The men’s lacrosse team continued its outstanding season on Sunday, defeating Tufts 14-10 to win the NESCAC championship and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament, its fourth trip in the last five years. However, the tournament was not without drama for the Cardinals, who were challenged heartily by Middlebury in the semifinals but pulled out a 15-14 overtime victory.
In fact, Middlebury, playing with home field advantage, leapt out to a significant early lead over Wesleyan, leading 4-0 after the first quarter and 8-3 at halftime. While it appeared the Cardinals’ season was in jeopardy, the players believed otherwise, mounting a furious comeback that tied the game at 9 after a 6-1 run in the third quarter. Russ Follansbee ’09 sparked the streak, scoring three goals in the third and ending with five for the game, a team high. After that, the teams traded goals until Middlebury scored with 1:35 left to take the lead. With 15.6 seconds left, Adam Kirk ’09 scored his third goal of the game to tie it at 15 and force a sudden-death overtime period.
The Cards only needed 36 seconds in the extra frame, however, as Matt Ward ’10 won the faceoff and sent the ball to Dan Latzman ’09, who outran one Panther defender and scored his only goal to win the game.
“I got the ball up top and saw their defense wasn’t really set,” said Latzman. “When there is only one man to beat, it’s all speed, and that kid wasn’t going to keep up. Once I got the step I just had to turn the corner and get it past their goalie. It was an unbelievable feeling.”
Wesleyan was the only team to defeat Middlebury this season, an accomplishment made even more impressive by the fact that they did it twice. No other team has taken down the Panthers twice in the same season this decade, while Wesleyan has performed the feat two of the last three years.
The Cardinals knew they still had a chance against Middlebury despite being behind 8-3 at halftime.
“We all knew the game wasn’t over,” Latzman said. “Momentum can shift so quickly, and our senior leadership really kept the team together and confident that we could come back from any deficit.”
“One goal at a time was our approach,” he added. “We know that when we play to our potential, no one can stay with us. Not much changed in a game plan sense, we just kept working hard and playing together. We have so many playmakers on offense that matching up with us is impossible for any opponent.”
But the weekend was not over for the Cardinals. Lying in wait in Wes’ fifth NESCAC title game was Tufts, which had beaten Bowdoin in the other semifinal. However, Tufts proved a walkover compared to Middlebury. The Cards exploded out of the gate to a 4-0 lead in the first quarter, sparked by Jon Killeen’s ’10 two goals. Tufts got no closer than three the rest of the game, with Wes accumulating its largest lead at 12-6 in the third period. Although Tufts went on a 4-1 run to get as close as 13-10, Wes won fairly comfortably, cruising to a 14-10 final. It was Wesleyan’s first NESCAC men’s lacrosse title; Wesleyan had fallen to Middlebury in the title game each year from 2004-2007.
“This is truly amazing,” said Latzman afterwards. “[The elation
after beating Middlebury was only] surpassed today when we became champions.”
With the NESCAC title in hand, Wesleyan earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. Wesleyan is seeded second in the North region and received a first-round bye; the Cardinals’ first game will come on Saturday, May 9, when they will host the winner of the first-round game between Eastern Connecticut and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. For the third straight year, two NESCAC teams (Middlebury and Tufts) received at-large tournament bids; should Wes and Midd both win their second-round games, Wes will host Middlebury in a national quarterfinal matchup on May 13. The Cardinals will look to replicate and expand their success from 2006 and 2007, when they reached consecutive national semifinals.
No matter what happens in the next few weeks, however, this Cardinal men’s lacrosse team has cemented its place in Wesleyan history, a fact not lost on Latzman.
“This is an amazing team in so many ways,” he said, “and our senior class led us to glory. When we came in as freshmen, Wesleyan hadn’t beaten Middlebury since 1975. As seniors we are now 5-3 against them in our careers, which is something previous Wes lacrosse classes could never dream about. We got the monkey off our back, [finally winning] the NESCAC crown, and now we can play loose in the NCAAs, having already completed our season- and career-long goal of a NESCAC championship. This is an incredible accomplishment for the senior class – the best class in Wes lacrosse history.”