le Moyne dropped the Warriors to the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament before their run.
Charlie Bertrand put together one of the best individual campaigns in the history of the program, being named Lt. Col. J.I. Turnbull Award winner for the nation’s most outstanding attackman and the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Outstanding Player award; he was awarded both for the second year in a row.
In its last three seasons as a Division II program in the NE-10, the Merrimack men’s lacrosse team posted a 50-8 record, including three trips to the national championship game, two national titles and one conference championship.
MEET THE COACHES
Mike Morgan returns for his 13th season guiding the Merrimack program, and all the team has done since his arrival is win. Morgan has posted a 164-40 record (.800 winning percentage) and ranks fourth among the winningest coaches currently active across all divisions.
Morgan, a 2000 Merrimack grad and former All-American, was an assistant with the program before he was hired as head coach in 2008. Since he was elevated into the head role, the program has continued to shatter records and reach heights never before seen.
In his first season, Morgan turned a 6-8 team from 2007 into a 12-4 team in 2008; the six-win improvement was the biggest in the country and the 12 wins were a program record. He since shattered that record a few more times over his 12 years.
Kyle Smith returns for his sixth season on the sideline and serves as the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. Smith’s efforts have recruited two national championship teams and he has also been at Merrimack for all 11 of the program’s NCAA Tournament victories.
Chris Diantgikis is back for his third year as director of lacrosse operations. He was already a national champ before he arrived at Merrimack, winning one with Dowling College as a player, but has added two more trophies since joining the Warriors.
Chris Willman returns for his second season as a graduate assistant for the program and he’s familiar with the Northeast Conference as a former player at Hobart. Hunter Schmell, a former All-American for the Warriors, will also return for his second season as a volunteer assistant. Schmell is the only person in the program who was part of the two national titles as a player and a coach, serving as a team captain for the 2018 team before transitioning into a coaching role last season.
Senior attackman Charlie Bertrand is well-decorated over his first three years with the program. In 52 games, Bertrand has scored a whopping 192 goals and added 59 assists for 251 points.
Last season Bertrand was named First Team All-American for the second straight season and he was also named the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Outstanding Player for the second year in a row, which represents the nation’s most valuable player.
Statistically, Bertrand led the nation in goals per game (4.88) and points per game (6.06) and he had 22 points in four playoff games, including seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in the national championship game.
In his career, Bertrand has been named USILA All-American in all three seasons, including two on the First Team. He is also a two-time USILA Player of the Year.
Junior Sean Black returns as Merrimack’s leading scorer from last season (Bertrand missed three games). Black finished with 107 points (32 goals, 75 assists) in 19 games and in two seasons combined he has 205 points (72 goals, 133 assists) in 39 games.
Black was named to the USILA second team last season.
Christian Thomas rounds out Merrimack’s “big three” up front. Thomas, who is a junior like Black, had 96 points (53 goals, 43 assists) in 20 games last season and has 88 goals and 88 assists in 39 games so far in his career. Thomas was named USILA Honorable Mention last season.
“Obviously, those are the big three guys,” Morgan said. “That’s a heck of a core to have up front and we think it’s one that not many teams in the country have. You have Charlie, who is such a special player and he works so hard, and then to have Sean and C.T. right there with him makes us really hard to defend. We can do some things on offense, we can play fast and move the ball quickly, so we think those guys can have another big year.”
Bertrand was named preseason NEC Player of the Year by Insider Lacrosse, and he hasn’t yet played a D-I game.
Morgan said that Jake Holava, who saw time in the midfield last year, will likely play midfield again this year. Holava an also move up to play attack if needed.
Morgan is also excited about newcomer Jake Richards, who played at Austin Prep and can be both an attackman or midfielder.
“It’s god to have versatility,” Morgan said. “With those guys, it makes no sense to have them sit behind Charlie and Sean and C.T. Those guys can all play, so by playing them in the midfield it just makes us deeper there and gives us some talent on that part of the field.
Defensively the Warriors could look very similar to last season, with some freshmen adding an athletic mix to the midfield where Morgan believes his team should be able to transition more quickly and efficiently.
First thing’s first, though, and the Warriors bring back all four starting poles from last season with Dan Cotnoir coming back for a graduate year and the returns of junior Carlin Joyal, sophomore Nicholas Perez-Blanco. Sophomore Christian Glover also returns at LSM.
“You look at the roster and to be coming off a national championship and returning our four poles and most of our scoring is pretty different,” Morgan said. “I think people forget how young we were last year.”
Morgan is excited about newcomer Sam Walsh, a 6-foot-4 defenseman out of Chicago.
“He plays a different style down there for us so it will complement our other guys well,” Morgan said.
The Warriors also added freshman Riley Reed out of Falmouth, Maine.
“He’s our backup LSM but we’ll use him,” Morgan said. “I think last year Glover played probably 80 percent of the game, and that’s hard to do, so now that might be closer to a 50-50 split. Riley is athletic, he’s a lefty, and he’s relentless. He’s just mean. He’ll be a good mix with Glover.”
Morgan also believes that the Warriors are the strongest they’ve ever been with their two-way players. Brennan McInnis returns and so does Chris Willox. Morgan said that freshmen Mike Ferrara and Jack Barron will also see significant time.
“I really believe this is the strongest that group has ever been,” Morgan said. “They’re all fast and they have really good sticks. They’ve very athletic so I think we’ll get a lot of stops, but we’ll be able to transition quickly as well.”
In goal, Morgan said that junior Peter Brown has a slight edge on freshman Steve Lauter for the starting job. Brown backstopped the Warriors to a national title as a freshman and played in 11 games last season.
“Pete has taken a slight lead there,” Morgan said. “Freshman goalies are usually a slower process but Steve has played really well and he’s pushing Pete, but Pete has responded to that and he’s taken it to another level.”
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Merrimack’s schedule kicks off on Saturday at home against Holy Cross. Other non-conference home games include Dartmouth and UMass Lowell.
On the road, the Warriors will travel to Yale, VMI, Fairfield, Michigan and Vermont.
“We have a relationship with Yale,” Morgan said. “At Michigan, I played with Kevin Conry’s younger brother here. Regionally it makes sense to play UMass Lowell and Holy Cross. Then from there we just started looking. UVM and Dartmouth I knew the coaches enough to email them.
“For teams, the uncertainty with us being the first year in D-I, I think that made it a little difficult, but overall I’m really happy with the schedule. I think it’s a really good mix of teams and we have some good home games, so that’s always a positive thing.”
With Dartmouth, Holy Cross and UMass Lowell the Warriors will return the trip on the road next season, according to Morgan.
The Warriors will open their NEC schedule on March 14 at Wagner. NEC home games will include Saint Joseph’s, Bryant, LIU and Sacred Heart.
“We’re looking forward to getting into the league and proving ourselves. We want to see where we stand,” Morgan said.