LEC champs carry seven-game win streak into 7th NCAA tourney
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The Eastern Connecticut State University men's lacrosse team makes its seventh appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament when it visits first-time qualifier Trinity College Wednesday at Jessee/Miller Field at a time to be announced.
At left: Seniors who accepted the LEC championship award Saturday will lead the Warriors into Wednesday's NCAA tournament. With Interim Director of Athletics Michael Stenko (far left) are Michael Sullinger, Kevin Fechtmann, Jeremy Cogliano, Salieu Bolivar, and Mark Vincent.
Eastern (12-5), which received votes in this week's USILA Division III national poll, qualified for the tournament by earning the automatic bid by winning the Little East Conference tournament final Saturday at home against visiting Keene State College, 13-10. It was the team's seventh LEC title in 12 years.
Ranked No. 17 nationally, Trinity (10-6) qualified for its first NCAA tournament as an at-large selection after losing to No. 12 Bowdoin College in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) semifinals, 10-8 at Medford, MA. Trinity had beaten Hamilton College in the NESCAC quarterfinals, 14-8, April 28.
The Warriors have won nine of ten. Eastern has faced one team ranked in this week's Top 20 (losing to No. 9 Stevens Tech, 14-10) and four which have also received votes (defeating Keene State twice and Babson College once and losing to Amherst College, all at home).
Trinity is 2-2 against this week's Top 20, defeating No. 5 Tufts University, splitting with No. 12 Bowdoin College and losing to No. 16 Western New England University. The Bantams won seven straight at one point this year after dropping their first two of the season and are 3-4 in their last seven.
The teams have faced three common opponents. Both defeated Western Connecticut and lost to Wesleyan University. Eastern lost to Amherst, while the Bantams defeated the Lord Jeffs.
The NCAA appearance will be the second in four years for the Warriors under fifth-year head coach Justin Axel. Two current players appeared when the club split two NCAA games in 2009, defeating the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in overtime for its first-ever NCAA victory before losing at Wesleyan. Current senior defenseman Tommy Flynn (Mineola, NY) started both games while current senior midfielder Salieu Bolivar (Norwalk) came off the bench against Wesleyan.
Flynn and Bolivar are two of this year's top players, along with senior goalie Jamie Tommins (Fairfield), senior attack Michael Sullinger (Brookfield), junior faceoff midfielder Josh Dubinsky (Woodstock), and sophomore midfielder Mike Devine (Cheshire).
Tommins was named MVP of the LEC tournament after making a career-high 24 saves (one shy of the record) in the championship match win over Keene State. Sullinger (43-34-77) and Devine (45-12-57) are the top two offensive threats, while Dubinsky has won 63.0 percent of his faceoffs (233-for-370). Devine's goal total is the sixth-highest in a season in program history and Sullinger's point total has equaled the fifth-highest. Dubinsky has won the fifth-most faceoffs in a season.
Three Trinity players have earned All-NESCAC honors this season: first-teamers Pete Johnson, a senior goalie, and junior attack Rob Nogueras and second-team selection Nick Shaheen, a junior midfielder. Junior T.J. Cholnoky (76-170/44.7) and sophomore Will Benjamin (60-142/42.3) have split faceoff chores.
Eastern is 6-7 all-time against Trinity but has lost the last five after winning six of the first eight in the series. Trinity won by a score of 16-3 when the teams met last in 2010, at Hartford.