For the first time ever, the NCAA Division III men's lacrosse tournament is coming to Collegeville.
After a magical run to its first Centennial Conference championship, the Ursinus College men's lacrosse team will host an NCAA Tournament game as Springfield comes to Patterson Field for a second-round showdown on Wednesday. Faceoff is set for 4 p.m.
By now, it's no secret that the Bears have vastly exceeded expectations under first-year head coach Gary Mercadante. The team was picked eighth in the Centennial Conference preseason poll, but has scripted a storybook season that reached its apex on Saturday, when the Bears knocked off Gettysburg for the first time to capture their maiden conference crown.
Going to the NCAA Tournament is not a program first for Ursinus – the Bears advanced to the second round in 2015 – but Mercadante and company hope their remarkable story continues into uncharted territory.
The Bears' first foray into the national tournament was a thrilling one. Ursinus edged Cabrini, 8-7, in the first round before falling to Gettysburg in a double-overtime classic. That squad had to play both games on the road, but this one will enjoy the comforts of home thanks to a pair of signature victories in the conference tournament.
First, Ursinus came back from two goals down in the final five minutes to stun Franklin & Marshall, 12-11, in the semifinals on junior Ben Minardi's last-minute dagger. That set up another matchup with Gettysburg, which defeated the Bears in the CC final in 2015 and 2016. This time, and for the first time, it was Ursinus who got the better of it.
Senior goalie Nick Kirk was a brick wall between the pipes, racking up a championship-record 22 saves to hold down a potent Bullets attack and propel the Bears to a 10-8 breakthrough at the Battlefield. The Bears' strong finish, which has them up to No. 8 in the latest USILA rankings, was enough to move them into the top-five of the South Region poll and warrant a second-round home game.
The opponent, it turns out, is an NCAA Tournament regular. Springfield is making its 12th straight trip the dance after claiming another New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) title with a 12-10 defeat of Coast Guard on Saturday.
Winners of six of their last seven games, the Pride enters the national tournament with a 10-9 overall record under longtime head coach Keith Bugbee, who just became the fifth coach in the history of collegiate men's lacrosse to win 400 games – and the only one to do it at one institution.
Springfield brings a dangerous attack with it to Collegeville. Eight players have scored at least 10 goals this season, led by junior attack Joe Hawley (40 goals, 28 assists), senior attack Jack Vail (40 G, 23 A), senior attack Lucas Habitch (36 G, 26 A), and senior midfielder Cameron Glover (23 G, 15 A).
Like Ursinus, the Pride got the best of two tight conference tournament contests to get here. Springfield downed MIT, 14-13, on Ray McCarthy's overtime game-winner, before holding off Coast Guard as Vail provided four goals and an assist.
Ursinus brings its own deadly offense into the fray, a prolific unit built around junior Bobby McClure (56 goals, 19 assists) and sophomore Hakan Atillasoy (50 goals, 22 assists). That duo has already registered the two highest-scoring seasons in program history, and has been aided immensely by the emergence of Minardi, who has seven goals in his last three games, and freshman Tommy Reinhart, who scored twice in the conference final. Junior Sam Mutz (14 goals) and sophomore Joe Mercurio (10 goals) are also capable scorers, while senior Tim Carroll and junior Evan Scott combine with Mercurio to hold down a versatile midfield.
Senior Brian Casey has been a steady force in the faceoff X, winning 56 percent of his draws and going a robust 21-for-25 in the semifinal win at F&M.
The Bears and Pride have never met on the lacrosse field.
The winner of Wednesday's game will take on the winner of a second-round clash between Cabrini and DeSales. The third round will take place on Saturday at a site to be determined. The Cavaliers are ranked 6th in the nation and 3rd in the South Region and would likely serve as host should they advance to the third round.
TICKETS: $5 for adults, $3 for students
PROGRAMS: In an effort to go paperless, the NCAA has produced digital game programs. They can be found at NCAA.com/DIIIMensLacrosse. There will also be QR codes available to scan at the ticket tables on game day.
LIVE STREAM: The game will be broadcast live at portal.stretchinternet.com/ursinus with commentary and live stats.