In a back-and-forth game on a beautiful day in Orange County, Calif., the No. 1 Grand Valley State Lakers captured their first MCLA Division II national championship with a 12-11 win over No. 2 St. John’s. The Lakers and Johnnies both had appeared in but never won a championship game before today, with GVSU falling in the 2012 and 2008 finals and St. John’s dropping the 2007 final.
Junior midfielder Charlie Farmer – the US Lacrosse MCLA Division II “Godekeraw” Player of the Year – started the game’s scoring with an early goal for GVSU. St. John’s answered right back with a goal from senior captain Jacob Helmer, but two great saves by Laker freshman goalie Kryn Stoddard on consecutive fast break attempts kept the score tied early.
Both teams continued to find the back of the net in the first quarter, with neither team leading by more than one during the frame. Grand Valley State scored when Kevin Stephen finished a Zack Grusell feed, but St. John’s Brooks Armitage used a lefty rip to tie the game again. After an errant pass on a missed man-up opportunity for the Johnnies, the Lakers scored again on Grusell’s second assist, this time to freshman Connor Heidenreich. Armitage responded with his second lefty finish, and his brother Miles Armitage tallied next to give St. John’s their first lead of the game. The Lakers regained the lead, though, with a rebound finish by Grusell plus a Lucas Gerard tally coming from behind the net.
Right before the end of the first, a big hit at midfield resulted in a a Grand Valley State man-up to start the second quarter. Grusell notched his third assist of the game during that man advantage, with Jesse Gilbert scoring to give the Lakers a two-goal lead. A long St. John’s possession then led to a Andrew Fairbairn goal, but a fake pass that had the whole Johnnies defense looking the wrong way led to a GVSU goal by Erick Sundstrom a few minutes later. St. John’s Owen Barkley scored the last goal of the second quarter to make it a 7-6 game going into the half.
At the start of the third quarter, Farmer hit the pipe but immediately after received a Heidenreich feed to score from the crease. St. John’s Michael Culshaw-Maurer tallied on the first possession after the ensuing the face-off, scoring off a beautiful backhanded flip feed from Fairbairn. To close out the third quarter, Stephen scored a goal for GVSU off a dodge down the left alley, St. John’s Ben Martynec scored his first of the game with 1:41 left in the quarter, and GVSU’s Gilbert scored his second of the game with only 30 seconds left.
Grand Valley State opened their largest lead of the game on Gilbert’s third tally a minute and a half into the fourth. On the next possession, Brooks Armitage had a point blank look for St. John’s but he was denied by a great Stoddard save. Armitage was able to find Helmer for a goal a few possessions later, but two consecutive saves by Stoddard and then a missed crease finish from St. John’s kept the Lakers ahead by two with 5:30 left in the game.
Fairbairn then scored his second of the game for St. John’s to bring the score to 11-10. Not to be outdone, Sundstrom put his second goal in the net with 1:24 remaining in the game. St. John’s refused to go down easily, as Martynec’s second goal made it a one-goal game with 31 seconds left to play.
St. John’s won the following face-off, and Fairbairn drove towards the middle of the field with his left hand, getting a shot off with four seconds left. But Stoddard, playing like a veteran rather than a freshman, made his tenth save of the game to seal the win and a national championship for Grand Valley State.
When asked about the final save, Grand Valley State head coach Tim Murray said he knew the Lakers had won when the shot was fired. Murray, who has coached Kryn for four years between his playing days prior to college and his first year at GVSU, said that “when that shot left the stick I had no doubt he was going to make that save.”
“It’s exhilarating,” Murray said in the post-game press conference. “We’ve come close so many times. There’s many great players that weren’t able to be here with us.”
“That was a tremendous [Johnnies] team, that was a tremendous effort, and they pushed us to the very limit,” Murray continued. “We knew we had to dig deep to find something special in order to come up with the win, and we did.”
(This article was also published on MCLA.us)