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Union set to host Cortland in NCAAs

Union set to host Cortland in NCAAs

Dutchmen men's lacrosse face high-powered champion from the SUNYAC in the second round
Union set to host Cortland in NCAAs
Union's Hayden Frey, right, stickhandles against RPI's Quinn Fettig in the Liberty League semifinals.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY -- Union men's lacrosse head coach Paul Wehrum just wanted to make the Liberty League playoffs this season.

His seniors had other ideas.

Last fall, they told the coaches it was NCAAs or bust, and that goal will be fully realized at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, when the Dutchmen play host to SUNY Cortland in the second round of the 36-team NCAA Division III tournament at Frank Bailey Field.

"It's the first year that we've been in it, and we're super-excited," senior attack Jack Sullivan said. "We wanted to go to the NCAAs every season, but we really felt that, with the group of guys we have in that locker room right now, they could actually take us there. Now that it's here, it's definitely surreal. It's crazy. It's nuts."

"We're ready. This is as excited a group as I've ever had," Wehrum said. "It's funny, I've never had this before. But I'll never forget, all the seniors came to me and said, 'Coach, our goal this year is to make the NCAAs.' I was a little taken aback, because that was setting the bar higher than we've been for the last four or five years."

Union hasn't played Cortland since 2016, so perhaps the Dutchmen don't know much about the current Red Dragons team.

Wehrum knows plenty about the program, though, since he graduated from Cortland as a three-time All-American, still holds the school record for goals in a game (10) and was an assistant coach on the first of the school's four national championships, in 1973.

If tradition counts for anything, No. 12-ranked Union (13-3) is up against a stiff challenge against the Red Dragons (14-4).

Cortland has won eight straight, including 13-9 over Geneseo in the SUNYAC championship game, while Union is coming off a 14-6 loss to top-ranked RIT in the Liberty League title game.

"Very talented. Quick. Great size, good in the goal," Wehrum said. "They do have a young team. They're very aggressive defensively. They'll slide early. They traditionally prefer man-to-man defense.

"Of course, they feel they have better athletes than some of the teams they play in the SUNYAC conference. And they're probably right, me being a Cortland guy, if there was a SUNY school you were going to go to when I was a young man, it was going to be Cortland."

"We played them one time in 2016 and lost a close game there," goalie Jack Santilli said. "They're a fiery group of kids that like to chirp and get up and down the field. They make sure they let you know when you mess up, so we just have to play our game. We're a fiery group, too, we want to stay to our identity and not let them dictate the game."

"We're just excited to play them, and something we do really well is bring a lot of energy," Sullivan said.

For scouting purposes, the Dutchmen planned to watch video of Cortland's game against Geneseo, RIT, Tufts and Wesleyan, the 2018 national champ, from what was a difficult out-of-conference schedule.

Among common opponents, Union and Cortland each beat Clarkson and Ithaca and lost to RIT. The Dutchmen actually did that twice, 12-9 to end the regular season and 14-6 for the Liberty League title.

Sullivan had given the Dutchmen a 3-1 lead in that game, but RIT methodically turned the tide.

"We came out doing what we wanted to do," Santilli said. "It was a tight and low-scoring game for awhile. They got a couple late goals at the end of the first half and started out the second half with a couple more goals. I think we got a little unwound a little bit and lost our identity. They're a team that's going to take advantage of that."

"They scouted us well on offense," Sullivan said. "They had good slide packages that fit well against our offense. And their goalie played out of his mind, so building offensive momentum was a little difficult."

The Union-Cortland winner likely will get another shot at RIT, which plays Wednesday against Tuesday's John Carroll-Hope winner, one of four first-round games to get into the round of 32.

"Cortland and us are going to have a real battle," Wehrum said. "We know what we've got in front of us, and we're ready for it."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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