Men's Lacrosse | Jumbos exact revenge on Cardinals
Published: Monday, April 5, 2010
Updated: Monday, April 5, 2010 06:04
In a span of just over four minutes on Saturday, the men's lacrosse team, ranked No.6 in the latest Div. III Coaches Poll, showed the kind of form that makes the Jumbos legitimate contenders for the national championship.
Late in the third quarter, on the road against Wesleyan — the same team that had beat the Jumbos in last year's NESCAC Tournament title game — the physical, back-and-forth affair was tied 7-7. After being down 1-0 early, the Jumbos had jumped out to a 5-2 lead, only to have the Cardinals grind their way back into the game with some tough defense that limited the Tufts attack in the second quarter to only one goal. With 5:18 remaining in the third, the Jumbos appeared to be in danger of dropping their first game of the season, and perhaps losing their top-10 standing in the national poll.
But then, sparked by some stellar playmaking on both offense and defense, the Jumbos shifted into another gear, going on a 5-0 run to take the lead for good.
"That was a big turning point in the game," senior co-captain Mike Droesch said. "We'd been trying to play our up-tempo style all day, and [during the run] we got some good plays from a lot of different players, and the team defense did a great job clearing and getting the ball back."
Junior D.J. Hessler started the Jumbos' run with a goal from behind the net, before junior Matt Wilko added an unassisted goal just over a minute later. With the Wesleyan defense now on its heels, the Jumbos tacked on three more goals in the third quarter before time expired, including another by Wilko and junior Ryan Molloy's third of the day.
"Sometimes we don't make the best decisions, but in that four-minute span we showed that when we do make good decisions, we can put up big numbers," Molloy said.
After the 5-0 third quarter spurt vaulted the Jumbos ahead, the team was able to hold on in the fourth despite being outscored in the period 4-2. The game ended with Tufts on top 14-11, which moves the Jumbos' record on the year to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the NESCAC.
The victory over Wesleyan was extra sweet for the Jumbo upperclassmen who had revenge on the mind after being knocked out by the Cardinals in last year's conference championship game.
The difference for the Jumbos on Saturday also appeared in less glamorous categories: face-off wins and ground balls. In their 2009 NESCAC title game win over Tufts, the Cardinals had 56 ground balls to the Jumbos' 48, while the face-off battle was close to even. But on Saturday, Tufts showed the mental toughness that has led the team to an undefeated record in 2010, dominating the Cardinals 48-34 in ground balls and 17-12 in face-offs.
"Wesleyan is not an easy place to play, and the revenge factor was definitely in the back of our minds," Molloy said. "[Saturday] was another chance to show that we've improved from last year, and that we can hang with anyone in the NESCAC and in the country."
"Winning face-offs is always a team battle, and our unit did a great job yesterday," Droesch added.
In Saturday's game the Jumbos only trailed once, 1-0, after Wesleyan junior Gabe Kelley netted a goal only 12 seconds into the first frame. Kelley's goal marked the third time in four NESCAC games that Tufts has given up the first goal, with the lone exception being the March 27 matchup with Williams. So far this season, the Jumbos have been able to endure these early deficits, but as the team begins to face tougher opponents, falling behind early will likely have a higher cost.
"We have to start games being fired-up," Molloy said. "We sometimes let other teams get out early, before we then say ‘Now it's a game.' It would really help to be able to fire ourselves up and jump on teams early."
Tufts' next game will be tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Bates College. The Jumbos are content with their undefeated record and hope to extend it against a team that they throttled 22-3 last season. At the same time, however, the team is wary of becoming complacent.
Last spring, Tufts jumped out of the gate at a similarly blazing pace, reaching 8-0 before dropping three out of its next four NESCAC games, including road losses to Middlebury and Trinity. The 2010 Jumbos are motivated to avoid such mid-season struggles this year.
"Our goal is not to go 8-0; our goal is to win a national championship," Molloy said. "The difference [between last year and this year] is that last year we were crushing teams, but this year we've been playing teams closer. This year, the goal is not to have a loss as our wake-up call, but to make these close games our wake-up call."