By BOB YORK
The NCAA hung out its “Welcome to New England” banner at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., over the Memorial Day weekend to promote its 2018 Men’s Lacrosse Tournament and then looked on as its host teams smacked the rest of the country in the face during the competition.
For the first time in the 47-year history of the men’s tourney, all three divisional champions hailed from New England. Yale led the trifecta by defeating Duke, 13-11, to earn the Div. I title, while Merrimack prevailed on the Div. II level by crushing Saint Leo, 23-6. Wesleyan then completed the sweep by outlasting Salisbury, 8-6, for the Div. III crown.
In the women’s competition, a pair of New England teams finished with silver medals, as James Madison outlasted Boston College, 16-15, in the Div. I title tilt that was played at Stoney Brook College, while Gettysburg edged Middlebury, 11-9, on the Div. III level in Salem, Va. Le Moyne, meanwhile, bested Florida Southern, 16-11, in Tampa for the Div. II title.
While the tourney outcomes ran the gamut from jubilation to heartbreak, the results still bestowed plenty of hardware upon those who participated in this annual quest to be best. Among them were a number of men and women who prepared for their collegiate experiences at one of the premier talent pools for lacrosse in the entire country: the schools representing the New England Prep School Athletic Council. Of the dozen teams to make it to this spring’s title round, eight of them had at least two former NEPSAC standouts dotting their rosters. In total, those eight rosters featured at least 50 former NEPSAC players, 27 of them earning a national championship for their resumes, while 23 others wound up second best.
On the men’s side of the ledger, 26 NEPSAC alums were among those who positioned themselves atop the medals podium – seven from Yale, seven from Merrimack and 12 from Wesleyan – while the nine area grads who played for Duke settled for the second tier. In the women’s tourney, 15 NEPSAC grads made it to the championship round, while one – Alex Jarvis (Choate) – earned a first-place finish with Gettysburg. Fourteen others wound up second: three via BC, two with Florida Southern, and nine with Middlebury.
Yale’s Matt Gaudet, a former Salisbury School standout, captured the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award after chalking up a four-goal performance during the Bulldogs championship match. He finished the weekend with 10 goals on just 13 attempts after pacing a 20-11 semifinal round win over Albany with a six-goal outburst.
“Believe it or not, Matt got off to a slow start this season,” explained Steve Conn, Yale’s assistant athletic director of sports publicity. “After setting a school record for freshman scoring (32-5—37) last year, he had trouble finding that same scoring touch at the outset of his sophomore season.
“The coaching staff challenged him, however,” added Conn. “He lost his starting job for a couple of games and the move paid off. He worked hard, got himself back in the starting lineup and turned his season around.”
Gaudet, a sophomore, who earned first team All-New England laurels as a junior and senior at Salisbury, finished his championship run this spring with 48 points on 41 goals and seven assists. The sharpshooting attack, who connected on nearly 79 percent of his shots this spring, has now chalked up 73 goals and 12 assists for 85 points in just 35 games.
“Right from Day 1 Matt showed himself to have a tremendous work ethic and now we’re seeing the fruits of his labors, “said Bobby Wynne, Gaudet’s coach at Salisbury. “He’s continued to improve his game on the collegiate level and I think the Yale coaching staff has done a great job in helping Matt improve his game by using an offense that utilizes his abilities to the utmost.
“Plus, he has a great cast around him … heck, it never hurts when you’ve got someone like (Tewaaraton Award winner) Ben Reeves passing you the ball,” quipped Wynne.
Duke’s Joey Manown, a Deerfield product, collected three points in the finale with a pair of goals and an assist, while Reilly Walsh (Brunswick) posted a single tally. Brian Smyth (Westminster) and Sean Lowrie (Roxbury Latin) both registered assists in the title tilt.
The Blue Devils made it to the finals by ousting defending champion Maryland by a 13-8 count, thanks in part to single tallies by Lowrie and Walsh and a pair of Manown assists. The setback to Duke also brought a close to the highly productive career of Maryland’s Connor Kelly.
The former Avon Old Farms standout registered one goal and three assists in his finale to give him 82 points on the season after registering 46 goals and 36 assists. In total, Kelly’s four-year career at Maryland saw him chalk up three All-American nominations along with191 points on 128 goals and 63 assists.
During his prep career, Kelly posted 285 points on 188 goals and 97 assists and his efforts earned him an All-New England selection following his senior season.
“He’s one of the best athletes to ever come through Avon,” stated Avon mentor Skip Flanagan, of Kelly, who was voted the premier New England prep school football player his senior year. “He played both attack and midfield for us and earned All-American status for his lacrosse play.
“We at Avon are very proud of Connor’s achievements,” added Flanagan of the Maryland standout who was one of the five finalists for this year’s Tewaaraton Award, which is annually presented to the top college lacrosse player in the country. “I’m proud to have had the opportunity to be his coach.”
The Div. I women’s tournament, meanwhile, saw Boston College come up just shy for a second straight year in its bid to land a national title as the Eagles fell to James Madison by a 16-15 count. In last season’s finale, BC dropped a 15-13 decision to Maryland.
Junior Dempsey Arsenault, a New Hampton School product, helped provide the wind beneath the Eagles’ wings as she rang up a pair of goals and assisted on three others during the finale. Arsenault hit double figures during tournament play as a five-point outburst via three goals and two assists allowed BC to post a 15-13 semifinal round victory over Maryland.
Arsenault’s late-season exploits pushed the junior close to the century mark in career scoring with 94 points in 58 games. This spring she collected 69 points on 48 goals and 21 assists. Coupled with a pair of goals her freshman year and a 15-8—23 showing as a sophomore she now has 65 goals and 29 assists heading into her senior season.
During a prolific career at New Hampton, Arsenault was a two-time All American honoree while she also earned back-to-back berths on New England All-Star teams following her junior and senior seasons. She achieved such notoriety in large part by ringing up 87 points on 45 goals and 42 assists.
“I’m not a bit surprised by the success Dempsey has achieved on the collegiate level,” said Jenna Simon, Arsenault’s coach at New Hampton. “She’s a very gifted athlete but in addition to that, she’s also one of the most competitive athletes I’ve ever been associated with. She was always willing to put in the extra work to make her a better all-around player.
“Whether it was lacrosse, ice hockey or field hockey, Dempsey was always the best athlete out there,” added Simon, who played her collegiate field hockey at BC as well. “She’s not only an awesome athlete, but an awesome teammate and an awesome kid as well. I’m proud to have coached her and I’m proud of where she is today.”
The Thomas brothers – Christian and Dom – helped lift Merrimack to its Div. II championship much the same way they helped lead New Hampton to a 48-2 record and three league titles during the three years they played together for the Huskies: by scoring goals. During the Warriors run for the roses this spring, Christian erupted for a 10-point afternoon in the title game to earn tourney MVP honors by netting three goals and setting up seven others as Merrimack trounced Saint Leo, 23-6. Dom, meanwhile posted an assist in the finale, while Bailey Walsh, a Holderness product, scored twice.
The Warriors earned their way to the title tilt by crushing Seton Hill, 16-9, in a semifinal clash. As the Brothers Thomas collected two goals each in the effort. Christian, a freshman, got off to a fast start on the collegiate level, ringing up 80 points on 35 goals and 45 assists. Dom, meanwhile, finished his sophomore season with 24 points on 19 goals and five assists. He chalked up 11 goals and 11 assists his freshman year to give him 30 goals and 16 assists for 46 points through two seasons.
During their New Hampton days, Christian and Dom earned All-American and All-League honors in helping lead the Huskies to a 48-2 record, two undefeated seasons and three straight Lakes Region League titles.
“They’re special players,” said Justin Simon, who coached the Thomas brothers at New Hampton. “They’d run through walls for you … whether they were playing lacrosse, hockey or soccer, they’d give you everything they had and it’s obvious they’re playing that same way at Merrimack.”
Wesleyan’s drive to the men’s Div. III crown featured the handiwork of former Loomis standout Zach Zavalick, who rang up a goal and an assist during a 19-18 semifinal round win over RIT. From there, the Cardinals moved on to the finals where they outlasted Salisbury, 8-6. Zavalick finished his season with five points on two goals and three assists.
The women’s Division III finale saw Gettysburg hold off Middlebury by an 11-9 count to clinch the title. During semifinal round action, the Panthers knocked off The College of New Jersey, 13-9.
Other former NEPSAC players on the rosters in this year’s NCAA championship lacrosse games were:
Yale men’s roster: Chris Keating (Exeter), Griffin Thomas (Deerfield), Robert Mooney (Lawrenceville), Will Cabrera (Lawrenceville) and Will Weitzel (Roxbury Latin).
Duke men’s roster: Raines Shamburger (Avon Old Farms), Brian Smyth (Westminster), Turner Uppgren (Choate), Justin Guterding (Salisbury), and Josh White (Nobles & Greenough).
Merrimack men’s roster: Mitch Green (Kent), Paul Spinney (Salisbury), Zach Mann (Wilbraham) and Davis Cronin (Hebron).
Wesleyan men’s roster: Ben Shapiro (Brunswick), Griffin Gustafsson (Belmont Hill), Max Powers (Westminster), Hunter Reynolds (Berkshire), Owen Ward (St. Paul’s), Jackson Curran (Governor’s), Mitchell Patton (Hopkins), Matt Metros (Canterbury), Curran Sullivan (Exeter), Ben Shively (Westminster), Dylan Moser (Westminster).
Boston College women’s roster: Kenzie Kent (Noble & Greenough) and Christina Walsh (St. Mark’s).
Florida Southern: Marina Jozokos (Brewster) and Gracie Maganzini (New Hampton).
Middlebury women’s roster: Winslow Ferris (Concord), Claire Russell (Milton), Susanna Baker (Westminster), Mollie Smith (Pingree), Addy Mitchell (Noble & Greenough), Sophia Peluso (Berkshire), Julia Keith (Governor’s) and Campbell Goldsmith (Green Farms Academy).
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