by Matt Morrison | MCLA.us
ORANGE, Calif. - The top-ranked and tournament top-seed St. Thomas Tommies fulfilled their destiny, winning the fifth Division II title in program history with a 10-7 victory over No. 6 Grand Valley St. at the 2016 MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour.
The contest at Chapman University was closer than the final score might indicate as St. Thomas recovered from an early three-goal deficit to defeat a gritty Grand Valley State team playing for their second national title in three years.
“These guys have never quit at any point in this season,” said St. Thomas coach Brian Gross, accepting the championship trophy on top of a perfect 18-0 record. “We’ve been down before, a couple of times in the regular season. We felt coming into this game, those games prepared us for the grind we expected.”
The Tommies struck first around the six minute mark when senior Dan Burke and junior Andrew Sotis scored just 38 seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead.
The Lakers got on the board a little more than two minutes later with the first of a five-goal barrage that powered a tidal wave of momentum. Junior Brady O’Brien scored a hat trick during the run as GVSU took a 5-2 lead after the first quarter.
The Tommies stemmed the tide in the second period and rallied to within one score on goals by freshmen Alex Vijuns and Mark Dowdle as the defense locked down the Lakers and the Grand Valley lead was trimmed to 5-4 at the break.
“We got off to a good start offensively, had a couple things to figure out defensively,” Gross explained, “and I think that second quarter showed we made the appropriate adjustments.”
After trading goals in the third period, St. Thomas hit the re-set button early in the fourth when Burke tied it at six with his second goal of the game. The Lakers regained the edge when Seth Kuehnl, the team’s top offensive threat, scored his first and only marker of the game to put GVSU up 7-6.
Dowdle evened the score with his second of the game before Tommies senior Simon Gondeck took over.
With just over four minutes on the clock, Gondeck went on a tear, scoring the final three goals of the championship, the final three of the season, to clinch the 10-7 victory and the national title. Gondeck finished with five points on four goals and an assist to earn tournament MVP honors.
“It felt amazing. I just knew at halftime there’s no way we’re going out like this,” Gondeck said after his final game in college. "We had to dig deep to go out like this and put the pedal down.”
Freshman Mark Dowdle contributed two championship goals for the Tommies. O’Brien finished with three goals and Erick Sundstrom scored twice for the Lakers.
St. Thomas senior goaltender Austin Dover stopped 10 shots to back another strong defensive effort by the Tommies. GVSU junior goalie Kyrn Stoddard stopped nine shots in the title game.
“We made a some simple mistakes and give St. Thomas credit, every time we make a mistake they tally one up,” reflected Grand Valley St. coach Tim Murray. The Lakers finished the season 9-6 overall.