Crunch Time for Men’s Lacrosse

The defending national champions host the NESCAC finals this weekend

Tufts lacrosse in action

Times have certainly changed for the Tufts men’s lacrosse program. A year ago, the Jumbos were just beginning their magical post-season run. It started when they won their first New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) title in a 13–12 comeback against Middlebury. In the semifinals for the national championship, they came from behind again to beat heavily favored Cortland, and then shocked the lacrosse world by beating powerhouse Salisbury to win Tufts’ first NCAA team title.

Entering the 2011 season, Tufts found itself in an unusual spot: it was the team to beat. The defending champions were ranked number 1 in the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) preseason poll.

“We know our game is circled on everyone’s schedule,” says co-captain Alec Bialosky, E11. “Every team we play wants to prove they can beat the best, and we get their best game. So we have to match their intensity and focus and give every team our best game.”

The Jumbos met the challenge. A gutsy victory against Stevenson University in Baltimore early in the season proved the team’s mettle. Tufts entered the game number 1 in the national poll, and the Mustangs were number 2. With North-versus-South bragging rights on the line, and after waiting out a weather delay and a move to a turf field that pushed the start time to 9:30 at night, the Jumbos edged the Mustangs 14–13.

“It will go down as a classic, given the crazy circumstances—first the change of venue, then two pregame lightning delays totaling an hour and 45 minutes, then top-ranked Tufts holding off second-ranked Stevenson for a 14–13 win in what was the most anticipated regular season game of the year in men’s NCAA Division III lacrosse,” Lacrosse Magazine’s Corey McLaughlin wrote.

D.J. Hessler, E11, named the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s national championship game, was Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason Player of the Year. Hessler broke the team’s all-time scoring record early in the season. More recently, he was the only Division III player in the country selected as a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Watch "Road to the Championship," a documentary about the lacrosse team’s memorable 2010 season, produced by Arlin Ladue, E11, and Drew Innis, A04.

Healthy Respect

Off to 9–0 start overall this year, and 6–0 in NESCAC, the Jumbos were flying high. Heading into a night game at Endicott on April 12, they had won 19 straight games, dating back to last season. But the unbeaten run ended that night with a 9–8 loss to their regional rivals. The Jumbos rebounded quickly, scoring an 11–8 victory at Middlebury on April 23 to clinch the top seed in the NESCAC tournament for the second time. After a 15–9 loss to conference rival Bowdoin, the Jumbo laxmen finished the regular season at 12–2 overall and 8–1 in NESCAC.

The Jumbos have a healthy respect for their opponents and understand that they need to be on their game, every game, to win. “The schedule that we play, both in NESCAC and outside of it, was a huge reason we were able to fight back and win the close games at the end of last season,” says co-captain Ryan Molloy, A11. “Anyone can beat anyone in the NESCAC, and that’s the beauty of it. If you don’t come out fired up for every battle, you’ll lose. You can’t win on talent alone.”

The two losses dropped the team to number 7 in the USILA national poll, but team members say that’s the price a defending champ pays. They were strong in the NESCAC quarterfinals on May 1, beating Connecticut College 12–6.

This weekend, Tufts hosts the conference semifinals and final at Bello Field, and though the perception of the team has changed since the national championship, the team hasn’t wavered from its get-better-every-day approach.

“We embrace the challenge that 12–2, 8–1 and hosting the NESCAC tournament is somehow not quite up to our standard,” says Coach Mike Daly. “Our team is focused, and 2011 is still a work-in-progress. We are ahead of where we were in 2010, but so are so many teams in our conference and around the nation. We have to improve. We have to strive.”

Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at

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