NORTH ANDOVER, MA – The Merrimack men's lacrosse team reached the Northeast-10 Championship for the fourth straight season, finishing with a 13-3 overall record in 2012.
But while most teams consider a run to the title game a successful season, that's not necessarily the case in North Andover.
"We have set the bar pretty high over the past four seasons and coming into this year was no different," said head coach Mike Morgan. "I know many coaches that would love a 13-3 season, so on the other hand every year it is an accomplishment having a record like that. It is also one of the reasons we end up signing such high level recruits, they want to come play on the bigger stage and win a championship. It is great knowing you are surrounded by coaches and a team where you aren't satisfied with just a conference finals appearance along with a 13-3 record, our goal is much higher."
Ranked eighth nationally in preseason polls, the Warriors opened the year with a dominating 17-7 victory at Dominican (NY). Merrimack then traveled to Baltimore and defeated eventual national runner up, Limestone College, by the score of 12-11 behind a last second goal by Greg Melaugh (Billerica, Mass.).
The Warriors would pick up two more non conference victories against Rollins and Saint Rose before opening their conference slate with impressive victories over Franklin Pierce and #5 Adelphi. The Warriors would keep rolling and improve to 7-0 on the season with a 10-9 victory at home against Saint Michael's to kick off April. The 7-0 start to the season was the best start for the Warriors since the 2009 season.
The Warriors received their highest ranking in school history, third, heading into arguably their biggest game of the regular season against the #2 Le Moyne Dolphins. The Warriors late rally was denied as the Dolphins handed Merrimack their first loss of the season, 8-6.
After the hard fought loss to the Dolphins, the Warriors had a big letdown against the Southern New Hampshire Penmen, falling by the score of 7-6.
"In division II you don't have a safety net, so you better bring your A game every time you step on the field and we didn't do that against Southern New Hampshire," said Morgan. "With parity in lacrosse and the pressures of staying unbeaten, as a team we need to bring that same focus every game. It is something we learned from as a team and bring that motivation into next year."
The back-to-back losses seemed to spark the Warriors and propel them to the next level over the last month of the regular season as they defeated the American International 18-8 in their next game. Following the AIC victory, Merrimack downed Saint Anselm 11-10 in overtime behind another Melaugh last second goal, improving to 9-2 on the season.
Merrimack then traveled to Gillette Stadium for the New England Lacrosse Classic on April 21 to take on the Bentley Falcons. The Warriors became the first team to ever appear in a game at Gillette Stadium twice.
The Warriors and Falcons did not disappoint the 1,850 fans on the big stage as they played a tightly contested 12-11 game in which Merrimack used a late goal from Melaugh to pick up the victory. The back and forth contest was capped off by Melaugh's game-winner for the second consecutive game.
The Warriors closed out the regular season with two conference victories by a combined score of 36-14 to secure the second seed and a first round bye for the Northeast-10 Conference playoffs.
Merrimack's confidence continued to grow as they defeated the Adelphi Panthers in the semifinal round of the NE-10 playoffs by the score of 13-12, sending the Warriors to the championship game for the fourth straight season, marking the longest current streak in the conference.
"Adelphi is one of the top programs in the country, so being able to defeat them again at home in the semifinal was a nice accomplishment for our squad" stated Morgan. "Adelphi was coming off a year that they made it to the National Championship and had most of their team back. I see this game, along with Le Moyne continuing to be a heated rivalry for a long time to come."
Merrimack's season came to end in the title game, losing to Le Moyne, who reached the National semifinal, 10-7.
Corey Lunney (Little Silver, NJ) led Merrimack in goal scoring for the third straight season and was named the NEILA Player of the Year, All-American and a first-team all-conference selection. Melaugh finished the season with 44 goals and 57 points in only 13 games as he was named NE-10 Player of the year, first team all-conference and second team All-American. The Lunney-Melaugh combo was the highest scoring pair of teammates in the country, totaling 89 goals and 116 points combined.
Defensive mainstays Peter Schielke (Ridgefield, CT) and Jimmy Holland (Billerica, MA) were first and second team all-conference and all-New England representatives respectively, while freshman Brandon Waiter (Westport, CT) was named to the All-Rookie team for his efforts. Schielke was also tabbed as an All-American by the United States Intercollegiate Coaching Association.
Mike Perdie (Wading River, NY) finished off his excellent junior season being named to the second team all-conference and first team all-New England. Steven Frey (Madison, CT) was also named to the all-New England team for his exceptional long stick midfield play as a senior and Nick Maggio (Winchester, Mass.) picked up the same honor, finishing his career as the best face off man in school history.
Merrimack was very young in 2012, as the championship games starting lineup featured nine starters that will return to the Warriors for the 2013 season. The Warriors top nine scorers will also return next year, while freshman Morgan Green (Portsmouth, RI) anchored the goal with a .489 save percentage and a 8.02 goals-against average.
"Overall we move into next season understanding that we had to work hard to get to 13-3, and we will need to work that much harder to achieve our ultimate goal," said the fifth year head coach. "We have a great class coming in and they will help us in a few important areas right away as well as add great depth to our team. The class coming back is very talented and hard working; everyone gets a year older with much needed experience. I believe they will be as hungry as ever to lead us to that next level."