by Matt Morrison | MCLA.us
ORANGE, Calif. – No. 6 Grand Valley State blasted into the Division II final with a lopsided, 15-9 victory over No. 7 Reinhardt at the 2016 MCLA Division II National Championships powered by Under Armour on Thursday afternoon.
The Lakers advance to face St. Thomas in Saturday’s title game scheduled for 11:30 am PDT at Chapman University. It’s a rematch of the 2012 championship game won by the Tommies. St. Thomas also took a regular season match up against the Lakers, 10-6 earlier this year.
“It feels great,” said Grand Valley State senior middie Seth Kuehnl of reaching the final for the second time in three years. “We belong here, I think. I’m comfortable on this field and we’re ready to get after it.”
Kuehnl looked more than comfortable in the semifinal; he was dominant on the offensive end, scoring five goals in the victory. Reinhardt defenders had no answer for the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder with speed and stick skills uncommon for a big man.
“He’s such an athletic mismatch,” said GVSU coach Tim Murray in the understatement of the day. “He’s big and he’s strong and he’s devastatingly fast. When he’s shooting as well as he is right now, we’re just gonna feed the horse and let him run."
“The kid’s a stud,” echoed Reinhardt coach John Snow, whose team finished 12-5. “When you’re big and fast and can handle the stick, you’re gonna be successful and he’s all of those things.”
Kuehnl stood out on the field and on the stat sheet, but it was by no means a one-man show. Nine different Lakers found the back of the net, with junior Erik Sundstrom scoring a hat trick. Chad Huffman and Bennett Jarrett scored two goals apiece to pace Reinhardt.
The Eagles only lead was early when Huffman’s first of the game made it 1-0. It was all Lakers after that as GVSU rattled off the next four goals and led 7-4 at half.
The Lakers scored five straight goals coming out of the break and the rout was on. The Lakers had a nine-goal lead midway through the final period, allowing Murray to mix in playing time for many of his reserves.
“We have guys that deserve playing time and there just aren’t enough minutes for us to give,” Murray said. “So to have an opportunity in the national semifinal to get those guys time, I hope it meant a lot to them because it meant a lot to me.”
His players certainly seemed to appreciate Murray as he turned 35 Thursday, serenading their head coach with a robust rendition of “Happy Birthday” as an encore to the school alma mater they sang to their fans after the final whistle.
Looking ahead to the championship opponent, Murray pointed out that St. Thomas is undefeated (16-0) for a reason.
“They’re extremely well-coached, fundamentally sound on defense and explosive on offense,” Murray said. “Same old St. Thomas.”
As for his own team, Murray is the first to admit the Lakers might not be the favorite, but the Lakers will go in to the final 60 minutes of the season as well-prepared as they can possibly be.
“Off the field, the mentality, the work ethic, the attitudes that we have - it’s the perfect team,” said the birthday boy.