NCAA lacrosse: Union advances with stingy defense

Thanks to an elite defense, the Union College men’s lacrosse team is headed to the Elite Eight for t

Thanks to an elite defense, the Union College men’s lacrosse team is headed to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.

Senior goalie Sean Aaron put in another stellar performance with eight saves, and defenders Robert Sullivan and Matt Livingston created an effective wall in front of him to help the 14th-ranked Dutchmen oust 11th-ranked Bowdoin, 10-4, in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament Saturday at Frank Bailey Field.

Union’s offense more than held its own, beating Bowdoin keeper Chris Williamson, including three goals by Ted McKenna and two each by Nolan Connors, Rob Santangelo and Nate Greenberg.

And not to be outdone, faceoff specialists Alex Stone and Jack Farrell combined to win 13 of 18 draws, effectively limiting the Polar Bears’ offense even further.

The game marked the end of a 22-year career at Bowdoin for head coach Tom McCabe, who is retiring.

Union (13-4) next meets SUNY-Cortland Wednesday at Cortland. Cortland held off Stevens, 10-9, Saturday night.

Union’s overall defense was so tight that Aaron, the Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time USILA All-American, wasn’t tested as much as expected. But when he was called upon, he was outstanding, flicking away shots with his stick or intercepting passes before they reached a dangerous Bowdoin attacker.

“This is unbelievable feeling,” said Aaron. “Being part of the Elite Eight is pretty cool, but we’re not satisfied yet.

“I can’t say enough about the guys in front of me. They limited Bowdoin’s opportunities, and we all pulled together, just like we always do.

“To walk off this field with a win like this is so special, and to be part of this senior class with all that it has accomplished, words can’t describe it. Hopefully, we started something special here.”

“It was a close game for a long time,” added McKenna, who helped the Dutchmen pull away from a 6-3 advantage by scoring all three of his goals in the final quarter.

“We have a very deep bench, and I think that’s why we started to pull away. I think after the first half, Bowdoin got a little fatigued. We have more guys who can put the ball into the net.”

The Polar Bears were playing without their leading scorer, Mark Filbotte (29 goals, eight assists, 37 points), who had a knee injury.

But McKenna pointed out that Union performed well in every aspect of the game, regardless of the opponent.

“Sean is a great goalie, one of the best in the country. It’s no surprise that he held them to just four goals,” he said.

Sullivan also wasn’t surprised that the Union defense came up big once again.

“It was a total team effort,” he said. “We all help each other out. We know Sean is the one of the best in the country, but we always try to help him out.

“This feels incredible right now. This is something we’ve been working toward since we came to Union.”

Bowdoin (14-6) finally broke a scoreless duel with 5:46 left in the opening period when Conor Hanley scored from in close.

But the Dutchmen came right back less than two minutes later when Greenberg collected a feed from Nick Alfonzetti and deposited the ball past Williamson.

Bowdoin recaptured the lead on a spinning shot by Franklin Reis before Rob Santangelo’s low screamer with 33 seconds left in the period evened the score once again at 2-2.

Meyer muscled his way through traffic to give Union its first lead, 3-2, a little more than five minutes into the second period. The Dutchmen were never headed.

Union led the Polar Bears in every major statistical category, including shots (34-20), ground balls (35-21), turnovers (16 for Bowdoin compared to 14 for Union) and extra-man opportunities (Union was 2-for-8, Bowdioin 0-2).

Union head coach Paul Wehrum, a U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Famer who led Herkimer Community College to eight NJCAA national titles, knows all about winning programs, and he said it took him a little time to figure out this group of Dutchmen.

“It took me two years to learn these kids’ commitment to ed­ucation. At first, I was too easy on them. If they had educational commitments, I would let them go instead of doing their lacrosse work. But this group of senior leadership explained to me that they wanted to work hard on lacrosse as well as their academics, and that’s when I started working them harder.

“I’m surprised how strong we were offensively today, but I think we wore them down. They couldn’t run with us. Our big players played big,” Wehrum said.

“Sean didn’t have to play that big today, but when we needed him, he was there. Right now, we’ve got the depth, and we are healthy. We’ve been strong right through to the end. We’ve got one more week to go.”

Bowdoin 2 0 1 1 —  4

Union 2 2 2 4 — 10

Bowdoin scoring: Franklin Reid 1-0, Christopher Anderson 1-0, Patrick Lawlor 1-0, Dan Hanley 1-0, Billy Bergner 0-1. Union scoring: Ted McKenna 3-0, Nolan Connors 2-1, Rob Santangelo 2-0, Nate Greenberg 2-0, Ethan Meyer 1-1, Nick Alfonzetti 0-1, Jonathan Andrews 0-1, Will Mahony 0-1, Adam Rosenthal 0-1.

Goaltenders: Bowdoin, Chris Williamson, 9 saves; Union, Sean Aaron, 8 saves.

Categories: College Sports

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