NORTHFIELD, Vt. - Winners of six straight and ten of the last 12 contests, the Norwich University men's lacrosse team enters their eight straight Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Semifinal contest this Tuesday night against the number six seeded and reigning conference champion Wildcats of Johnson & Wales University.
Head Coach Neal Anderson leads the maroon and gold in his eleventh season at the helm. A three-time GNAC Coach of the Year (2012, 2013, 2016), Anderson notched his 100th career win against Emmanuel on April 20th, the first Norwich lacrosse coach to reach a triple-digit win total. In his 11 seasons, Norwich has seen 31 All-Conference recipients and 31 All-Academic selections while posting a 58-19 record against conference opponents.
The Wildcats are led by Head Coach Nick Coppola, who in just five years took JWU from a first-year program to the NCAA tournament. The 2015 GNAC Coach of the year, Coppola and the Wildcats got hot during the second half of the 2018 season and rode that momentum all the way to the GNAC Championship. Johnson & Wales went on the road to win three games in the league tournament, defeating the number three, two, and finally first seeded teams in the tournament, upsetting Norwich 9-5 here at Sabine Field to win the 2018 GNAC title.
After a 2018 season that saw some of the most dominant individual offensive performances in Norwich lacrosse history, the 2019 squad has adopted a much more holistic approach to their gameplan. Despite scoring 32 fewer goals as a team compared to last year's squad, they've improved their goal differential from +43 in 2018 to +70 in 2019 by allowing 59 fewer goals in total this year.
Cody Moore is the focal point of the offense, as the senior midfielder leads the team with 39 goals and 50 points this year. His 13 man-up goals this year rank him second in all of NCAA Division III out of the 250 ranked athletes. He'll end his career in the top-ten in Norwich history in goals, assists, and points, and already owns the fourth best single-season points total in Norwich history with his 58 points last year.
Another point of strength on this Norwich team is in the faceoff circle, where the faceoff unit posts a conference-best 62.0% winning percentage. The effort is spearheaded by senior Joseph Santangelo, who boasts a 70.4% (176-250) mark this year, the sixth best single-season mark in program history and the 12th best of 250 ranked players across NCAA DIII. His 104 ground balls on the season is a new single-season program record and leads the conference. In the GNAC Quarterfinals he put up his best performance of the year to break the single-game faceoff wins record. Santangelo went 27-29 in the circle, with one loss coming due to a false start faceoff violation and the other coming when the ball rolled out of bounds off the draw and was awarded to the opposition.
The defensive unit is ranked 20th in the country in scoring defense at just a 7.72 goals against average this year. Led by senior team captain Jake Giannelli, classmate Jacob Center, and sophomores Sean Wallace and Jake Trainor, Norwich averages 8.86 caused turnovers per game.
The other aspect of the defensive unit, goaltending, has been a revelation this year, as a trio of goalies has placed Norwich at or near the top in every statistical category. Ian Kriger, Nick Kandra, and Brandon Milburn have combined for a 61.3% save percentage, best of any team in the conference, and allowed just 115 goals this year, the second-lowest total in the GNAC. All three took home GNAC Goalie of the Week at different points during the regular season, the first time three different athletes have taken home the conference honor in a single season.
Sophomore Matt Gelb sits second in the conference in assists with 40 on the year, more than the top two assists totals on Norwich combined. On March 30th he picked up seven assists against Emmanuel and has recorded an assist in all but one contest this year.
The goals get spread around the JWU attack, as three different players have 30 or more goals this year. Senior Erik Lindaas leads the way with 33 on the year, the 12th highest total in the conference.
Senior Ben Farrell has the second highest point total behind Gelb's 56 points with 46 on the year. A First Team All-GNAC selection last year, he's totaled seven goals and four assists in his last three games against the Cadets.
The defensive unit is led by freshman Zach D'Amico and his team-high 24 caused turnovers. JWU ranks seventh in the conference in goals allowed (232) and goals-against average (12.89).
Bradley Morris is the netminder for JWU, starting 11 of 18 contests. He's 3-8 with a 51.6% save percentage and a 12.07 GAA. In the regular season meeting between these two, Morris made 19 saves but allowed 15 goals. He made 16 saves on 21 shots in last year's conference championship on his way to GNAC Tournament MVP honors.
These two teams have met eight times, with Norwich holding a 5-3 advantage. However, the largest Norwich victory before this year's 15-9 regular season triumph was by four goals in 2014. This year's regular-season meeting saw Payden Masaracchia score five goals, Brandon Milburn make 12 saves in net, and Joseph Santangelo go 13-15 in the faceoff circle. Ben Farrell showed his offensive prowess for the Wildcats in the second quarter, scoring three straight unanswered goals within six minutes of game time.
Last year's GNAC Championship was the first-ever playoff meeting between these two programs in their history. The number six seeded Wildcats got to the championship by defeating the second and third seed in the tournament before taking down the Cadets at Sabine Field in the championship game. JWU went on to get eliminated in their first game at the NCAA tournament at the hands of Merchant Marine by a 22-15 final score.
KEY TO THE GAME
For Norwich, today's focus is to show up early and establish control. Norwich is outscoring opponents in the first quarter this year by a 45-25 margin and outscoring opponents by a +45 margin in the first half compared to just +25 in the second half. Last year's championship game saw Norwich give up three straight goals to open the game, a momentum blow they never seemed to recover from as they never held the lead in the game.