The Union College lacrosse players don’t deny that the pressure is building the further they advance in the NCAA Division III tournament.
But the Dutchmen (5-1 Liberty League, 12-4 overall) believe if they share the responsibility throughout the lineup, both offensively and defensively, they can minimize their mistakes and advance when they take on 11th-ranked Bowdoin (6-4 NESCAC, 14-5 overall) today at 1 p.m. on Frank Bailey Field.
Union, ranked 14th, is coming off a 12-5 win over Montclair State in the opening round, also at Frank Bailey Field, on Wednesday night.
“I try not to think about the pressure,” said Union senior goalie Sean Aaron, the Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time USILA All-American. “If you think about the pressure too much, it can put you off your game.
“What we try to do is alleviate the pressure from each other as teammates. We know we can rely on each other. As long as we can help each other, we will be OK. I have complete confidence in my defensive players. Robert Sullivan and Matt Livingston are among the best playing in front of me, and our defensive midfielders are also as good as it gets.
“Also, there is a simple concept that my coaches always tell me. As long as we have the ball, the other team can’t score on us.”
That means that the Dutchmen must control a majority of the faceoffs to keep the ball in the offensive end. Junior midfielder Alex Stone has emerged as the team’s top player on the draws, winning .649 percent of them (87-for-134) so far. He has won the faceoff battle in 12 of his 14 starts so far.
“I feel ready to go right now,” said Aaron, who has a 6.46 goals-against-average and a .651 save percentage and is among the nation’s best in both categories.
“I really like the 1 p.m. start. When we play night games, you have the whole day to think about the game, but the afternoon games are much better. You can get up at a reasonable time, get to the game and get ready to play.”
Senior attacker Ted McKenna, who scored a pair of goals against Montclair State, said he was surprised that the Dutchmen dominated the opening-round game.
“Yeah, I’m surprised we won like that. In the NCAA tournament, the games are usually pretty close,” he said.
“But we are expecting a tough game against Bowdoin. We saw them on film, and we know they have a very good goalie and a very good faceoff man. We won’t have very many fluke goals against them. We will have to pick our shots and be smart about what kind of shots we take against them. They’ve got an All-American goalie, just like we do.”
McKenna is thrilled that the Dutchmen got a second straight home game.
“You can’t ask for better than that,” he said. “To be home in the NCAAs is great. Plus, we should have a big crowd and plenty of support.”
Union head coach Paul Wehrum said he is concerned about several injuries to his defensive midfielders, and he knows that Bowdoin is a terrific team.
“Put is this way, they came in here to practice on Thursday, and that’s very rare at this level to come in two days before the game. We know they will be ready for us, but we will be ready for them, too,” Wehrum said.
“I was surprised that we dominated Montclair State so much, because they had won 10 straight coming in here. But Sean had a great game, and we got some goals from some people we didn’t expect.
“That’s what I’ve been telling my players. Great players make great plays in big games. We need several unknown players to step up for us and make some plays in this game.
“I’m not overly confident about this game, because I know Bowdoin is a great team. Let’s just say that I like the horses that are in our stable.”
Rob Santangelo (23 goals, 23 assists, 46 points), McKenna (28-7-35), Nolan Connors (20-11-31), Ethen Meyer (17-14-31) and Nate Greenberg (13-4-17), who scored three goals against Montclair State, are the leading offensive weapons for the Dutchmen.
The Bowdoin Polar Bears are paced by Billy Bergern (21-20-41), Keegan Mehlhorn (22-7-39) and Mark Flibotte (29-8-37).
But Flibotte is out with a knee injury while Bergner is questionable for the game with another injury.
Goalie Chris Williams, also among the nation’s best, has a 7.39 goals-against-average and a .635 save percentage (10th best in the country).
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