There were high hopes for Wesleyan going into 2018.
After a historic offensive campaign from Harry Stanton a year ago, anything less than a deep postseason run would have been a disappointment. After taking down Tufts in the quarterfinals, the Cardinals started to gain some national title believers.
Defeating undefeated RIT? That should have turned the heads of any lacrosse observer.
“To be honest, there wasn’t much talked about RIT,” Wesleyan coach John Raba said, “but we wanted the opportunity to get back and play for a national championship. Now it’s about winning it. It’s great to be here, but it’ll feel just as bad to come up short.”
Led by freshman leading scorer Ronan Jacoby (Glastonbury, Conn), the Cardinals offense wasn’t what it was expected to be. Stanton, still a threat to score anywhere on the field, wasn’t the quarterback; it was Jacoby.
“He can really shoot the ball and has a super quick release,” said Raba. “He’s a big physical kid, he’s 6-foot-2, and being a lefty. He works off all our righties. If they double our guys and they can get him the ball, he’s a pretty good option to shoot. He’s had a great year, moreso than any freshman ever at Wesleyan.”
On Saturday, the Cardinals didn’t just beat RIT, for a while, it was a domination, leading by as much as 17-9. In the end, the Tigers stormed back with nine of the last 11 tallies, but it was too late.
Stanton stepped up for his biggest game of the postseason with six goals. With opposing team’s focus starting to turn to Jacoby, it’s allowed space for Stanton to start to take over again, along with feeder Carter Hawthorne. Stanton also scored the game winner against the Tigers.
Known for their offense, the Cards defense isn’t so shabby, either. Led by Andres Rodriguez, Wesleyan was able to shut RIT down at the end.
“Andres Rodriguez, I think, is the best player in the country,” said Raba. “He doesn’t get the credit because we play a lot of zone, but you see how disruptive he is. He’s an absolute animal.”
It was the perfect revenge after falling to the Tigers in the semi finals a year ago, but the biggest challenge is still ahead.
Against Salisbury, a national powerhouse year in and year out, it’s going to take a similar effort. Relying on the offense to build a lead will be key, but the defense will also have to stop a Seagulls squad that has plenty of experience.
In the Cardinals first-ever championship appearance, a staggering number for a team with as much clout as Wesleyan, it’s going to take their biggest effort of the season.
They certainly have the guns on offense to do it, and one of the best defensive players in the nation.
With the teams they’ve taken down already, if any team is prepared for that, it might be Wesleyan.