‘Different’ Amherst squad set to face Williams in NCAA Division III men’s lacrosse semifinal

  • Colin Minicus, of Amherst College, competes against Wesleyan in the NCAA Division III Tournament, May 11 in Amherst. Geoffrey Bolte / Clarus Studios Inc.

  • The Amherst College men’s lacrosse team celebrates in victory over Wesleyan in the NCAA Division III Tournament, May 11 in Amherst Geoffrey Bolte / Clarus Studios Inc.

  • Rod Castro, of Amherst College, competes against Wesleyan in the NCAA Division III Tournament, May 11 in Amherst. Geoffrey Bolte / Clarus Studios Inc.

  • Evan Wolf, of Amherst College, competes against Wesleyan in the NCAA Division III Tournament, May 11 in Amherst. Geoffrey Bolte / Clarus Studios Inc.

Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2019 8:00:46 PM

AMHERST — Few teams have a chance to avenge all of their losses in a span of just four days.

Yet the Amherst College men’s lacrosse team has exactly that opportunity Sunday with a spot in the national championship game on the line.

The Mammoths (17-3) upset Tufts, 13-11, on Wednesday in the national quarterfinals, atoning for one of their losses this season. The other two came at the hands of Williams, the team that will host Amherst on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the national semifinals.

The Ephs spoiled the Mammoths run at a perfect season in early April with a 13-11 win at home. They then knocked out Amherst from the NESCAC Tournament with an 11-8 triumph in the semifinals.

Yet the team traveling to Williamstown this weekend isn’t the same squad mentally that lost to the Ephs just two weeks ago.

“The team that played them twice is a very different team than we’ve shown the past couple of games,” junior attacker Colin Minicus said. “Having played (three) games since that NESCAC semifinal, we’ve grown a lot as a program and as a team. On the offensive side, we’ve done a great job at figuring out where we went wrong in those games and tweaking those and getting back to where we’re comfortable and where we want to play.”

That is especially true on the offensive end where Minicus, junior Jon Coffey and senior Evan Wolf have shined all season for the Mammoths. Amherst ranks fifth nationally scoring 18.1 goals per game, but Williams has found ways to slow down the explosive attack.

The loss to Williams two weeks ago in the conference tournament was the only time all season the Mammoths have been held to single digits. And the Ephs have effectively neutralized Wolf, who ranks fifth in the nation in points per game with 5.65. He has scored at least four points in 18 of Amherst’s 20 games, but the exceptions of course came against the Ephs.

“They have a great defense, they’ve done a really nice job defensively against what we have done in the past,” coach Jon Thompson said. “They really capitalized on their five-v-five defense in the past, their poles did a really nice job. Their goalie has played pretty well, made a bunch of really nice leg saves and calf saves against us.”

Thompson said Amherst has done a much better job at finding better areas to shoot the ball than it did in the NESCAC semifinal defeat. He said the attackers have reorganized their approach and doubled down on the sets and packages the Mammoths have been using all season, and that work is starting to pay off.

As a team as a whole, Thompson said Amherst has imposed its style of play more, but the offense is where that has shown up the most in the postseason.

“We feel we have a clearer sense of our identity,” Thompson said. “We feel like we have six guys on the same page now instead of five being on the same page. ... Our best offensive players playing free and playing in a space they find very natural is the biggest difference from two weeks ago.”

Another reason behind the success of the Mammoths’ attack is the selflessness among the unit.

Wolf has the gaudy numbers with 72 goals and 41 assists, but he is complemented well by a group that has had equal success shooting and passing. Minicus leads the team with 46 helpers, but he scored three big goals in the third round against Wesleyan to help the Mammoths defeat the reigning national champions.

“Jon Coffey, Evan and I have all done a great job at buying into the roles we need to in the moment,” Minicus said. “The way we adjust to what defenses throw at us is probably our best attribute. The way we move the ball between each other and the way we look for each other is definitely something special.”

The offense has helped propel Amherst to a stage it has never reached. Sunday will mark the first time the Mammoths play in the national semifinals, but any thoughts of the historic accomplishment fled on the bus back from Tufts on Wednesday.

All anyone at Amherst can focus on now are finals and a chance to play for the national championship next week in Philadelphia.

“I was really, really excited after the Tufts game, it was a huge win,” Thompson said. “I could not care less about what round we’re in right now, though. I’ve got a pretty laser focus on Williams and a pretty burning desire to go out there and play really well.”

QUIRKY BRACKET — Amherst has had unusual familiarity with the teams it had faced in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Its last three opponents all hail from the NESCAC (Wesleyan, Tufts and Williams) and all ranked in the top 10 in the final national poll of the season.

The all-NESCAC semifinal guarantees the conference will have a representative in the national championship game for the seventh time in the last 10 years. Tufts has won three national titles in that span and Wesleyan in the defending champion.


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