FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For the first time ever, Wesleyan is the champion.
With an early offensive burst, the Cardinals led from start to finish to win its first ever national championship, 8-6 over Salisbury at Gillette Stadium. Senior Harry Stanton (New Canaan, Conn) was named Most Outsanding Player for his two-goal, one-assist effort.
“An incredible moment for our program,” said Wesleyan coach John Raba. “Our senior group, we worked so hard, this particular group for years now. So it’s not just, you know, today’s day. This is the culmination of what we’ve been doing and guys believing that we had the team to get to a National Championship and win it.”
The Cardinals jumped out early with four straight goals. Taylor Ghesquiere, a breakout performer in the postseason, scored early to set the tone before Harry Stanton notched two of his own. Leading 4-1 at the half, the Cardinals didn’t allow Salisbury any room to recover.
After a slow second, the Cards scored three times in the third behind two goals from Carter Hawthorne, along with Corey Aviles’ second goal of the season.
Wesleyan didn’t score in the fourth frame, being shutout 2-0, but the smothering Cardinals’ defense didn’t allow the Seagulls any late opportunities despite holding the ball for the overwhelming majority of the fourth frame.
Salisbury failed five clears and didn’t score in any of their three extra-man chances.
“You could tell we were all in sync today, and how difficult, if everyone’s on the same page, how difficult it is to score goals,” said Raba. “They might get a couple outside shots and might catch it once in a while inside, but today was the perfect example of when our defense is really flowing, it’s tough to beat. We have a lot of faith in each other, and we know exactly where we need to be.”
Led by Andres Rodriguez, the Cardinals defense was as shutdown as possible against a Seagulls offense that scored routinely into the 20s. All three of their postseason games were tight, starting with a 12-11 win over Christopher Newport, before a two-goal victory against Dickonson and an 8-7 result over Gettysburg.
In their own right, the Cardinals had a difficult path to the title, arguably the toughest road of any team in the division. It took defeating Cortland, Cabrini, Tufts, and RIT, the latter two by a single tally, to advance to Sunday.
“Just to be honest, I think the moment was a little too big up in RIT last year in 2017,” said Stanton. “We were down nine. We actually got through the first quarter, and it just felt like we were just happy to be there, and we were. But this year there was a different mentality.”
In some ways, the early lead seemed to relax the Cardinals, in control of a game instead of fighting from behind.
Against Tufts, the Cardinals were forced to comeback after the Jumbos had scored a few late tallies. Two of the Cardinals’ three losses came against Tufts in the season, dropping the regular season meeting before the NESCAC championship, but it was in the game that mattered most that they responded. In the RIT game, Stanton scored with a minute left to send the Cards past the then-undefeated Tigers.
“I think also we love playing out-of-conference teams, and a lot of our season was taken up by NESCAC,” said Rodriguez. “We played all NESCAC teams up until the semifinals. Then this year we finally had the chance to play some different teams and show the south as well as the north that we had what it takes. So we were pretty excited to just be out there and play against these guys.”
On Sunday, freshman leading scorer Ronan Jacoby was shutout, but with the defensive effort, the Cardinals needed just eight goals to win. Wesleyan continued to find ways to win no matter what situation was thrown their way.
With every challenge possible thrown their way, the Cardinals still prepared.
The reward? Expectations met, and exceed, with a national championship.
“It’s an incredible moment, an incredible feeling,” said Stanton. “We have this game circled. I think our parents were confident that we’d be here, and we made the most of it.”