(Mountain Water - The 2019 GNAC Championship, Produced by Norwich Athletic Communications)
NORTHFIELD, Vt. - For the second time in program history, the Norwich University men's lacrosse program will play in the NCAA Tournament after capturing the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship on Saturday afternoon and earning the conference's automatic bid to the tournament. They'll travel to Tufts University to take on the Pilgrims of New England College in the first round on Tuesday at 4:00 PM.
The Cadets enter the tournament as winners of eight straight under Head Coach Neal Anderson. In his eleventh season at the helm, the three-time GNAC Coach of the Year (2012, 2013, 2016) 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 59-19 record against conference opponents.
On the other sideline, Jedd Brown leads the Pilgrims in his sixth season with the program. He's built New England College into a perennial contender, as the Pilgrims have captured four straight conference titles and five overall in his six seasons. They've advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament the last two years, defeating Albion College last year in the first round by a 10-9 score in overtime before falling to the number one nationally ranked team from Rochester Institute of Technology by a 26-3 final score. The Pilgrims have won six straight games and posted a 9-8 overall record on their way to the NAC/NECC Alliance Championship.
Cody Moore is the focal point of the offense, as the senior midfielder leads the team with 43 goals and 57 points this year. His 13 man-up goals this year rank him third 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 69.7% (198-284) mark this year, the fifth best single-season mark in program history and the 13th best of 250 ranked players across NCAA DIII. His 117 ground balls shattered the single-season program record of 99 set in 2013 by Nate Fortezzo.
The defensive unit is ranked 18th in the country in scoring defense at 7.88 goals against on average this year. Led by senior team captain Jake Giannelli, classmate Jacob Center, and sophomores Sean Wallace and Jake Trainor, Norwich averages 9.06 caused turnovers per game.
Nick Kandra has emerged as the leading figure for a goaltending unit that ranks first in the GNAC in save percentage and second in goals-against average. Kandra's 62.1% save percentage would theoretically rank him third in the nation, but he does not fulfill the qualifier of playing at least 60% of his team's minutes in goal. He was named GNAC Tournament MVP after making 22 saves in the two games he handled for Norwich during the conference tournament, allowing just 12 goals in 119:42 in goal.
Sophomore Connor Smith leads the Pilgrims with 51 goals on the year, good for second in the conference. His 58 points on the year are tied for the team lead with classmate Charles Hacking, who has 44 goals and 14 assists on the year.
NEC has three different players with 20 or more assists on the season in the form of sophomores Reilly Parker (26), Patrick Storie (20), and Brendan Gruning (20). The team averages 8.63 assists per game, the 38th most in DIII lacrosse.
The NEC defense is ranked 61st in the nation with their 9.75 goals against average. They're led by senior Connor Fries and his 58 caused turnovers this year, with his 3.73 caused turnovers per game ranking fifth overall in the nation. As a team, the Pilgrims rank 18th overall in the nation with 12.69 caused turnovers a game.
Austin Frankel is the main faceoff guy for the Pilgrims, as he's gone 150-242 in the circle this year for a 62.0% mark. He ranks second on the team in ground balls with 92 this year, just behind the team lead of 122 held by Connor Fries.
Senior William Platt is the netminder for NEC, starting all 17 games and logging 978:52 in goal. He averages 9.50 goals against a game, and his 58.3% save percentage ranks him 26th in the nation.
The Cadets and Pilgrims have met 34 times in the two program's histories, with NEC commanding a 29-5 advantage. The last four meetings have all gone to NEC, but by just a 39-30 combined final score and an average margin of victory of just 2.25 goals. This year's regular season matchup was a testament to that, as the Pilgrims scored four first-quarter goals on their way to a 7-5 victory on their home field. This will be the first-ever postseason meeting between the two teams.
KEY TO THE GAME
According to Defensive Coordinator Nick Fisher, the key to Tuesday's game is time of possession. "Whoever controls (time of possession) through things like clearing and faceoffs, that's the team that'll win the game."
Norwich posts a clearing percentage of 79.6% compared to the Pilgrims' 81.4% mark. Faceoffs are similarly close, with Norwich's 62.0% just edging out NEC's 61.0% mark. Neither team turns the ball over much, the Pilgrims with just 23.25 turnovers per game compared to the Cadets' 20.53. For Norwich to win, they'll have to possess the ball deep into offensive possessions, limit turnovers, and dominate the faceoff and clearing game.
The Cadets and Pilgrims will play their opening round game Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 PM at Tufts University on Bello Field on the Medford, Massachusetts campus. The winner of Tuesday's game will play the next day against the hosting Jumbos, the number one overall seed in the NCAA North Bracket and number three ranked team in the nation, at 7:00 PM in the second round at Bello Field. Tickets for all NCAA games at Tufts will have an $8 admission price for adults, $5 for students and seniors.
Any additional questions, please contact the Norwich Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Tyler Neville at firstname.lastname@example.org.