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Men's Lacrosse | Freshmen arrive in wake of title wave

Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 07:09

Men's Lacrosse

Alex Dennett / Tufts Daily

The National Champion 2010 men’s lacrosse team exacted revenge on all the teams it lost to in 2009, including victories over Wesleyan, Western New England, Trinity and Middlebury, and, above, a thrilling 14-13 overtime win against Bowdoin in the final game of the regular season.

Memo to the Class of 2014: After a historically significant year for Tufts athletics that included two NCAA championships — including the university's first-ever NCAA team crown in men's lacrosse — the concept of Tufts as a sports school is not as silly as the school's circus mascot.

"Last year was the among the very best that we've had in the last 20 years," Athletic Director Bill Gehling said. Gehling played soccer for the Jumbos in the early '70s and coached the women's team in the '80s and '90s before taking his current job in 1999.

The strong performances of Tufts' teams in 2009-10 prove that Gehling's excitement is more than just a proud Jumbo tooting his own trunk. To top things off, the men's lacrosse team capped a landmark year by trouncing powerhouse Salisbury College 9-6 on May 30 in front of a reported NCAA Final crowd of 30,000.

"It puts us on the map," senior D.J. Hessler, the game's Most Outstanding Player, said.

"I mean, it's huge," continued Hessler, who became Tufts lacrosse's all-time leader in assists last season as a junior. "We've always had decent programs across the board, but getting that first championship really solidifies us."

On the same day, one more Jumbo took home an NCAA first-place trophy of her own: senior Julia Browne, who dispatched Williams' Grace Baljon in straight sets to take home the NCAA singles tennis crown.

"I'm so excited that it all happened on the same day," Browne told the Daily afterwards. "It's just incredible for Tufts."

Gehling says he received dozens of calls and e-mails from Tufts alums in the days following the dual titles.

"We had a tremendous outpouring of pride from Tufts alums," he said. "Men's lacrosse and Julia Browne highlighted a great year for us."

The other national championship-winning squad isn't officially a varsity sport, but that trivial tag means little to men and women of the club water polo team. Boosted by a core of Tufts' best swimmers, the water polo team finished in third place at the Div. III Club National Championship in both 2007 and 2008. In 2009, though, the Jumbos could not be stopped as they tore up the competition and took home a national title of their own. All signs point to a repeat this fall, with the return of key players like senior Joe Lessard and junior Benji Koltai.

National championships aside, many of Tufts' other teams also fared well last year at the national level. In the fall, the field hockey squad, led by standout then-junior Tamara Brown, made a run to the NCAA semifinals, and Tufts volleyball had its best season ever, crushing its rival Williams in the NESCAC tournament final on the way to an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Tufts baseball added to the title wave with a big win of its own: a NESCAC tournament victory, the school's first since 2002.

The rest of the country is starting to take notice of the Jumbos' success. For the fifth year in a row, Tufts finished in the top 20 of the Learfield Directors' Cup, which ranks the top 311 Div. III schools in the country based on performance in NCAA tournaments.

"There's been an awareness for a while that we are getting stronger and stronger; it hasn't been a secret," Gehling said, who also noted that finally winning an NCAA Championship brings Tufts to a new level of visibility.

Gehling points to 2008's wholesale renovation of Cousens Gym as a sign of the Athletic Department's progress, and hopes to announce more construction on the gym in the coming months. For now, he says, the Class of 2014 should be excited about Tufts sports for the simple reason that the Jumbos just keep on winning.

The goal, says Gehling, is to let the world know that Tufts excels in both academic and athletic arenas. And according to one of the school's brightest stars, the plan is working.

"When I was first looking at schools, I had never even heard of Tufts," Hessler said. "Now kids are looking at us and saying, ‘Hey, I want to go there and play at that school.'"

Sapna Bansil contributed reporting to this article.

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