MEDFORD - The Tufts University men's lacrosse team will head to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine this weekend to compete for their eighth consecutive New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title. The Jumbos face Wesleyan University in the semi-finals on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Wesleyan (15-1) defeated Tufts (12-4) by a 17-16 score in Middletown, Connecticut, during the regular-season on April 22. The Jumbos had a 15-12 lead with 11 minutes remaining before the Cardinals scored five of the final six goals to take the win. Sophomore Danny Murphy netted five goals with two assists for the Jumbos, while Harry Stanton tallied eight goals with two asissts for Wesleyan.
The Cardinals are the #2 seed in the conference tournament, while the Jumbos are #5. Tufts won 12-11 at #4 seed Bowdoin College in the quarterfinals. Junior Ben Connelly finished with two goals and two assists to lead the Jumbos with four points. Wesleyan had a 15-8 victory against seventh-seed Williams College. Christian Baker scored three goals with two assists to pace the Cardinals.
Top seed Bates College (14-0) and sixth-seed Middlebury College (8-8) meet in Saturday's other semi-final game at noon. Saturday's winners will play for the NESCAC championship on Sunday at Bates starting at noon.
The only team in NESCAC Men's Lacrosse history to play in all 17 conference championship events, the Jumbos enter this weekend in an unusal role. During their run of seven consecutive conference titles (2010-16), Tufts hosted the NESCAC "final four" five times (2010-11, 2012, 2014, 2016). Also the host in 2007, Tufts' #5 seed in this season's tournament is its lowest since the 2005 Tufts team was also the conference's fifth seed.
If Tufts was to win the 2017 conference title for the eighth season in row, they would break away from Middlebury with whom they are tied at seven league championships apiece. The Panthers won the first seven NESCAC crowns (2001-07). Bates is looking for both its first NESCAC title and first appearance in the conference final. Wesleyan won the 2009 championship and is a five-time runner-up (2004-07, 2013).
Saturday will be the seventh meeting between Tufts and Wesleyan in the NESCAC Tournament, and the teams have split the previous six match-ups. Both have defeated the other to win a conference title. The Jumbos won 11-6 in the 2013 final and the Cardinals were 14-10 winners in the 2009 final. The teams played three straight years early in tournament history (2003-05) with Wesleyan winning a quarter and a semi, and Tufts taking a semi.
The Tufts-Wesleyan game pits the league's best offense (Tufts) against the best defense. The Jumbos are the highest scoring team with 17.19 goals per game, while Wesleyan's 13.44 mark is fourth. The Cardinals allow just 8.82 goals per game for first in the league, and Tufts' 12.13 goals against average is eighth in NESCAC.
The top two scorers in the league will be in action. Wesleyan's Stanton leads NESCAC with 59 goals and 80 points (21 assists). Murphy is second in the league at 78 points (46 goals, 32 assists). The top two goalies as ranked by save percentage will also be on the field. The Jumbos' Ben Shmerler leads the league at a .589 mark, while Cardinal Ted Bergman is second with a .574 rate.
In the all-important face-off category, Tufts sophomore Henry Hollen is third in the league with 217 wins in 409 attempts (.531). Wesleyan's leader has been Zach Zavalick at 124 for 222 (.559). Jason Gibson for the Cardinals (62-122, .508) and Tucker Mathers on the Jumbo side (35-69, .507) could also factor in.
The Cardinals, led by NESCAC Coach of the Year John Raba, had four players on the All-Conference teams announced this week. In addition to Stanton and Bergman on the first team, junior midfield Taylor Ghesquiere was also a first team pick and Ben Shively was the second-team longstick midfielder. For head coach Casey D'Annolfo's Jumbos, Muprhy was first team while junior midfielder Ben Connelly and junior defenseman Arend Broekmate were on the second team.
Live video webcasts of all three games at the NESCAC Men's Lacrosse Championship can be found at https://www.nsnsports.net/conferences/nescac/. Links to live stats are available at http://nescac.com/sports/mlax/2016-17/schedule.