Eight of the top Division II teams in the land converged on the campus of the United States Naval Academy this past weekend to battle for NCLL supremacy. Teams from 6 states and the District of Columbia squared off at Rip Miller Field to decide which 2 teams would meet on Sunday for the NCLL Division II National Title.
Saturday’s opening round Elite 8 matches were surprisingly one-sided contests, with the exception of one game, the first of the day, as the only undefeated team in attendance faced a relatively unknown foe from the east coast.
#2 Akron vs #7 Stevens
The Akron Zips brought their 15-0 record 370 miles to Annapolis to open up the DII Tourney against the Ducks from the Stevens Institute of Technology. The Zips were determined to show that they could compete with east coast ballers and that their #2 seeding was well deserved.
The Ducks finished the season at 10-2, with one of those 2 losses earned via forfeit. After downing undefeated Providence (9-1) in the New England Conference finals 9-8, Stevens was also looking for some respect, from the Zips and the NCLL media crew.
Both teams had little trouble finding the net as both offenses came out gunning, combining for nine 1st quarter goals. The Zips showed no signs of jet-lag as they bagged 5 more goals in quarter #2, to take a comfortable 10-6 lead at the half. However, the Ducks regrouped and came out of the half time break with with a new resolve, quickly scoring to cut into Akron’s lead. An unfortunate hit to the head led to a lengthy man down scenario for the Zips, who watched helplessly as a tack-sharp Stevens EMO unit netted 4 goals on the man up to tie the game at 11.
Meanwhile, the Zips offense went cold and struggled to get anything past Ducks net-minder John Castro, who made 9 second half saves (15 saves total). Akron would only score 3 goals in the second stanza while their counterparts would net 10, including 2 late goals to ice the win, 16-13.
John Marchese and Alex Kennedy lead all Stevens scorers with 5 goals each, while JP Southern netted 4. Roy Standing dished out 5 assist for the Ducks. Akron received 5 goals and 3 assists from Chris Stowe while Donovan Fagan scored 3 goals and Matt Neff added 2. Akron goalkeeper Joe Gironda was fantastic in cage despite allowing 16 goals, finishing with 17 saves.
For Akron President, Mick Lopez the defeat was bitter, but he left feeling great about his team’s performance. “Stevens earned that win, they made a great comeback and gotta hand it to them,” Lopez stated. “We were super excited to play some ultra competitive lacrosse and at the end of the day we had a heck of a time being here, coming off an excellent season and we’re excited to make it back next year.”
#3 VMI vs #6 Kentucky
Of all of the DII teams coming into the Elite 8 Tourney, VMI brought the biggest reputation. Big, athletic, strong, physical, with talent on every unit across the field. The Keydets (14-3) defeated Lynchburg by a score of 12-2 to take the Blue Ridge Conference Title, marking the 12th time the VMI defense had held an opponent to 4 goals or fewer in 18 games.
The Kentucky Wildcats had an incredible bounce back season, finishing with 10 wins and only 2 losses, after going 2-7 in 2017. The Wildcats defeated their rivals from Louisville in OT, 8-7 to advance to Annapolis.
For the initial quarter the Wildcats had the Keydets on the ropes, bagging the first 2 goals of the game before allowing VMI to score at the quarter’s end. Kentucky goals came via Pat McKay and Bryan Spruce. Unfortunately, Kentucky’s 2-1 lead evaporated quickly as VMI outscored the Wildcats 14-2 over the remaining three quarters, bringing the final score to 15-4. The Wildcats defense had no answer’s for VMI attackman Jacob Shaver (5 goals, 2 assists) who consistently beat Kentucky defensemen to the cage. Cody Sheetz added 3 goals and 1 assist while Keydet middie Chris Vaccaro chipped in with 2 goals and 2 helpers. Bryan McKenzie and Tom Murphy would add 2 more goals for the Wildcats. Chip Wittington played well in cage for Kentucky, recording 14 saves.
#1 West Chester vs #8 Catholic
The defending D2 National Champs from West Chester rode into Annapolis with a 7-game winning streak and a second straight season of 14 plus wins. Catholic U. had an up and down year but ended 2018 strong, winning 5 of their final 6 games, including an 8-6 win over UMBC, to take the Chesapeake D2 Conference Title.
The Rams wasted little time showing how passionate they were about defending their D2 crown, scoring 6 first quarter goals en-route to a 14-4 victory. Mike Cooke netted the first 3 goals of the day for the Rams who saw 7 different players score on the day. Jerry Riccardo and Chris Warner added 2 goals each, while RJ Zoba dished out 4 assist to go along with 2 goals. Russ McCarthy lead the Cardinals with a goal and an assist while Catholic net-minder Mike Braddick had another strong game, grabbing 11 saves.
#4 Kutztown vs #5 RIT
RIT’s offense came into town on fire, averaging 16 goals per game in it’s final 3 contests of the year, helping the Tigers secure the Empire West Conference title. The Central PA champs from Kutztown were also hot, winning 8 of their last 10, including a convincing win over conference rival IUP, 10-5.
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears from PA, the RIT offense proved too hot to handle, turning a slim 4-3 halftime lead into a 14-6 win. The Tigers dominated their one-on-one match ups, scoring 10 of their 14 goals unassisted and outscoring the Bears 7-0 in the final quarter. Rob Mejia netted 3 goals to go along with an assist, while Will Sheppard added 2 goals and an assist. Ben Powers also netted a hat trick for 5th seeded Tigers. Kutztown was led by Alex Dagen and Ben Youngman who bagged 2 goals each.
Despite giving up 14 goals, Cardinal goalie John Carfaro, sporting the finest mustache in the NCLL, made 14 stops.
#7 Stevens vs #3 VMI
After a monster comeback against the #2 seed Akron, Stevens met the Keydets from VMI in the D2 Final Four which took place late Saturday afternoon. All season long VMI had buried teams early with a quick strike offense and a hard hitting defense, but after VMI tied the game 1-1 on an unassisted goal by Tom Nofi, it was Stevens that set the tempo for the remainder of the afternoon.
The hard shooting tandem of JP Southern and Alex Kennedy paced the Ducks with 6 goals in all, 5 of which were unassisted, as Stevens increased their lead from 5-2 at the half to 10-3 by the end of the 3rd quarter. VMI made a charge early in the 4th, as Keydet attackmen Jacob Shaver (2g) and Cody Sheetz brought VMI to within four goals at 10-6. But the Ducks answered with goals of their own by Chris Gaydos and Zach Eberding, which squelched the VMI comeback and gave Stevens the 12-6 upset win, and a trip to the D2 National Championship.
#1 West Chester vs #5 RIT
This game did not disappoint! We had seen earlier in the day how explosive RIT’s offense was, and the top-seeded Rams from West Chester can fill the net as well. We hoped for a shoot out and that’s exactly what was delivered.
Right out of the gate the nets began to fill, as both offenses peaked at just the right time. Ben Powers got things going for the Tigers off an assist from Tom Russo, giving RIT the early 1-0 lead. But West Chester quickly responded with 3 goals of their own, as Mike Cooke, RJ Zoba and AJ Diqasquale all scored off unassisted dodges. The next 18 minutes both teams traded goals, with RIT’s Rob Mejia finding Tyler Oakley to tie the game at 6-6.
West Chester’s offense took it from there, netting 6 unanswered goals to take a 12-6 lead late into the 3rd quarter. Chris Warner, Jerry Ricardo and Ty Thornton all added goals for the Rams who seemed prepared to blow the game wide open.
But the Empire Conference Champs would not have it, as the Tigers somehow managed to answer West Chester’s run by going on a monstrous run of their own. The Tigers netted 9 of the next 10 goals including a game ending run of 8 straight to eliminate the defending DII National Champs 16-12 and punch their ticket to the finals versus Stevens. Mejia and Oakley lead the charge for RIT scoring 2 goals each during the Tigers run, while Ben Powers, Rob Nash, Ryan Waters and Tom Russo contributed to the onslaught as well.
In total, Oakley lead all scorers with 5 goals, while Mejia totaled 3 goals and 2 assists. Meanwhile, Tigers netminder Ridge Lanagan closed the door on the Rams in the 2nd half making 6 crucial stops.
You can find the additional 220 photos from the NCLL Elite 8 Tournament in our online gallery.
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