By Brian Katten, sports information director
The 2009 Wesleyan men’s lacrosse team did something that eluded each of the last eight Cardinals lax squads: winning a NESCAC tournament title and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Reaching the NESCAC playoff semi-finals for the seventh year in a row and the championship game for the fifth time in team history, Wesleyan finally realized its goal of a conference title on May 3 when the Cardinals downed the Tufts Jumbos, 14-10, for the NESCAC crown. Head Coach John Raba, who stands a remarkable 155-67 over his 13 seasons, was named New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) Division III Coach of the Year for the fifth time. Raba called winning the NESCAC title “one of our best weekends ever.”
Wesleyan had qualified at-large for the NCAAs in 2005, 2006 and 2007, reaching the national semi-finals the latter two seasons.
Part of Wesleyan’s first big accolade in 2009 came in February as All-American defender Spike Malangone ’09 received Inside Lacrosse magazine’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors. Malangone is a two-time United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) Division III second-team All-American. Wesleyan also was ranked 12th nationally at that time. Then came a dip as Wesleyan lost its opening game of the year at Bowdoin, 4-3. It only took a week for the team to swing back up as the Cardinals took their first of two games from Middlebury, 8-7. That win was part of a six-game win streak that halted at Tufts with a 12-10 defeat. Three important triumphs over NESCAC rivals Trinity, Colby and Amherst followed before Williams sent the Cardinals spiraling again with a 9-5 setback.
Again, Wesleyan regained its composure, knocking off Connecticut College in the final regular-season game to earn a home game in the first round of the NESCAC tournament for the seventh straight season. The opponent? None other than Williams. This time Wesleyan was ready and throttled the Ephs, 11-5, pitting the Cardinals against tournament Final Four host Middlebury in a NESCAC semi-final. Each of the previous four times the Cardinals and Panthers met in the NESCAC playoffs, it was for the championship, and Middlebury had won them all. It looked as if Middlebury would extend the streak to five as the Panthers built an 8-3 halftime lead. But a resilient Cardinal squad netted six of the next seven goals to tie the game, 9-9, in the third period. Though the Cardinals never led in regulation, Middlebury could not pull away and when Adam Kirk ‘09 scored with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter, it propelled the teams into overtime. Just 36 seconds later, Wesleyan had its first lead and the 15-14 victory, courtesy of Dan Latzman’s ’09 only goal of the game.
The final obstacle for the elusive NESCAC title was Tufts. When the teams met in Medford, Mass. March 28, Wesleyan led 9-5 in the third period before the Jumbos finished the game with a 7-1 run for their 12-10 win. In the NESCAC final, Wesleyan again charged to the lead, scoring the opening four goals and opening up a 10-5 lead early in the second half. This time, however, the Cardinals kept the Jumbos at bay, never allowing the gap to shrink below three goals and the final horn sounded with Wesleyan ahead by four. Russ Follansbee ‘09 had three goals and three assists against Tufts; five goals vs. Middlebury; and two goals and three assists in the tournament win over Williams. His 16 points over the three games was just two points shy of the NESCAC tournament record and his 10 goals was just one short of the tournament standard. For the year, Follansbee led the team with 71 points, giving him exactly 200 for his career. He is one of only five Cardinals to double the century mark in career scoring.
Wesleyan’s reward for capturing a NESCAC crown was a pair of home games in the NCAA Division III tournament. Wesleyan disposed of Eastern Connecticut State University, 8-4, in its tournament opener. Each of the four times Wesleyan has appeared in the NCAAs, it has won its initial contest. But when Wesleyan met Middlebury for the third time this season in a national quarter-final, the Panthers outscored their hosts 7-1 in the second half to secure a 13-5 triumph. While the loss ended the team’s 10th consecutive winning season with a 15-4 record, the memory of a NESCAC crown will serve as inspiration for the 2010 campaign.
The USILA announced its 2009 Division III All-Americans on May 19. Spike Malangone ’09 was a first-team defender and Russ Follansbee ’09 was a third-team attackman. Both also have been selected to play in the annual USILA North-South Senior All-Star Game at Harvard Stadium on May 22.
Photos of the Cardinals celebrating their NESCAC championship below. (Team photos by Stefan Weinberger ’10. Game photos by Tony Pratt P ’10.)