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