HEISER: York College lacrosse programs have opportunity for NCAA Division III breakthrough

Steve Heiser
York Dispatch
  • Both York College lacrosse programs start NCAA Division III playoff action this week.
  • At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the York men (17-2) play host to Western New England (13-6).
  • Sunday, the York women (13-4) will play host to either Cabrini (12-7) or Washington & Lee (15-4).
  • Neither York lacrosse program has ever advanced past the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.

The York College lacrosse programs have been good — in fact very good — for several years now.

Matt Whitcher, left, seen here in a file photo, is a key member of a York College men's lacrosse team that has compiled a 17-2 record this season. The Spartans begin NCAA Division III playoff action at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Western New England at Kinsley Field. YORK DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Still, neither team has been able to make the final giant stride into truly elite status.

That could change in the coming weeks.

Both teams appear capable of sailing into uncharted territory and finally get past the NCAA Division III quarterfinals. A Final Four appearance, or even a national title game berth, is not beyond the realm of possibility.

After all, both Spartans’ programs have been solidly entrenched among the top-10 D-III programs in the nation nearly all season.

The men’s team was No. 2 in the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll, while the women were No. 5 in the latest Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association rankings. Neither of those rankings, however, reflected disappointing Capital Athletic Conference playoff losses last week.

Those CAC defeats, however, could end up being blessings in disguise. The bitter taste of those setbacks should motivate the Spartans when the D-III playoffs begin this week.

Of course, come playoff time, nothing is guaranteed. One bad performance will end your season.

Men face Western New England: The York men start their NCAA journey at 4 p.m. Wednesday when they play host to Commonwealth Coast Conference champion Western New England in a second-round contest at Kinsley Field. The Spartans will compete in the NCAA event for a third straight year under coach Brandon Childs. It’s their fourth overall NCAA bid under Childs, who is a three-time CAC Coach of the Year, including 2018. York’s best-ever NCAA finish was a 7-6 quarterfinal loss in 2016 to Gettysburg.

The Spartans, who are 4-3 all-time in NCAA games, earned an at-large berth with a 17-2 overall record and a CAC regular-season title at 8-0.

The Spartans have played nine games vs. 2018 NCAA teams, compiling an impressive 7-2 mark.

Brandon Childs

York has been moved to the traditionally northern bracket. The Spartans have faced just one of the 17 other teams in their half of the 36-team bracket, a 20-7 rout vs. Stevenson.

Given the home-field edge on Wednesday, and the fact that Western New England (13-6) is unranked, it would appear that York is a solid favorite to advance to the third round. In that stage, York would face the winner of Wednesday's game between No. 4 Amherst (14-3) and unranked Keene State (12-4).

Childs likes the draw for his squad, which is hoping to rebound after an 11-8 home loss to No. 7 Salisbury in the CAC title match. That’s a Salisbury team the Spartans had routed in York earlier in the season, 15-6.

"I really like that we are among so many teams that we have never faced before," Childs said in a news release. "We have faced so many tough NCAA Tournament teams this year, it's nice to get to see some teams that haven't seen us and teams we haven't seen. I think it's exciting.”

Meghan Fox, seen here in a file photo, is the leading scorer on a York College women's lacrosse team that boasts a 13-4 record. The Spartans begin NCAA Division III playoff action at home on Sunday against either Cabrini or Washington & Lee. YORK DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

Women waiting for foe: The York women, meanwhile, earned their seventh-straight NCAA at-large berth under coach Jen Muston and will play host to a second-round game on Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s contest at Kinsley Field between unranked Cabrini (12-7) and No. 9 Washington & Lee (15-4).

The Spartans (13-4 overall) finished second in the CAC regular season at 7-1. The Spartans played seven NCAA teams in 2018, going 4-4 in eight games against those seven squads.

The York women own an all-time NCAA record of 6-6 with two trips to the Elite Eight (2015 and 2017). York is 4-0 at Kinsley Field in NCAA action.

The Spartans are coming off a home CAC semifinal loss to No. 8 Mary Washington, 12-11 in overtime. York had won at Mary Washington in the regular season, 9-7.

Jen Muston

Despite that loss, Muston feels good about her team entering NCAA play.

"The team feels energized and excited about this NCAA bid and getting another chance to compete with one another," Muston said in a news release. "We have a sense of unfinished business for this season so we appreciate the opportunity to get a second chance at something great. We want to take full advantage of that opportunity. This berth is for our seniors."

Muston is right. Both York lacrosse teams have the opportunity to do something great over the next couple of weeks.

Now they just have to seize that opportunity.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.