Bound for the NCAA Lacrosse Finals—Again

Jumbos look to claim their third consecutive national championship on May 29 in Philadelphia
Tufts lacrosse player celebrates scoring a goal
Tufts midfielder Garrett Clarke, A16, celebrates after scoring a goal against St. Lawrence University. “These players have to make the plays, and they do,” says coach Mike Daly. Photo: Alonso Nichols
May 23, 2016

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The Tufts men’s lacrosse team is headed to its third consecutive NCAA Championship game this coming weekend, after a 23-12 semifinal win over St. Lawrence University before more than 2,000 fans on Bello Field on May 22. It was the first time that Tufts had hosted an NCAA semifinal lacrosse game.

The Jumbos (20-2) will compete against the Salisbury University Sea Gulls (22-1) in the NCAA final for the fourth time when the teams face off this Sunday, May 29, at 1 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Salisbury advanced to the championship game with a 14-6 victory over Gettysburg in Sunday’s other semifinal.

Goalie Alex Salazar, A16, was outstanding for the Jumbos in the semifinal match, finishing with 17 saves. He had seven in the first quarter, helping Tufts take a 5-3 lead despite being outshot 13-7 in the first 15 minutes. The Jumbos led 11-6 at halftime and pulled away in the second half.

Five Jumbos scored four or more points, led by John Uppgren’s four goals and three assists. Zach Richman netted five goals, Austin Carbone finished with three goals and two assists, Jake Gillespie scored four times, and Ben Andreycak tallied three goals with an assist.

Jeremy Vautour led St. Lawrence with five goals. The Saints, who were making their first trip to the NCAA semifinals since 1979, finished the year with an 18-3 record.

“Hats off to the St. Lawrence team. They worked their tails off,” Tufts head coach Mike Daly, A95, said at the postgame press conference. “That’s as hardworking and tough a team as we’ve faced all year. The credit goes to our guys, their toughness, their work ethic.”

Conor Helfrich, A16, won 22 of 27 face-offs for the Jumbos. After his first win, he went down the field and scored 13 seconds into the game. Vautour tied it quickly, though, before the Jumbos ran off three in a row to lead 4-1 on Richman’s first at 6:03 of the period. The teams combined for three goals in the final 1:10 of the quarter, with a Tufts goal by Carbone sandwiched by two from Conor Healey that brought the score to 5-3.

The Jumbos scored the first three goals of the third quarter, including one and an assist by Uppgren for an 8-3 lead. St. Lawrence had three of the next five, all by Vautour, to get within 10-6. Carbone added a goal with 34 seconds to go until halftime, giving the Jumbos an 11-6 lead at the break.

Gillespie’s goal 15 seconds into the third quarter was part of a 6-1 Tufts run during the first 11 minutes of the period. Richman scored twice during the stretch, and a goal by Andreycak put Tufts up 17-7 at the 4:10 mark. Consecutive goals by Vautour and Andrew Jarrett (man-up) 44 seconds apart helped the Saints close to 17-9. However, the Jumbos scored twice in the final 1:37 of the third, including Garrett Clarke’s goal with nine seconds on the clock that gave Tufts a 19-9 margin.

Tufts had the first four goals of the fourth quarter, including two with an assist by Uppgren, and led 23-9. The Saints closed the scoring with goals by Jarrett, Charlie Duprey and Jamie DeNicola in the last 2:33 for the 23-12 final.

“The defense and our goaltender are the backbone of our team,” said Andreycak. “They allow the offense to play the aggressive style that we do. All the credit goes to them.”

Chris Sawyer, A16, was outstanding for the Jumbos, causing three turnovers, while defenseman Tyler Olney forced a pair. Gillespie added four groundballs to his four goals.

St. Lawrence finished with a 47-38 advantage in shots, while Tufts won groundballs 41-31. Both teams were successful on man-up situations, with St. Lawrence at two for five and Tufts at one for three. The fast-paced game included 47 turnovers, 28 by Tufts.

The 2016 Jumbos have now scored 86 goals in their four NCAA tournament wins. The 2015 Tufts squad holds the record for NCAA tourney scoring, with 89 goals.

In the NCAA finals, Tufts is 2-1 against Salisbury. The Jumbos won their first title in 2010 by a 9-6 score over the Gulls. Salisbury got revenge in 2011, with a 19-7 final. Then Tufts won the matchup 12-9 for their 2014 title. The Jumbos clinched the 2015 crown with a 19-11 victory over Lynchburg College.

Next Sunday, the Jumbos will attempt to become the first team to win three straight NCAA titles since Salisbury accomplished the hat trick 2003-05.

“It’s special,” said Daly in reflecting on the season and the fact that the team has 15 players who graduated this week. Because the semifinal took place on commencement day, the university presented the 15 graduating laxmen with their diplomas during a special ceremony on May 19.

Daly is quick to praise his players for the team’s success. “Those are the guys who show up every day, who put in the work year-round. Once that game starts, I’m a spectator as much as the next guy. These players have to make the plays, and they do.”

Paul Sweeney, Tufts’ sports information director, can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.