Ed. Note — This story will appear in Monday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
PHILADELPHIA — When Merrimack announced last fall that its athletic programs would be elevating to Division I beginning with next season, men’s lacrosse coach Mike Morgan met with his players and the message was clear.
“They all just became seniors,” he said.
No, the players didn’t suddenly age. What Morgan meant was that, for everyone in Merrimack’s locker room, this season would represent their last chance to do something great. It would be everyone’s last chance to win a national title.
Yesterday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the Warriors took one giant step towards immortality, beating undefeated Limestone, 16-8, to capture the 2019 Division II men’s lacrosse national championship. It was Merrimack’s second straight national title after winning its first championship last season over Saint Leo at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
“We embraced our last game as a D-II team,” said Merrimack senior middie Michael O’Connell. “The whole road here was our last chance to get back at Le Moyne and Adelphi. Then to avenge our loss (in the 2017 national championship to Limestone) ends it on a high note.”
With the move to Division I looming, the Warriors will venture into the Northeast Conference next season. With the move comes the NCAA’s mandatory four-year transitional period for postseason play, meaning the Warriors are ineligible to compete in the playoffs until 2024.
By the time the Warriors could compete in the Division I NCAA tournament, every player on the current roster will have graduated. They’ll be a memory. But the two national championship trophies will remain on display in the lobby at the Merrimack Athletic Complex.
“It’s been a message all year,” Morgan said. “Once we announced D-I, I told our guys that they’re all seniors. This is everyone’s last chance and everything’s at stake.
“Once we started getting towards the end of April, I think that became a reality. They had been hearing it since the fall, but in late April it started to sink in. You could see the urgency. None of these guys will have a chance to win another national title.”
As time ran out, Christian Thomas had the ball and he ran it over to Morgan.
“He wanted to make sure we had it,” he said. “Sometimes you see guys throw it up in the air, but he wanted to make sure we had it. It’s the end of the D-II era and that ball symbolizes that. … I have it in my bag. I’m sure it will find its way into a case on my desk.
“Our teams are always built on hard work, selflessness, and confidence,” Morgan continued. “Our level is middle-high D-I right now. We’re not changing much. You need guys who buy into what you’re doing.”