The chance at a three-peat is alive and well for Tufts University. Pegged against St. Lawrence University at their very own Bello Field, the Jumbos fused ruthless offense with stout defense en route to a 23-12 victory on Sunday and a spot in next weekend’s Division III national title game.
The Jumbos (20-2) will play Salisbury, a 14-6 winner of Gettysburg, in Sunday’s other Division III men’s semifinal.
The NESCAC side, which captured the 2014 and 2015 championship tilts, didn’t pull away until the second half, but that was never of concern for head coach Mike Daly. Jumbo goalkeeper Alex Salazar answered nearly every Saints bid, as he recorded 18 saves, and Tufts’ attack trio of Jake Gillespie, Austin Carbone and John Uppgren was electric in combining for 11 goals and five assists.
“I think it’s a privilege to represent this university and to represent this program, but it’s all players,” Daly said. “Those are the guys who show up every day and are putting the work in in the weight room year-round, on the wall year-round. Once that game starts, I’m a spectator as much as the next guy and those players have got to make the plays, those players made the plays. It’s special.”
Despite being outshot 26-17 in the first half, Tufts held an 11-6 lead at halftime and corralled the energy of a standing-room-only crowd. Coming out of the locker room and needing a momentum swing, St. Lawrence gave Ryan Fisher, Patrick Sullivan and Matty Corbelle time in goal, but none could halt an 8-3 from the Jumbos.
Even responses from the attack duo of Conor Healey and Jeremy Vautour weren’t enough, as their combined eight goals couldn’t book a date at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. With a memorable season and postseason run nipped in the bud, the Saints were bittersweet over what could have been.
“I’m very proud, just speaking of my own team here, of the season we put together,” Saint Lawrence head coach Mike Mahoney said. “I thought it started with great leadership as it needs to, guys were committed to this thing right from the very start and I wouldn’t say we got outworked today.”
Having outscored their opponents 86-30 throughout the NCAA tournament, Tufts also dominated the special teams and clearing battles. The Saints could only capitalize on two of their five man-up opportunities. The Jumbos were successful on 20 of their 25 clears.
With seemingly all the chips falling their way, the Jumbos also owned the faceoff spot, as Conor Helfrich won 22 of his 27 draws. In control of possession and the tempo, Tufts fought off every comeback effort when St. Lawrence entered desperation mode.
“We were winning draws, we just couldn’t get some clean wins,” Daly said. “We’d go back to the D and they’d still ride it back, or we’d go forward with it and they’d ride it back. That’s as hard working and tough of a team as we’ve faced all year and they did not make it easy on us. But then … we started capitalizing once we did, and those start to hurt.”
Now undefeated in their last nine games, Tufts will face Salisbury (22-1). Looking to make history — no Division III men’s team has won three national titles in a row since Salisbury from 2003-05 — Jumbos attackman Ben Andreycak urged that his side will benefit from familiarity of the year’s final game.
“We’ve navigated through some low points in the season, and we had some good points, but we’re really focused right now on keeping it small and taking it one day at a time,” Andreycak said. “Just working on the things we hang our hats on – the toughness, the hard work, the team aspect of what we do. We’re excited for this week, but we know this is a business trip and we couldn’t be more excited to take on this challenge.”