The Mack Report

Merrimack, Le Moyne, Ready For One More Round

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No. 8 Merrimack and No. 1 Le Moyne have ended each other’s seasons in each of the last five years. They’ll meet in Friday’s NE-10 semifinal.

NORTH ANDOVER – It might not have the long storied history of the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, but in New England college lacrosse circles the Merrimack College-Le Moyne matchup tomorrow in Syracuse, N.Y. has its fair share of competitiveness and drama.

While the No. 1 ranked Le Moyne squad appears to be a big favorite in the Northeast-10 semifinal against the Warrriors, the recent matchups prove otherwise.

The Warriors traveled to the Dolphins earlier this season, on March 25, losing 16-9. It was just the seventh game of the season for Merrimack’s large freshman class, which includes leading scorer Tucker Schwarz.

(Ed. Note: this story also appeared in the May 1, 2014 edition of The Eagle Tribune)

But since that loss, the Warriors are 6-1 in their last seven games, losing only to Adelphi, which at the time was ranked No. 1 in the nation until it lost to the New York Institute of Technology last week. The Warriors enter the game ranked No. 8 nationally in Division 2.

“I’m not sure we were ready for that first game (against Le Moyne),” said junior captain Brandon Waiter. “I definitely think, at this point, that we’re more seasoned. That first game against them was a tough road game and we have a young team, so I think we were still trying to find our way. We have now.”

Le Moyne and Merrimack have engaged in what has become a bitter rivalry the last five years. The Dolphins are the two-time defending Northeast-10 champions and have only lost seven games, total, the last four seasons. Three of those games have come at the hands of the Warriors.

Last season, Le Moyne ended Merrimack’s season with an 8-4 loss in the NE-10 semifinal round. The year before that, the Dolphins ended Merrimack’s season with a 10-7 loss in the NE-10 championship game. In 2011, Merrimack ended Le Moyne’s season in the NE-10 semifinal and in 2010 the Warriors beat Le Moyne in the NE-10 championship game.

It doesn’t end there.

In 2009, the Warriors lost in the NE-10 title game to Le Moyne, and the Dolphins beat them again the next week in the NCAA Final Four.

“They have been the bar that everyone else is trying to be,” Merrimack head coach Mike Morgan said. “Those first few years, it wasn’t really a rivalry, they were just winning so many games. Lately we’ve been able to get some wins, we beat them at our place last year and then they won again later in the year.

“You want to test yourself against some of the best teams in the country, and that’s what Le Moyne is. … Games against them the last few years have always felt bigger. Part of that, I think, is that they usually have something on the line. When we play Le Moyne, it’s either because we have something on the line in our league or in the NCAA picture.”

Waiter added, “We always know we’ll face them in the regular season, and then we almost always see them in the playoffs. It’s always a game we look forward to, it’s a huge rivalry now, and these are the games we like to play. It brings out the best in us and the best in them. It’s a tough environment to play in, but we love it.

“This is why we all came to a place like Merrimack to play lacrosse, to play in big games like this. Le Moyne has more history, they have always been the top dog, everyone says they’re the best and they have a long history to prove it. But when we play them, we know we’re on that same level.”

Waiter, along with co-captain Jimmy Holland, have helped lead the young Warriors through their first season as college players. Schwarz has 35 points in 15 games. Only two of Merrimack’s top-11 scorers are seniors and six are either freshmen or sophomores after the Warriors graduated a large senior class last May.

“It was a challenge, sure, we knew it would be,” Waiter said. “But we don’t change our standards for anyone, whether it’s a freshman or a senior. We knew it would be a challenge at first being a younger team, but we also knew that we would be able to do it and have a successful season.”

Waiter said the freshmen, especially, have made significant strides in their first collegiate season.

“That hump from high school lacrosse to a program like ours is tough,” Waiter said. “I remember my first few games. You can play in big high school games, but when you’re coming in here and getting into huge games with teams like Le Moyne and Adelphi, that’s a huge jump.”

The Warriors played three top-six nationally-ranked teams in the first month of the schedule.

“As the year has gone on, I’ve seen (the freshmen) playing with a lot more confidence,” Waiter said. “Confidence brings composure, and late in games, if we need goals or if we’re defending, that’s what you need to have. It’s also something I think we’ve improved on a lot since that first Le Moyne game. Also, the speed at which (the freshmen) are playing has gotten faster, which is also important. It makes us a tougher team to play against. I feel like we’re a different team than we were then, and we’re looking forward to playing them again.”

Opening faceoff is set for 1 p.m. tomorrow. The winner will advance to the NE-10 championship game on Sunday. The Warriors likely need a win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.