Making History: Men’s lacrosse team wins back-to-back conference championships and first NCAA playoff game

Members of the Seton Hill University lacrosse team celebrate together on the field during a game. The Griffins finished their season with a record of 17-2, which was the best record in school history. Photo by D.Clark/Setonian.

After winning their first-ever conference championship last season, expectations were high for the Seton Hill University men’s lacrosse team. However, the Griffins went above and beyond in 2018 with their best season ever on the field.

For the second year in a row, the Griffins won the Great Midwest Athletic Conference championship by defeating Mercyhurst University on May 5 by a score of 12-5. The Griffins were led by senior attacker Jack Moran, who scored five points in the game, followed by redshirt sophomore attacker John Hofseth, who scored four points.

“Being able to play in front of family, friends and alumni on our home field was an awesome experience,” said junior midfielder Brett Craig. “Playing at home was huge for us this year, and I think our environment was a big addition to that, as everyone around us is so supportive of what we want to accomplish as a team.”

“I think solidifying the fact that playing for a conference championship year after year as a foundation of our program is going to make us better each year,” Craig added.

In addition to their conference championship, the men’s lacrosse team also advanced to the NCAA Tournament, clinching the No. 2 seed and hosting the first game of the tournament at home. The Griffins held a viewing party and found out together that they would be advancing to the national tournament.

“The video [of the team celebrating at the viewing party] still gives me chills,” head coach Brian Novotny said. “The emotion that the guys had and how excited they were…that’s what it’s all about for us: our young men having that experience and having the successes that they do because of the hard work that they put in.”

SHU defeated LeMoyne College on May 12 by a score of 14-10, winning their first-ever NCAA playoff game and advancing to the NCAA semifinals for the first time ever in school history.

“Just being able to share that first round win with everyone at the game and feeding off the energy that day was an incredible experience,” Craig said. “I think that memory is going to stay with everyone and drive us to get back there again.”

“There was a lot of support that we got and it helped us along the way,” Novotny said. “I want to make sure [SHU] understands that it wasn’t just the lacrosse team that had a great year. It was the entire university and community that was able to achieve something great.”

The Griffins then traveled to Merrimack College in Massachusetts on May 20, where their season ended with a 16-9 loss. Merrimack College then went on to win the national championship.

Junior Brett Craig plans his next move as he runs down the field. Craig, who led the team in caused turnovers this season with 43, was named the G-MAC Specialist of the Year after the team’s conference championship victory. Photo by D.Clark/Setonian.

“Ultimately, we want to be playing for that national championship on Memorial Day weekend, but this year I think we took a big step forward to get there in the future,” Craig said. “Winning a program-first NCAA tournament game was the first step. We are going to come back with that loss to Merrimack in the back of our minds all fall and use that going into next season.”

The Griffins finished the season with an overall record of 17-2, the most wins in a single season in school history, and went 7-0 in conference play. Moran led the Griffins in overall points this season and set a new school record with 101, which included 58 goals and 43 assists. He was followed in points by sophomore attacker Logan Malonio with 65 points and Hofseth with 58 points.
“We set out to go to a place where no Seton Hill lacrosse team has gone before and we accomplished that,” Novotny said. “We did that by committing to the process and more importantly, committing to one another.”

The team’s successful season didn’t end with the NCAA semifinal loss, as multiple players have been awarded since then. Six players received All American selections, including Moran, Craig, seniors Zack Rusch and Joe Cillo and sophomores Max Eismann and Jay Scerbo.

In addition to the All American selections, Moran, Rusch, Cillo and senior Sean Stanners were selected to play in the 2018 USILA DI/II All Star Game on May 25. Craig and sophomore Damon Greenwald were also selected to the College Sports Information Directors of America’s academic all-district team.

Four Griffins received G-MAC awards after their conference championship. Moran was named Offensive Player of the Year, Eismann as Top Goalie of the Year, Craig as Specialist of the Year and Novotny as Coach of the Year.

Redshirt senior Zack Rusch maintains possession of the ball as he is pursued by his opponent from Wheeling Jesuit University. Rusch as third on the team in goals this season with 31 and was selected as a first team All American by the United States intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. Photo by D.Clark/Setonian.

“For me, I look at individual awards as team awards, because our individuals don’t get recognized unless our team is performing at a high level,” Novotny said. “There’s so many people that go into making a successful program. You earn [Coach of the Year] when you have great success, and that’s all about a team performing, not one individual.”

“It’s definitely nice to get awards like that, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be possible without the other 45 guys on the team pushing the pace and tempo every day,” Craig said. “Coach Novotny always relays the fact that individual awards are like team awards, and that is very true, as it wouldn’t happen without the intensity and depth that we are fortunate enough to have.”

As Novotny prepares for the 2019 season, he said the team hopes to compete for another conference championship, earn another place in the NCAA Tournament and ultimately advance to the national championship.

“Winning a national championship is what everyone in our locker room has their eyes on,” Craig said. “We have been to the tournament now and gotten a taste, but I don’t think that we will settle for anything less than that this year. We return a lot of guys with experience and knowledge that will be instilled into the freshmen in the fall and we will pick up where we left off.”

Published By: Stephen Dumnich

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