The Union College men’s lacrosse team flies well under the Division III radar, and that’s just fine with the Dutchmen’s head coach and their top defensive player.
Led by junior goalkeeper Stefan Basile, the Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year, the Dutchmen own a 13-3 record and are ranked ninth in the nation. Although they lost at top-ranked Rochester Institute of Technology in Sunday’s Liberty League tournament championship game, the Dutchmen still earned an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, and will host New England College (14-3) in a first-round game Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Frank Bailey Field.
Veteran Union head coach Paul Wehrum is not concerned about his team’s lack of publicity, but he agrees that the Dutchmen have quietly put together one of the best seasons in program history.
“We lost three games by a total of four goals, and all of them were on the road,” he said. “Twice, we lost to the No. 1 team in the country at that time, and the other time, we lost to the No. 2 team in the country. That’s not too bad.
“I think we don’t get noticed too much because Union College doesn’t have the lacrosse tradition of a SUNY-Cortland or a Salisbury. There are 300 teams in Division III, so it’s easy to get overlooked.”
But when you have a goalie the caliber of Basile, a 5-foot-7 junior captain who was an understudy to three-time All-American Sean Aaron, you are never really out of the game. It’s no wonder the Dutchmen are making another trip to the NCAA tournament. They last went in 2012, when Aaron led the way.
“Stefan is a great goalie,” said Wehrum. “He was a high school All-American [at Fayetteville] and would have started for us as a freshman if not for the fact that he was playing behind Sean Aaron. He’s a great communicator from back in the net, a great clearer out of the zone and a junior captain for us.”
Wehrum says Basile’s intelligence and agility place him a step above most keepers.
“His quickness is his greatest attribute,” he said. “Stefan really knows the game. When you are building a lacrosse team, you always recruit your goalie first. I’ve been in this business a long time, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Basile, who led the Liberty League in goals-against average (6.50), save percentage (.655) and saves per game (12.21) wouldn’t take all the credit for Union’s stingy defense.
“We play in a great league, and that’s why the Liberty League got two bids to the NCAA with us and RIT,” he said.
“I’m very fortunate that we have four great long poles in front of me. They don’t let very many tough shots get past them, and that makes it very easy for me.”
Basile said Union’s entire defensive corps has improved tremendously from a year ago.
“This is the second year that we have the entire defense back, and it makes a difference,” he said. “We all communicate very well. Plus, we have a great faceoff man and plenty of balance in the scoring department. Other teams don’t know who to concentrate on.”
Senior Jake Quinn, a short-stick midfielder, and Adam Sands, a sophomore defender, also made the All-Liberty League first team from Union’s defensive contingent, while senior defender Kyle McQuiggan earned a spot on the second team.
Up front, Union’s balanced offense is led by senior attack Rob Santangelo (21 goals, 18 assists, 39 points, three game-winning goals), but Nolan Stauffer (19-9-28), Richard Gregory (17-10-27), Charlie Ross (14-2-16), Quinn (11-5-16) and Adam Rosenthal (11-1-12) are also scoring threats.
“This team reminds me of the 2012 NCAA team,” said Wehrum. “Another win, and this team will have more wins than other team in Union College history. We have the kind of players who can win a couple of games in this tournament.”