May 22, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin
NCAA.com

Cortland State will be making its fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Championship game on May 24, and Red Dragons’ eight-member senior class has played an integral role throughout the program’s recent reign as one of the best in the nation.

The Red Dragons opened the run with a 13-12 overtime victory versus Salisbury in 2006 to win the program’s first NCAA title, but the Sea Gulls avenged the setback with wins in the 2007 and 2008 championship games.

“Since day one, each of us has been doing little things to get better, and that’s a reflection of the older guys that were on the team when we were freshmen,” said senior defenseman Luke Lemon.  “They always told us to get those stick skills better and get in the gym and we’ve been doing it ever since then.  We had an interim coach during freshman year and he didn’t really have a workout plan, so we took it upon ourselves to do it and get better.”

Lemon, along with senior All-American midfielder Joey Morgan, and seniors Matt Hipenbecker, Conor Duffy, Mike Robinson, Cody Hoyt, Matt Noble and co-captain Kevin Mitchell comprise the class that has led the Red Dragons to an 18-2 and fourth straight national title game appearance.  

Lemon and Morgan were recently named USILA Division III First-Team for their respective season efforts.  Morgan has contributed 30 goals and 13 assists as the SUNY Athletic Conference Player of the Year, while Lemon has posted 22 ground balls while anchoring a defensive unit that ranks in the nation’s top 10 in scoring defense (6.75 goals allowed).

“This year, the leaders of the team by experience have expected nothing less than getting to the national championship game,” said Lemon.  “We believed we could do it and led our team to it.”

With only eight seniors and four juniors on the 45-man roster, the underclassmen were forced to live up to the older players’ expectations.

“They grew up, and they really had no choice to grow up and be sponges and soak up everything that they’ve been inundated with – our plays, our mindset, the way we do things,” said Lemon.  “They have all done a great job, and looked at us and the coaching staff with respect.  They dove into the program head first – some freshmen just stand on the side and become complacent.  They really bought into the program and it’s helped our success this season, and will help four years from now when they are seniors.”

“After the past two years of losing in the national championship game, we told the freshmen this is what we expect out of everyone,” said Morgan.  “We needed everyone to be pushing each other every day, because it’s great to be there, but we wanted to go back and win.”

Morgan believes the seniors’ welcoming attitude helped move along the underclassmen’s progress as well.

“I feel like it’s easier for them to come in and play more confident lacrosse with them knowing that we have their back no matter what, and they will have our back no matter what,” said Morgan.  “Our strength is definitely our camaraderie.”

Cortland will face off with Gettysburg on May 24 at noon at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. The Red Dragons defeated the Bullets, 14-8, in the third game of the season – an experience they will glean some information.

“We can draw from the small things like what handed certain players are and what defense they run,” said Lemon.  “Other than that, we are not looking at that game one bit.  They are a completely different team now, and we are a completely different team than the first time we played them.”

“They’re playing really well right now, and so are we, so it’s going to be a nice battle on Sunday when we face each other,” said Morgan. 

Gettysburg has never won a Division III title, but the Bullets were the runner-up in 2001 and 2002.