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The race to Philadelphia is on. Conferences tournaments wrapped across the Division 3 last weekend. On Sunday night, the 2023 D3 Men’s bracket was released. The field is made up of 38 teams, 28 of which earned their spot by winning its conference championship. Lacrosse Playground previewed three D3 conferences in the preseason, the MIAA, the NCAC, and the CCIW.
We spoke to the conference-winning chances from each of the league’s Hope (MIAA), Denison (NCAC), and Illinois Wesleyan recap the regular season and conference tournament and look ahead to their matchups in the NCAA Tournament.
Unlike the NCAA tournament, which will see 17 of the 19 teams play one game a week, the D3 tournament has teams playing multiple games over a week and often on back-to-back days. All of the games will be played on the campus of one of the competing teams. The first-round competition begins Wednesday, May 10 with the winners advancing to play their first-round games on Saturday, May 13, and the third-round game on May 14. Illinois Wesleyan will face Aurora on Wednesday, Hope and Denison received first-round byes. The quarterfinals and semifinals will take place on Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21. The Championship game will be at Lincolns Financial Field on Sunday, May, 28.
Hope MIAA Champion
Hope finished the regular season 13-8 and was the #2 seed in the MIAA. The Dutchman dispatched Adrian College in the MIAA semifinal and found redemption for a regular season loss to Albion. Albion defeated Hope 21-12 in the regular season. The Dutchmen were able to turn the tables and defeat the Brits 23-14 in the conference championship game. Hope earned a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament and will face Christopher Newport University. The Captains are 16-2 on the season and were ranked the #1 in the nation earlier this season after defeating defending back-to-back national champion RIT. We caught up with Hope head coach Michael Shanhals to learn more about the Dutchmen.
I’m super proud of the guys. They played really well. And, you know, they took it took it very seriously. getting better every day. You know, and they kept getting better, a little bit better, a little bit better learning some things coming together a little bit more. And we kind of put it together. Down the last week. I thought we played pretty well the game before. And then we played really well. Saturday, so that was fun.
We played them pretty tough in the first half in our regular season-loss to Albion. We had a really bad injury to our starting line pole in the first half. We just were emotional. It’s hard to see your friend go down like that and that opened it up. Albion jumped on us, and we couldn’t recover from that. So it wasn’t a case like we didn’t think that we could you know run with them, It was just you know, It’s not our day that for the first time, and that happens, you play good teams, and they get the better of you. And that’s a really, really great program and a good team. And they jumped on us that day.
We’re grateful that we had the opportunity to play them again, it was a tough game against Adrian. We were happy with the way that we stepped up in that game. We knew that if we had them down a little bit on Saturday we wanted to keep them there and we were able to do that. Albion’s explosive and can come back and score a lot of goals in a very short amount of time. We knew we needed to take care of the ball. We played a pretty mature second half, not just fast when we needed to be fast, hunting and running all over the place, but we also were pretty cerebral, which is not something that you would call us normally. So it was it was a nice balance between the two things it was it was a well, well-executed game by our guys.
D3 Tournament Preview:
They’re a relatively newer program like we are. So I’ve paid close attention to the arc of their progress and improvement over the years. You know, when they first started, I think they, they may have played Adrian in a playoff game. They’ve done a fantastic job of bringing in talented, talented players. So, I like their style. You and I were talking earlier, about playing fast and moving the ball. They do it right and fun to watch on film.
This is our third trip to the NCAA tournament. We have a great group of men. They’ve made so much progress over the course of this year. It’s really fun that they had the opportunity to practice tonight, than we have the opportunity to be together for another week. We also don’t have a midweek game we’re playing on Friday. So that’s awesome.
Denison College: NCAC Champion
Denison finished the regular season 14-5 and was the #1 seed in the NCAC. The Big Red dispatched Oberline 18-6 in the semifinals before winning a thrilling come-from-behind buzzer-beater against Kenyon College in the championship game. Kenyon jumped out a 10-3 halftime lead. The Big Red battled back in the second half and Quinn O’Donnell scored with 10 seconds remaining to give Denison the win. It was the third time in a row the two teams have met in the NCAC championship game. Denison earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of Illinois Wesleyan and Aurora on Saturday in Denison. Here is Denison’s Eric Koch recap of the Denison season.
This season has been defined by a “next man up” mentality. We have dealt with a good number of injuries, particularly on offense, which led to a lot of different starting line-ups. When you are in those moments it can be tough to stay positive, but we stayed together and worked through the adversity as a team. As we arrived on the other side of those injuries, we had gotten a lot of guys playing time and learned a lot about ourselves. It helped us develop a healthy level of resiliency that paid off in the conference championship game. Seasons rarely go as planned, but this group did an incredible job of staying the course.
Kenyon is a great team, and we knew we were going to have to play a clean game against them to get the win. We identified staying out of the penalty box and limiting their transition opportunities as the major keys to success. As the game wore on, we were able to settle in and execute our systems confidently and make the plays that we needed to make.
D3 Tournament Preview:
We will find out Wednesday afternoon who our opponent will be in the second round. It will be the winner of IWU and Aurora. Early takeaways from watching their film are that they both have very talented rosters and can score in bunches. We are going to have to continue to refine our game and play clean, opportunistic lacrosse.
Illinois Wesleyan: CCIW Champion
Illinois Wesleyan finished the regular season 12-3 and the top seed in the CCIW. The Titans earned their fifth NCAA tournament appearance with their 14-11 win over Transylvania. Carson Kichie (4G,1A) led the Titans and broke the program single season assist record (52) in the championship game. The Titans will play their first round game on Wednesday at home against Aurora. Illinois Wesleyan defeated Aurora 16-7 back on March 29th. The winner will then travel to Deniosn to take on the Big Red in Ohio. Here is Zach Iannucci recapping the Titan’s season.
We lost our first two games of the year. I think that was a humbling experience for all of us, but helped us focus on taking things one step at a time. From that weekend on, I think our team did an incredible job, captains and seniors leading the way, with keeping everyone focused on continuing to work hard and just trying to win the play that was in front of them.
I thought our defense and goalies were great. It was a great team effort, and our defense and goalies really executed and were able to handle everything Transy threw at us. They put in a lot of work in the film room and on the field throughout the year and I thought it really paid off Saturday.
D3 Tournament Preview:
Rematch with Aurora. We played them at the end of March and it was a great game. Aurora is tough, always a great game between our programs. They have a very experienced goalie, great defense and fogos, and an explosive offense. They are a very dangerous and well-coached team.
Grand Valley State
On Monday, the MCLA D2 tournament kicked off on Monday in Round Rock, Texas. To win the tournament calls on teams to win four games in six days. Grand Valley State earned the #7 seed and won their first round game against Florida Gulf Coast 11-7. Unfortunatley, the Lakers fell Tuesday night to California State University in San Marcos in a hard fought 13-11 loss. Lacrosse Playground would like to congratulate Tim Murray and his Lakers on a fantastic season.
Before the tournament got started, Lacrosse Playground caught up with Coach Murray to learn more about he and his staff prepare to play in the MCLA Tournament.
From a logistical standpoint, how much better is the program at planning for the national tournament?
Planning for the tournament is always a logistical tap dance. There are a lot of moving parts, including things like freshmen having to move out of dorms / not having a place to stay for the week leading up to nationals, getting the team/equipment to the tournament, coaches having to plan a week away from work, Lodging/food/practice times / etc while at the tournament.
There’s a lot going on. Add to that the potential temperatures that we are going to see in Texas, and the proactive measures that we take for that (ice baths after practices and games, cold towels on sidelines, etc.) I don’t know if there’s a perfect scenario. It comes down to having a plan and being willing/flexible to adjust as necessary throughout the week.
As a coaching staff, we scout / breakdown film for three teams: the team we play in the opening round, and both of the potential opponents in the second round. We want our team to be hyper-focused on the task in front of them, which is our first-round opponent. We don’t even talk about a second-round opponent, but our coaching staff does a lot of leg work ahead of time. Playing a second game in 24 hours doesn’t allow for much time if you don’t do the work in advance.
What’s your approach to scouting a first-round and potential second-round opponent?
We will (obviously) break down the film of the first-round game, and accommodate anything we see into the scouting report we already have. But, a lion’s share of the work is done in the week leading up to the tournament.
We try to simplify things for our players from a personnel standpoint, so we will compare players to players we have already seen from a playing style standpoint. For example #1 for FGCU plays a very similar style to #2 for St Thomas (a team we have already faced). I feel like that comparison, as well as some films that we will go over will provide a sense of confidence with the players in terms of knowing what they are going up against.
Do you make game-day personnel decisions right away with the expectation of having to play a second game the next day or are you strictly focused on winning game one and managing tired legs the next day?
We are 100% focused on winning the game in front of us. And if that means we have to wear the tread down on our tires a little bit, then so be it. There is no sense in “saving” anything for the next day, when there’s no guarantee of making it there.
Do you feel like you have a coaching advantage if you get matched up with a newer tournament team?
I think the one advantage I might have against a less-experienced coach might be roster management throughout the course of the week. I tell people all the time: the MCLA tournament is a different type of beast. This isn’t the NCAA where you have a week of preparation for one game. This is four games in six days against the best competition out there. In the Texas heat. It’s a completely different animal.
So, I feel like I’ve learned some tricks over the years (mostly through trial and error) about managing a roster throughout the course of the week, but I’m not sure that would really play out to an advantage until later in the week.
The fact of the matter is: there are hundreds of teams that compete in the MCLA, and only 16 are left in our division. There are no more bad teams or mediocre coaches left. Every game is a battle and demands your best lacrosse in order to advance.
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