Stuck in the LAX airport after a random flight cancellation, the CC Men’s lacrosse team found a live feed to hear they were going to the NCAA Division III tournament for the second time in the program’s history.
After a 14-7 win Saturday against Whittier College to close their regular season, the Tigers looked to keep up momentum to face #10 Washington College Wednesday, May 8. It was a hard fought game but the Tiger’s were defeated 10-7 in the opening round of the NCAA Playoffs.
Despite Whittier’s advantage in face-offs and ground balls, CC’s defense stepped up and held the Poets to no scores in the latter third and fourth quarters. “Our defense has been pretty consistent all year,” freshman goalie Chase Murphy said. “I think our goals against Southwestern speak for itself. Even against top-10 teams like Salisbury, we were able to hold them.”
The Tigers rank 7th nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 5.75 goals/contest, and also rank 13th in caused turnovers, forcing 12.88/game.
“It [turnovers] just comes with having the offense go hard against us in practice,” senior defender Nate Pearson said. “In the past two weeks, our Conference schedule has been games with teams that aren’t as good as us, so knowing that we could take chances and get the ball back has been good.”
CC’s special teams also excelled. The Poets closed the margin to 10-7 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, but CC’s man-down defense stepped up, denying Whittier on four of five opportunities throughout the game. Pearson, who earned defensive player of the week, led many of the man-down stops for the Tigers, contributing to a season average of 86.3% (5th).
“We had a really good scout on Whittier and just followed the game plan,” Pearson said. “They got one on us, which I don’t think anyone’s happy about, but one of five isn’t too bad.”
CC’s set defenses have performed consistently well, adapting to the teams they face, but defense in transition off turnovers and clears becomes more challenging. Communication between the goalies and defense has been great, but transition defense is a bit more demanding.
“We’ve just got to be a little more vocal in our transition,” Murphy said. “We’re a little frantic sometimes, but when we get settled, I think our transition defense is just as good as our settled defense.”
“We trust all of our goalies,” Pearson said. “The biggest thing will be playing team defense. You never have five guys watching one guy go to work on the ball, it’s about having each other’s backs.”
Offensively, the Tigers rank 10th, scoring 14.88 goals/game, 4th in scoring margin (9.13). Senior midfielder Steve Rijo has been nominated the SCAC offensive player of the year and led the offense against Whittier with junior attackman Tyler Allen, scoring a pair of goals late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. The most impressive aspect of the CC offense remains their ability to spread production among many players.
“One of my favorite parts of the team is that we get production from everyone and we’re not counting on one guy to get seven goals,” Rijo said. “It really helps with other teams having to scout us, [because] if they put a lot of effort in stopping one player, there are other guys that can step up. The balance of our team is definitely one of our biggest strengths this year.”
“We were banging the ball around really quickly, and I think that was one of the first games where we really relaxed,” sophomore midfielder Gray Ritger said.
CC’s man-up unit converted on all three opportunities, contributing to its 43 percent season conversion rate (5th). Like earlier in the season, the Tigers will need to overcome starting slow in order to beat top ten teams like Dickinson. CC saw some of the possible consequences as Whittier won 17 of 25 face offs and out-hustled the Tigers to win ground balls 25-17.
“Before Southwestern, we had a pregame practice where we went back to fundamentals,” freshman defender Tim Jenkins said. “[In game] it just seemed like we were waiting to see what the other team would do rather than play our game. Every ground ball is another chance to score, so it really has to be on us to decide to come out firing.”
Throughout the season, players have shared both playing time and statistics, as well as earning numerous awards. Not only did Rijo win offensive player of the year, but Murphy won defensive player of the year, the first time a CC freshman or goalie has won the award. Head Coach Sean Woods also won Coach of the Year, and seven players made All-SCAC team, including senior attackman Charles Curtis and sophomore midfielders Henri Halle and Gray Ritger. All of these players are vital to the Tiger’s offense.
After spending a weekend in Southern California and returning to Monday classes with little or no sleep, the team shares tight bonds. The team’s unity and steady progress over the year, despite rough beginnings, pays homage to their toughness in overcoming adversity.
The loss to Washington College is tough, but the Tigers came a long way this year, and are looking forward to getting back into the playoffs next year.