I explained it in my post last week but I’ll say it once again; Salisbury was immensely hungry coming into Sunday and holy mother of Berkman did it show. Most teams view a four goal loss in the national championship as at least a great season (if not a legendary one). Shoot, my alma mater’s never even made the NCAA Tourney. For the sea gulls, it was like choking on spoiled female blue crabs marinated in skunked Natty Boh. From all accounts these guys literally spent 364 days reminding themselves they’d gotten beat by a bunch of powder blue wearing New Englanders with Dumbo for a mascot. So in all actuality, there was really no way Salisbury was going to lose. I just wish I’d predicted more of a blow out.
All I know about Mercyhurst is that they hail from Erie, Pennsylvania (that’s north of Pittsburgh on, you guessed it, Lake Erie), wear green and had never won a national championship coming into Memorial Day Weekend. So the storyline here is? They knocked off one of Division II’s old champions (a resurgent Adelphi squad) in a closely played 9-8 contest. It was the most exciting game of the weekend from the least discussed Division in the sport. Lastly, their mascot is you guessed it, the Lakers.
Finally, UVA put aside a lot of issues to rise again to the top of the lacrosse world. It doesn’t get much better in this game than being the NCAA Division I champion. For the first Division I team to win it with five losses on their resume this is even better. In a year where no one seemed truly dominant, a champion in a team peaking at just the right time also seems very fitting. Virginia was four minutes (and a four goal deficit) away from being knocked out of the first round 3 weeks ago. Now they’re champs. In the process they momentarily exorcised the demons brought on by George Huguely’s ugliness, honored Yeardley Love’s memory and won with a selfless team that probably should’ve been playing like this all along. The coach and the players stuck to their guns on harsher team rules, received more negative publicity because of it and still managed to persevere. They could’ve covered up the Bratton’s violations. They could’ve let Colin Briggs play in the NCAA semifinals. This isn’t basketball or football, there’s no guarantee that those team violations (we’re still not sure what they violated but an educated guess is some sort of harsh team substance abuse and alcohol policy) would’ve been exposed to the public. Still, the team captains and Dom Starsia made the ultimate decisions to uphold these suspensions, whether it looked bad or not. At the end of the day not only did it make this team closer, but who among us can question it?
My parting thought on this final is this: as much as I’ve enjoyed watching these past couple of teams earn redemption, enough is enough. Duke came back from one of the worst scandals in lacrosse and NCAA history to win a national championship four years later (2010) with many veterans from that 2006 team. Virginia not only absorbed numerous big suspensions this season, but were able to compartmentalize the tragedy of Yeardley Love’s death one year later in a way that kept her in their memories, but dulled the pain enough to let them play to their fullest potential. That’s a difficult psychological balance to strike, and they did an admirable job of it. Still, we shouldn’t have to come into every Memorial Day weekend talking about a story line of this nature. It would be a relief to watch a team win and not have to dredge up some awful memory from the past. And while we do need to always remember what happened to Yeardley so that we can honor her memory and prevent something like it from happening again, we don’t need to have a storyline like this be the centerpiece of the conversation around lacrosse and this community. Hopefully the only adversity future champions will overcome is a couple of injured players or the loss of a large graduating class. As a lacrosse player and fan it’s bittersweet to have watched these champions over come what they have. I’m proud of them for doing so, yet it still hurts that they had to do so at all.
On a lighter note, the Michigan Wolverines are set to add both a woman’s and men’s lacrosse program in the next two years. Now, lacrosse is something of a very open fraternity/sorority. It has exploded in popularity and growth in just about every part of the game except for the pro leagues (which have stayed mostly static) and the men’s Division I level (where it’s tough to get funding). That is why the introduction of Michigan into the men’s Division I ranks for the 2012 season should come as a refreshing and welcome surprise for the sport. Michigan is a powerhouse athletic program with immense resources, a national fan base, membership in one the oldest and most influential conferences and a strong presence and history in Division I football. The only other athletic program of its caliber at the Division I level that has lacrosse (with heavy emphasis here on football and basketball strength) is fellow Big Ten member Ohio State. Most of the schools to recently add or move to Division I lacrosse have been places like Bryant, Jacksonville, Detroit, St. Josephs and St. Johns, which is awesome and I certainly don’t begrudge it. But still none of those schools (save for maybe St. Josephs and St. Johns occasionally in basketball) are big time athletic programs. Michigan brings a different level of exposure, and the lacrosse world should be celebrating this big time (yes that includes you OSU fans). Plus, just look at the helmets:
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for: “I swear I’ll talk about something other than lacrosse for the next few (dozen?) posts,” “Dirk’s torn tendon is all for show…you know VW over-nighted that spare part before Game 2,” “ESPN just called Curtis Granderson the best centerfielder in the game. Subsequently, I am counting the days until he’s hurt,” and “The plate collision fiasco seems like MLB’s answer to the concussion blow up in the NFL. Do you think Bud Selig wonders why his sport isn’t more popular? Do you think he cares?”