Le Moyne Sticks to Defensive Identity, Shuts Down Lenoir-Rhyne for 6th NCAA Title


For much of Dan Sheehan’s 24 seasons at the helm of the Le Moyne men’s lacrosse program, the Dolphins have been associated with gritty, suffocating defense. Le Moyne has had opponents preparing for a battle every time out, and Sheehan’s program is usually on the winning side of those challenges (it hasn’t had a losing season since 1999).

Sunday’s NCAA Division II national championship game opponent, though, was equally adequate on the offensive end. Lenoir-Rhyne sat second in Division II, averaging 18.56 goals per game.

Something had to give.

As the rain poured down on Rentschler Field in Hartford, Conn., Le Moyne’s defense accumulated timely checks and hits, and closed down on passing lanes to keep the Lenoir-Rhyne offense guessing for much of the final three quarters.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ offense took advantage of the opportunities it had, pinging corners and getting past a strong day from goalie Noah Johnson. The combination of stingy defense and timely offense fueled Le Moyne’s 12-6 victory — its first Division II national championship victory since 2016 and sixth overall. It’s also the Dolphins’ fourth unbeaten season in that span.

“This group is special,” Sheehan said. “I’m just so thankful that I had such an incredible team that did everything they possibly could to get to this point. It may be boring to everybody out there, but we are who we are and we do what we do.”

The scoreboard in the North endzone displayed statistics like shots, ground ball, faceoff wins and clearing. Despite the lopsided final score, Lenoir-Rhyne had command in each of those statistical categories. Lenoir-Rhyne outshot Le Moyne 37-36, won 15 of 22 faceoffs, picked up 41 groundballs to the Dolphins' 33 and was a perfect 19-for-19 on clears.

Yet, Le Moyne held Lenoir-Rhyne to just one goal in the second half en route to the commanding win. Matt Hutchings, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, tallied six goals to fuel a strong performance from the Dolphins’ offense.

“I’m pumped up,” Hutchings said after the game. “This team is talented. … Now, it’s a lot of love-yous and a lot of hugs.”

Lenoir-Rhyne looked every bit the offensive power that had torn through its 2021 schedule early in the first half. Eric Dickinson, who broke the 200-goal mark in last week’s win over Wingate, scored three straight goals to give the Bears a 4-2 lead in the second quarter.

Dickinson initially drew Nate Arnold, Le Moyne’s All-American leader on defense, in one-on-one matchups. He played a role in each of Lenoir-Rhyne’s five goals in the first half, finishing with four goals and an assist.

Le Moyne coach Dan Sheehan said he was “overcoaching” by putting the anchor to his defense on Lenoir-Rhyne’s top attackman. Coming out of halftime, with the game tied 5-5, Sheehan moved senior defenseman Connor Haims on Dickinson.

The result? Dickinson did not record a point in the second half, and Lenoir-Rhyne was held scoreless in the third quarter.

“What we ask [Nate] to do is be the glue guy, and when we put him on [Dickinson], that was my decision about two days ago,” Sheehan said. “We took the brains of the operation, and took him out. We were lucky to get to halftime, and as soon I walked in the locker room door at halftime, I said ‘Connor, this is a matchup that was made for you.’ Connor took him out of the game, and that allowed Nate to get back to what he does so well.”

Sheehan also praised his unit of short-stick defensive middies, who helped close down passing lanes and press out on Lenoir-Rhyne’s offensive threats throughout the day.

“I’d like to get a t-shirt that this is Short-Stick D-Middie U, because that crew was absolutely phenomenal today,” Sheehan joked.

With the Bears’ offense held in check, the Dolphins took control of the game in a lopsided second half. Hutchings and Zach Pierce played a role in each of Le Moyne’s seven second-half goals. The final two goals were the highlights of the game — Hutchings sent a blast to the top left corner to make it 11-5, and Ben McCreary got a feed from Pierce to ping the top right corner (both shots spraying water off the netting).

The Le Moyne defense closed down Dickinson and the Lenoir-Rhyne offense, Hutchings and Pierce provided the breathing room, and the Dolphins coasted to their sixth national title in a similar fashion as their fifth championship. Back in 2016, Le Moyne held a powerhouse Limestone offense to just four goals in a victory.

As for first-time finalist Lenoir-Rhyne, the disappointment was evident, but the season was far from a failure. Coach Greg Paradine said he’s proud of the effort of his team, which played for the school’s first NCAA championship in any sport.

“We were prepared,” Paradine said. “Le Moyne is just a really good team. Our alums in the stands and we weren’t satisfied with just being here. We felt like we had a team that could win the championship. We’re disappointed, but it was an unbelievable experience for our guys and hopefully, we can continue to grow.”

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