Union men’s lacrosse mindful of last loss, but positive entering tournament

Union's Keaton McCann takes a shot on Middlebury goalie Finn O'Connor and between Luke Simpson and Bill Dobensky during a March 22 game at Frank Bailey Field.
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Union's Keaton McCann takes a shot on Middlebury goalie Finn O'Connor and between Luke Simpson and Bill Dobensky during a March 22 game at Frank Bailey Field.

SCHENECTADY — The forecast for Schenectady on Saturday calls for a partly cloudy day. Or is that partly sunny? It can be both, and the Union men’s lacrosse team knows the feeling.

On May 4, the second-seeded Dutchmen were upset by third-seeded St. Lawrence 15-9 in the Liberty League Tournament. But on Sunday night, they got word that they’d not only made the NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Tournament as an at-large selection, but would serve as host for the second and third rounds Saturday and Sunday.

Partly cloudy, partly sunny, and it’s a good balance to have as Union (14-2) prepares to play John Carroll (17-2) at noon Saturday at Frank Bailey Field. Lynchburg and Western New England follow at 3 p.m., with the winners to play at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“I was confident that we were going to play. I wasn’t confident we were going to get a home game. I think our resume was strong enough, it showed we could get a home game and deserve it,” Union coach Derek Witheford said.

While losing to St. Lawrence, one of four Liberty League teams to make the tournament, isn’t the end of the world, it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

“I would say that was one of the worst games we played all year,” said senior Peter Burnes, the Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year. 

“The team learned you’ve got to play for 60 minutes,” Witheford said. “You can’t let the other team go on a 10-goal run.”

Burnes said when the team practiced Monday, and he said it was a hard one, players didn’t talk about the St. Lawrence loss but clearly had learned their lesson.

But then, the transition to sun.

“We had some time, so we got some rest,” Witheford said. “We watched film, saw our loss and, I think, got better from it. There’s never a good time to lose, but that was probably as good a time as any.”

“We’d been on a good run,” junior Jake Titus said. “It was just a nice reality check to know now that it’s playoffs, it’s win or go home. It’s good to keep that in the back of our minds.”

This is the sixth tournament appearance for Union, and the first since 2019, when it hosted and defeated SUNY Cortland 12-7 before losing to nemesis RIT in the third round. The Dutchmen are likely hosting because they loaded their schedule with as many top-tier teams as possible. Five teams on their schedule are in the tournament, and several others had fighting chances right up to the committee meeting. Union finished second in Region II according to the final NCAA regional rankings.

And if history means anything, it’s good for Union that it’s hosting. The Dutchmen are 6-0 at Bailey Field in men’s lacrosse national tournament games.

“I think a home game is everything,” Titus said. “Throughout this season we’ve had such a good outing from our fellow students coming out and supporting us, and seeing fellow alumni come back for our games is awesome. Hopefully we’ll see some of those faces this weekend — all the more reason to take home a win.”

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