Men's Lax Heads To Tufts For NESCAC Weekend

May 5, 2011

Defending NESCAC and NCAA champion Tufts University will look to earn its second consecutive conference crown this weekend when the Jumbos host the final rounds of the 2011 NESCAC Men's Lacrosse Championship at Bello Field in Medford, Mass. The action begins on Saturday when the top-seeded Jumbos host seventh-seeded Bowdoin in the first semifinal at 12:00 p.m., followed by third-seeded Middlebury taking on fourth-seeded Trinity, which is making its first-ever semifinal appearance, at 3:00 p.m. The 2011 NESCAC Men's Lacrosse Championship concludes on Sunday, May 8 at 12:00 p.m.

A year after amassing the best season in program history with a 20-1 overall record and the school's first NCAA title in any sport, Tufts (13-2, 8-1 NESCAC) returned to the field this spring and raced to eight consecutive conference wins to claim the number-one seed. The defending champs have suffered only two setbacks this year, a non-conference loss at Endicott on April 12, 9-8, and a 15-9 loss to their semifinal opponent, Bowdoin, in the season finale on April 29. The Jumbos were in danger of becoming the second top-seeded team in as many years to make an exit in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Holding a tenuous one-goal lead over Connecticut College with 4:54 to play in the third quarter, the Tufts offense came to life and scored six consecutive goals over a 5:18 span to take command of the game in an eventual 12-6 victory. After finishing as the runner-up for the second time in tournament history in 2009, the Jumbos returned to the title match in 2010 and got the job done, outlasting perennial power Middlebury by a 13-12 score for their first conference crown. Tufts appears to have all the pieces in place to make a run for another NESCAC title this weekend, as for the third consecutive year the Jumbos boast the league's top offense having scored 13.47 goals per game. Tufts also owns the most productive man-up unit in the conference, converting .457 percent of its chances and netting an average 2.07 goals per contest. Leading the Jumbos' attack has been the familiar face of senior D.J. Hessler (Monkton, Md.). The 2010 NESCAC Player of the Year and three-time All-NESCAC selection is the all-time scoring leader at Tufts, having amassed 133 goals and 164 assists for 297 career points. Hessler sits atop the conference's scoring ranks for the third consecutive spring, averaging 4.73 points per game with 71 on 31 goals and 40 assists.

Tufts hopes to extract a measure of revenge when it faces seventh-seeded Bowdoin (8-6, 4-5 NESCAC) in Saturday's first semifinal. The Polar Bears prevented the Jumbos from putting together an unbeaten record in conference play with the aforementioned 15-9 victory on April 29. Bowdoin's win capped an impressive run over the final four games of the regular season. Just three weeks ago, the Polar Bears sat mired in a three-way tie for eighth place in the NESCAC with a 1-5 conference record and a 3-6 overall mark. Bowdoin began building momentum with a 13-12 decision over Endicott on April 14, then picked up back-to-back league road wins at Bates (11-9) and Williams (8-7) before the dramatic victory over Tufts. The Polar Bears didn't let up in the quarterfinals this past weekend, as they snapped second-seeded Amherst's program-record 13-game winning streak in a 14-9 win, out-scoring the Lord Jeffs 5-1 in the fourth quarter to take control of the game. The victory put Bowdoin back into the semifinals for the fifth time in the last six years. Like their semifinal opponent, the Polar Bears have one of the most productive offensive units in the conference, as their 11.43 goals per game are second only to the Jumbos. Bowdoin features a balanced scoring attack headlined by sophomore Billy Bergner (Fairfield, Conn.), one of six Polar Bears to record double-digit goals. Bergner's 36 points (24-12-36) are tied with senior midfielder Ben Chadwick (Needham, Mass.) for the team lead. Chadwick and company hope to help Bowdoin even the all-time tournament series with Tufts, as the Jumbos own a 2-1 advantage.

Third-seeded Middlebury (11-3, 6-3 NESCAC) was in danger of missing out on the semifinals for the first time ever. The Panthers needed double-overtime to get past sixth-seeded Colby this past Sunday, 7-6, as senior attacker David Hild (West Hartford, Conn.) provided the decisive tally with his team-leading 39th goal of the season. Over the years, the NESCAC championship has been synonymous with Middlebury. The Panthers have more conference crowns than any other team in the league, winning the first seven titles from 2001 through 2007. Recently, though, Middlebury has faced stiffer competition come tournament time. The Panthers failed to make the final in 2008 and again in 2009, however they managed to reach last year's title tilt as the sixth-seeded team before falling to Tufts by a single goal. This season, Middlebury suffered only three losses - all coming against conference foes, and all by three goals or less. The Panthers are third among conference teams in scoring offense, averaging 10.93 goals per game, and are second behind the Jumbos in man-up goal percentage at .377. Hild paces the Panther attack for the second year in a row with a career-best 53 points on 39 goals and 14 assists, tallying five game-winners for his team. In net, senior goalkeeper Ryan Deane (Grosse Pointe, Mich.) has once again logged nearly every minute of every game. Deane owns a 8.25 goals against average and a .589 save percentage.

Making its first semifinal appearance ever is fourth-seeded Trinity (12-3, 6-3 NESCAC). After going winless in their previous five NESCAC tournament appearances and missing out on last year's playoffs entirely, the Bantams dispatched rival Wesleyan in the conference quarterfinals by a 10-5 score. The win also prevented Wesleyan from advancing to the semifinals for the first time, as the Cardinals had gone 9-0 in the opening round prior to Sunday. Trinity raced out of the gate to start the spring, going 8-0 overall and sitting in a two-way tie for first place with Tufts before succumbing to the Jumbos on April 9, 18-10. Trinity would also fall in its next match against Middlebury, its semifinal opponent, 12-8 on April 16, before rebounding to win three of its final four contests. The Bantams head into the weekend with high hopes of picking up two wins and may have a strong shot at doing as they feature one of the conference's best defensive units. Among this weekend's teams, Trinity owns the lowest goals against average at 8.09 per game (4th NESCAC) and has the best penalty killing unit, killing off .825 percent of man-down situations (1st). It all starts in net with the play of junior netminder Peter Johnson (Riverside, Conn.). Starting all 15 games this season for the Bantams, Johnson holds a 7.73 goals against average and a .616 save percentage. Johnson hopes to backbone Trinity to its first final appearance with its first tournament win over Middlebury, as the Panthers ousted the higher-seeded Bantams in the 2007 first round, 16-4.

Quarterfinals - Sunday, May 1 at Higher Seeds

at No. 1 Tufts 12, No. 8 Connecticut College 6
No. 7 Bowdoin 14, at No. 2 Amherst 9
at No. 3 Middlebury 10, No. 6 Colby 9 - 2OT
at No. 4 Trinity 10, No. 5 Wesleyan 5

Semifinals - Saturday, May 7 at Tufts
No. 7 Bowdoin at No. 1 Tufts - 12:00 p.m.
No. 4 Trinity vs. No. 3 Middlebury - 3:00 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, May 8 at Tufts
Semifinal Winners - 12:00 p.m.

--courtesy NESCAC--