ORANGE, Calif. – Division II possesses a bracket full of both contrast and similarities as it moves into the semifinal stage of the National Championships powered by Under Armour.
On one half of the bracket there are not only a pair of teams that share a conference, but nearly an entire state.
St. Thomas and North Dakota State are both part of the Upper Midwest Lacrosse Conference (UMLC) and each program feasts off the fertile Minnesota prep fields to stock its programs. Of the 60-plus players on the combined rosters of these two powerhouses, only seven are not from the land of 10,000 Lakes.
The make-up may be the same, but the rivalry has been owned by the Tommies, including this year’s 14-7 beat-down in St. Paul. There is no question that the Bison have moved closer to St. Thomas’ perch, but it will take this victory to jump the hurdle.
With that said, the Tommies are taking nothing for granted.
“We aren't going to abandon the things that we do that have gotten us to this point, but at the same time, we have some new things we've been working on,” said St. Thomas coach Brian Gross. “I anticipate that NDSU does as well, because they're a very good team.”
The Tommies have taken every shot so far and still remained undefeated and No. 1, but there is still something about the Bison.
“NDSU never quits, which is one of the things I respect most about them,” added Gross. “We know that they are going to give us a full 60 minutes, and we have to be prepared to do the same.”
On the other side of the bracket, both Grand Valley State and Reinhardt bring Cinderella seeds into the semifinal after ousting the finalist from last year.
No. 6 GVSU dumped No. 3 Concordia-Irvine – the 2015 runner-up – in its quarterfinal while No. 7 Reinhardt sidelined defending national champion and No. 2 Dayton in the same round.
Despite taking down the champs, Reinhardt coach John Snow is leery of the weapons the Lakers can bring to the table.
“My biggest concern with GVSU is their depth,” said Snow.
The Eagles will enter Thursday semifinals as an underdog, but that suits this SELC outfit just fine.
“We're extremely resilient,” Snow said. “After losing our last game [before the tournament] in heartbreaking fashion, we've shown a lot of resiliency in coming back strong.”