College Lacrosse: Warriors have eye of the tigerBy MICHAEL ABELSON
Special to the Union Leader
May 23. 2018 11:52PM
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — This time last year, the Merrimack College men’s lacrosse team was staring history in the face. The Warriors had advanced to their first ever Division II national championship game. As a bonus, the game was played in Massachusetts, at Gillette Stadium.
The Warriors led 5-2 late in the second quarter but saw the opportunity slip away and lost 11-9 to Limestone.
This year, with many of their top players returning, the Warriors have made their own luck and find themselves back in the title game, once again at Gillette Stadium, on Sunday against St. Leo University with a shot to wipe the sour taste of 2017 out of their mouths in the best way possible.
“I think it’s good to experience it as a player,” Merrimack senior defender Eric Coburn said. “I’ve been there watching as a fan in the past, but you can’t really prepare for it fully until you experience it yourself. Having the experience of last year is definitely coming in handy. There’s more focus this week on playing our best lacrosse not so much worrying about the crowd or this or that.”
Coburn, from Londonderry, leads a Warriors defense that was fourth in the country, allowing 7.39 goals a game. His 40 ground balls are second best on the team, and his 20 caused turnovers lead the team.
Coburn leads a slew of Granite Staters that have played key roles in Merrimack’s 18-1 season.
Along with Coburn is fellow senior Blake Boudreau. A transfer from Marist College, Boudreau starred at Bishop Guertin and is now one of the best faceoff men in the country. Boudreau has increased his faceoff percentage from 61.8 percent last year to 68.1 percent this year, seventh best in Division II.
St. Leo’s top faceoff man only wins faceoffs 45.5 percent of the time.
“For me it was just staying healthy,” Boudreau said. “In the offseason I worked on lifting weights but really focused on pliability, keeping my muscles healthy because I was really banged up last year. Just working as a unit has really helped me improve with my wings in practice.”
Boudreau’s 165 ground balls are a big improvement from his 114 ground balls last year, and is good for third in Division II.
“Being on the same page as (head) coach (Mike Morgan) has definitely increased my percentage and my stick skills,” Boudreau said. “I think working on ground balls and being healthy has helped my athleticism, helped me push transition, and score goals.”
On a deep Merrimack team, the need for quality talent up and down the lineup is a necessity, and the Warriors have found a Pinkerton Academy connection that has paid dividends.
Senior middie Bailey Walsh, from Derry, has 12 goals this year for the Warriors. A former state finalist at Pinkerton, Walsh finished his high school career at Holderness School and also lettered in football, hockey, and golf. Walsh had a goal against NYIT in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Walsh, one of the 11 seniors on the team, said the veterans have let their actions do the talking this year to show the younger talent how to succeed at this stage of the season.
“We know what it’s like to be there,” Walsh said. “We know what it’s like to lose. We preached that all season to them. We hate to lose more than we want to win because of last year. We want this one bad. Just leading by example on the field.”
Alongside Walsh is junior longpole Ryan Burke of East Hampstead. Burke has consistently kept improving in his time at Merrimack. This year has been his best yet with 13 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers.
Burke, who only picked up lacrosse in eighth grade and played four years of varsity at Pinkerton, said that playing for coach Brian O’Reilly helped make him the player he is today.
“Playing at Pinkerton was what taught me lacrosse,” Burke said. “I only started in eighth grade, and had no idea what I was doing. Right from freshman year I was swinging varsity. We had so much talent on our team alone. Coach O’Reilly was one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had.”
The Granite State connection looks to only be growing at Merrimack in the future. Fromer Derryfield School stars Andrew Johnson (from Londonderry) and Lee Sipes (from Windham), Concord’s Alex Marceau, and Londonderry’s Brandyn Proulx and Sean Snyder look to be stars of the future for the Warriors.
“I think New Hampshire is kind of underrated when it comes to lacrosse,” Boudreau said. “Being from the 603 and kind of putting the state on the national level has been awesome to do. I think it’s really helped grow the game in New Hampshire. It’s a great pipeline we have of New Hampshire kids coming to Merrimack.”