The Hawk Has Landed: Monmouth University Men’s Lacrosse Wins MAAC Title in Fourth Year as a Division I Program
From going winless in 2014 to winning championships in 2017, a lot has changed for Monmouth University’s men’s lacrosse program over the last four years. On Sunday, May 7, the Hawks officially signaled their arrival when they held off Marist, 9-8, to capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
A goal by junior midfielder Dylan Schulte with 5:09 left in regulation held up as the game-winning goal and Monmouth’s defense did what is has done countless times this season with a clutch stop on Marist’s final possession, completing a rapid yet steady ascension from startup program to conference champion.
The Hawks are one of 17 teams left standing for the national tournament, which gets underway Wednesday when Monmouth heads to Bryant for an opening-round game at 7 p.m. in Smithfield, RI. The winner will take on No. 1 seed Maryland.
When senior goalie Nick Hreshko grabbed a ground ball off an errant Marist pass with under five seconds left and sprinted to the far corner to kill off the remaining time, it set off a celebration that seemed unlikely when the current senior class first arrived in West Long Branch.
“It was kind of an unreal feeling, honestly,” said senior midfielder Dan Bloodgood. “After all we’ve been through in four years, the struggles we’ve had, it’s a remarkable thing we accomplished.”
“As a staff, at the end of the game we just sat back and watched and took it all in,” said head coach Brian Fisher. “It was a great moment to see how happy the players, the parents and the fans were. It was certainly special.”
Bloodgood was part of Fisher’s first recruiting class and is one of two former Shore Conference players on Monmouth’s roster. Bloodgood starred at Freehold Township where as a senior he led the Shore in goals (76) and points (115) en route to earning Shore Sports Network first-team All-Shore honors. He has played in 41 games during his career at Monmouth, tallying 39 goals and 15 assists. He scored the first goal in Monmouth program history on Feb. 22, 2014 against University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
“The area as a whole is remarkable and I’m glad to be at this school and represent the Shore,” Bloodgood said.
Senior Alex Kelly, who played at Rumson-Fair Haven, is a reserve midfielder.
Monmouth’s hallmark has been its stout defense, which is among the best in the nation. The numbers more than back that up. The Hawks are second in the nation in scoring defense at 7.24 goals per game, third in the nation in clearing percentage and ninth in scoring margin. They are also third in the country in turnovers committed at just 10.71 per game.
Hreshko, the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the way in the back end for a defense that also features First Team All-MAAC defensemen Andrew Grajewski and Garrett Pfeifer. Hreshko is second in the NCAA with a 6.97 goals against average and third with a .593 save percentage. Monmouth’s defensive prowess is a major reason why the Hawks have the nation’s longest winning streak at 11 games. The Hawks have held their opponents under 10 goals in 13 straight games, a staggering statistic.
“Everybody makes comparisons to us and Notre Dame because of my time there and how we play defense,” said Fisher, who was an assistant coach for the Fighting Irish before being hired as Monmouth’s head coach. “One of the things I took from my time there was that we coached the game of lacrosse in all aspects. One of our core philosophies here is to coach the game end line to end line, sideline to sideline.”
“It’s a credit to our players and coach (Andrew) Geison, who coaches the defense. It’s one of the areas we started to excel in with Conaway (former goalie Garrett Conaway, who was the 2015 MAAC Defensive Player of the Year) and now with Hreshko. It’s been a combination of the growth and development of that group. We empower them to make aggressive and good decisions on the field at both ends, and it’s led to us having a lot of success on defense.”
Fisher liked what he saw from his team in the fall and felt all the positives from a 7-7 season in 2016 were carrying over. He saw a senior class ready to lead and a group of underclassmen eager to be a part of history. His feelings were validated when, in the first game of the season, Monmouth knocked off No. 16 Villanova, 12-10, for the program’s first win over a ranked opponent.
“There was something in the air in the fall with this team,” Fisher said. “We just felt it, through the cumulative years of hard work combined with the seniors and younger talent on the team. The practices became more intense day by day. We just began to feel it through the winter training and certainly that came to a head in the first game, but we believed it much sooner than the start of the season.”
At the Varsity Club inside Ocean First Bank Arena on Sunday night, the Hawks convened to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on ESPNU. It was a surreal moment for a group, that not so long ago was just trying to figure out how to be competitive. They smashed through that barrier a while back. Now, after capturing the MAAC regular-season and tournament championships, they get to take the blue and white to college lacrosse’s biggest stage.
“Freshman year it didn’t look so bright, but as time went on and players started to mature and younger guys came through, we knew we had a great team this year,” Bloodgood said. “Throughout the four years we were planning for this year, and to end it with a bang as seniors, it’s a true testament to the work we put in.”
“We felt the pieces were falling into place where we could win the MAAC title, and I’m really glad we could get it done this year with this group,” Fisher said. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of: the growth of this senior class with how much they’ve gone through.”
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.