A 7-1 campaign earned the North Dakota State club lacrosse team a first round bye in this weekend’s Upper Midwest Lacrosse Conference tournament. The tournament will be contested in Mahtomedi, Minn. and will feature each of the six members of the Division II UMLC.
The Bison beat out both Minnesota-Duluth and St. John’s in the conference’s Western Division. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the national tournament, which will be held in Salt Lake City from May 7 to 12. NDSU has reached nationals in each of the past seven years, dating back to 2011.
The 16-team national competition features eight conference automatic qualifiers and eight at-large bids. With each of the UMLC’s six teams forming the top six of the Division II poll, it is conceivable that each side could receive a bid to the national tournament. Still, the guaranteed berth, superior seeding and conference bragging rights underscore the importance of the tournament.
Jac Coyne, who covers the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, projects NDSU as a No. 2 seed in his early national bracket, matched up with No. 15 Cal State-San Marcos. His top five seeds consist of UMLC squads, with Dayton ranked No. 9.
On Friday night, 6-3 Grand Valley State will square off with 9-4 Minnesota-Duluth for the right to face NDSU the following afternoon. The Bison beat UMD 11-5 to begin the season in February, but did not face the Lakers during the season. On the other half of the bracket, 4-5 Dayton will face 8-4 St. John’s to play St. Thomas.
NDSU was in line for the No. 1 seed in the tournament but fell to the second spot on what proved to be the final day of the season. The Herd took a tough 12-8 lost to UST which secured the Tommies the top slot. The loss saw the two teams trade spots in the polls as well, as NDSU dipped out of the No. 1 rankings for the first time since Week One. The Bison had games against St. Cloud State and Minnesota scheduled around the matchup, but both were cancelled.
The Bison have ridden an aggressive and athletic style of play en route to their best winning percentage during head coach Zach Bosh’s tenure. Junior Noah Simpson has been the top offensive weapon for the Bison, leading the team in both goals and assist with 15 and 11, respectively. Defensively, NDSU has been stout, conceding an average of 6.1 goals per game, less than half of their clip of 12.4 goals per game. This success comes after the transfer of Kevin Sturgeon, who had scored 76 goals in two season as a freshman and sophomore.
Possession has been a key hallmark for the Bison this season. NDSU has won 68 percent of its face-offs, and their 10-man ride forces turnovers which turn in to quality goal scoring opportunities. It all adds up to a place among the MCLA’s premier teams.
In each of the past two seasons, NDSU has reached the semifinals only to suffer heartbreaking losses to teams that went on to win the title. This season, the Bison are well-positioned to make a deep run to the championship game. It all begins this weekend in Mahtomedi.