AIR FORCE at No. 5 DENVER
NCAA Championship – First Round
Saturday, May 13, 3:00 p.m. MT
Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, University of Denver, CO
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THIS WEEKEND: Air Force (12-5, 6-1 SoCon) will compete in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in program history, against the fifth-seeded University of Denver, at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, Saturday, May 13, at 3:00 p.m. MT. The Falcons will take the field coming off their second-straight Southern Conference Championship title in as many tries since joining the league last season. Air Force is currently on a five-game winning-streak, including two wins over the national- ranked Richmond Spiders.
THE SERIES AGAINST DENVER: Air Force has not picked up a win against Denver since head coach Bill Tierney took the helm of the lacrosse program in the summer of 2009. In the eight games played between Eric Seremet and Tierney, the Falcons and Pioneers have seen overtime once and have had two games finish with one-point differences. In the 2016 campaign, Air Force gave up a late lead as Denver rallied to a 9-10 win at Cadet Lacrosse Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Air Force dropped a 14-6 loss in the Pio’s 2017 home-opener, at Peter Barton Stadium. The Falcons were led by Chris Walsh who had two goals and two assists on the game. The Pioneers, who were 2016 Big East Conference champions, extended their home opener win streak to 19-straight. Since Air Force’s modern era began in 1993, the Falcons have only seen one victory over the Pioneers (2009, 10-7, at Denver).
AIR FORCE IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: Air Force is 1-4 in all NCAA tournament games dating back to 1971. Air Force met with Maryland in the program’s first-ever NCAA appearance in 1971, where they fell to the Terps, 10-1. In 1988, the Air Force met Loyola in the first-round where they were downed, 19-8. In 2014, Air Force saw it’s first-ever modern-era tournament appearance, topping Richmond, 13-5, in the play-in game. The win marked Air Force’s first-ever NCAA tournament win. They Falcons faced off against Duke in the ensuing first round of NCAA action where they fell, 20-9. Following a record-breaking 15-game win streak in the 2016 campaign, Air Force earned a program-first bid into the first round where they met with Notre Dame. Air Force fell to the Irish, 15-7, in South Bend, Ind. For the second-straight year, Air Force has earned a first-round berth by way of the Southern Conference’s automatic bid; the feat marks a program-first.
PRE-GAME FANS, FRIENDS AND FAMILY GET TOGETHER: Air Force fans will descend upon the Fermantra Brewery, roughly 10 minutes walking distance from Peter Barton Stadium, for a pre-game social and celebration starting at 12:00 p.m., and conluding around 2:30 p.m. Fermantra Brewery does not serve food; however, a food truck will be outside for food orders.
Fermantra Brewery and Tap Room
12:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
1715 E Evans Ave., Denver CO 80210
(303) 955-0736 | http://www.fermaentra.com
TUNE IN: Saturday's first-round match will be broadcast live on ESPNU. Kevin Brown will be calling the play-by-play alongside analyst Sheehan Stanwick-Burch. Fans can access the live stream by going to GoAirForceFalcons.com and clicking the watch live link in the schedule dropdown. Live stats will also be available for the tournament. The live stats link can be found next to the live stream link in the schedule dropdown. A cable subscription is required for viewing.
UP NEXT: The winner of the first round will travel to Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y., to take on the winner of the matchup between fourth-seeded Notre Dame and Marquette. Action is slated for one-of-two time slots (12:00 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. ET), Saturday, May 20, at James M. Shuart Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: “The 2015 champion Pios are licking their wounds after being upset by Marquette in the Big East semifinals. Denver's offense is lethal when Trevor Baptiste wins face-offs, ranking No. 6 in scoring. Denver is one of six programs to qualify for the NCAA Tournament every year since 2010 (Duke, Carolina, Maryland, Notre Dame, Syracuse). The Pios’ senior class is 57-11. All parts must show up in rematch with Air Force, a game they won 14-6 earlier this year. Midfield scoring has been sub-par.
The SoCon champs won't have to travel far to Denver and know the Pios well. They look to reverse a 14-6 regular season loss. Coach Seremet and his squad won their second consecutive SoCon title and rely on Chris Walsch and Nick Hruby. They have a strong face-off game but haven't been making saves, as opponents shoot 33%. A win over Duke offers confidence.” (Quint Kessenich, Inside Lacrosse)
THE SEREMET FILE: Head coach Eric Seremet is in his ninth season at the helm of Air Force Lacrosse. The 2016 Southern Conference Coach of the Year has led the Falcons to their third conference championship and third NCAA tournament berth in four years. Air Force won the ECAC title in 2014, and two SoCon titles from 2016-17 (independent in 2015). Seremet is 73-62 (.541) since taking the reins of the lacrosse program in 2009. The Camillus, New York, native and 1988 graduate of West Genesee High School, led Air Force to the program’s longest-ever win-streak (15-straight) and best finish in program history (2016). Air Force capped the record-breaking season at 15-3, with a perfect mark in conference action en route to the program’s fourth NCAA tournament appearance.
In 2014, Seremet was named the ECAC Coach of the Year and the USILA Division I Coach of the Year as he led the program to unprecedented heights, and at the time, their best season to date. In addition to his collegiate experience as both a player and a coach, Seremet brings eight years of professional playing experience to the table. He has coached all five of the Academy’s MLL professional draft picks.
A QUICK LOOK AT AIR FORCE: Air Force has the fifth-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing opponents on average only 7.65 goals per game; winning by an average margin of 3.35 goals, a mark high enough for seventh-best in the nation. The Falcons also have the 14th-best winning percentage in the country (0.706). In regards to the Southern Conference, Air Force leads in scoring offense (11.00) and turnovers per game (12.29). They are second in the conference in face-off winning percentage (0.568), man-up offense (0.396), points per game (17.06), scoring defense, scoring margin and win-percentage.
THE FALCON OFFENSE: Air Force’s top-three scorers, Walsch, Nick Hruby and Grant Gould, combine for 95 goals and 43 assists this season; Walsch and Hruby have both exceeded 100 career points, with Walsch just 19 points short of 200 career points. Walsch leads the SoCon in goals per game (2.12); he has 108 career goals, a mark that only one other Falcon in the modern-era has hit (Mike Crampton, 127g, 2011-14). Walsch, a 2017 Tewaaraton Watch List attackman, also has the second-highest points per game mark in the conference, averaging 3.65 points per game; he has the Air Force program record for career points (181). Hruby is seventh-highest on the same list (116).
Walsch, a native of Finksburg, Maryland, has started in all 50 career games; registering at least a goal in 45-of-50 career games played. The three-year starting attacker notched his 100th goal in a season-high five-goal performance against Bellarmine, April 1. He notched a career-best and team-high six assists against High Point, April 29. He leads the team in goals (36), assists (26) and points (62) this season. He also leads the team in career G-A-P (108-73-181), career hat tricks (19), career game-winners (7) and is fourth on the team in career ground balls (70). He is the Academy’s first-ever Tewaaraton watch list player; he has led Air Force in goals and points every year since joining in the 2014-15 season.
Hruby’s six-point showing against Detroit Mercy, Mar. 11, marked a personal season-best performance. He is second on the team in goals (35), assists (10) and points (45). Hruby is fourth in the conference with five individual man-up goals and 2.93 points per game. He has had a hat trick in five games this season. Hruby displays his utility on both sides of the ball as he is third on the team with 11 caused turnovers.
AT THE X: At face-off, sophomore Trent Harper has taken the reins with a .603 win-percentage; the highest face-off winning percentage in the conference and 11th-best in the nation. Harper was credited as the conference Defense Player of the Week, Feb. 28, for his part in a landslide win over Cleveland State where he registered a .762 face-off win-percentage on the game. He played a major role in Air Force climbing out of a four-goal first-half deficit against Jacksonville, by winning nine-of-eleven (.820) second-half face-offs. He went seven-for-seven in first period face-offs against Furman, finishing the game winning 14-of-19 face-offs (.737). He also registered a 0.875 face-off win-percentage as he dominated the face-off X against VMI, winning 14-of-16 face-off attempts. In the regular-season finale, the Birmingham, Alabama, native posted a team-best and career-high 21 face-off wins.
Harper will meet with the nation’s best face-off man in Trevor Baptiste. Baptiste, a two-time Tewaaraton nominee, garners an impressive 0.736 face-off win-percentage and is second in the nation in ground balls per-game (10.07). In the first meeting between the teams this season, the 220-pound All-American won 15-of-18 (.833) face-off attempts while adding a goal and 12 ground balls to the scoresheet.
DEFENSE WINS GAMES: Air Force’s defense combines for 112 caused turnovers; Brandon Jones leads the pack with 25 to his credit. The Upper Arlington, Ohio, native anchors an Air Force defense that averages 7.65 goals allowed per game, which is good for fifth best in the country. Jones also ranks second in the SoCon in ground balls per game (4.94); second only to Jacksonville’s face-off specialist, Hunter Forbes. The first-team all-SoCon defender is fourth in conference, 24th in the nation, in caused turnovers per game (1.47). Nicholas Accardi and Sean LaVine help round out the defense, accounting for 24 caused turnovers; 15 and nine, respectively. LaVine was also credited with the longest Air Force goal in recent memory with a 90-yard trebuchet-shot that cleared the Jacksonville goalie’s helmet into the back of the net with four seconds remaining in the third period of the SoCon semi-finals game.
The Falcons defense will have their mettle tested by All-American attackman, Connor Cannizzaro. Cannizzaro, a Tewaaraton Award finalist, leads the pioneers with 36 goals. He is joined by Ethan Walker who leads the team with 60 points from 33 goals and 27 assists.
IN GOAL: Senior midfielder-turned-goalkeeper, Mitch Rose, is now 7-2 while defending the Falcons' cage. Rose first saw action against Jacksonville, Mar. 25, where he helped fend off an upset loss to the Dolphins in overtime. He notched four saves against Bellarmine, who had the lowest scoring game of their season. The Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, native holds a 6.92 goals-against average and a .504 save-percentage.
IN THE NATIONAL RANKINGS: Air Force returns to the national rankings at No. 17/17 for the first time since Feb. 18, in the wake of the SoCon championship. The Falcons upended the nationally-ranked Duke Blue Devils, Feb. 5, and the Richmond Spiders on two occasions this season. Air Force fell out of all major national polls following the loss to Marist, Feb. 18. The Falcons, who were ranked as high No. 15 in the USILA Coaches’ Poll on Feb. 12, received votes in the national ranking, but not enough to break into the top-20 throughout the majority of the season. The 2016 Southern Conference champions checked in at No. 17 in Inside Lacrosse’s annual preseason rankings. The ranking marks Air Force’s first time in the national preseason polls.
THE SOCON FINALS: The top-seeded Falcons defeated the second-seeded Richmond Spiders, 9-6, for the second consecutive year in the Southern Conference Championship at Robins Stadium on the campus of the University of Richmond. Sophomore Air Force defenseman Brandon Jones, who nabbed a game-high seven ground balls in addition to one caused turnover, was named the championship's Most Outstanding Player after leading the Falcons' defense in holding the Spiders to just six goals on the day. Air Force junior attackman Andrew Tien, who scored the game winning goal in last year's SoCon Championship game between Air Force and Richmond, led the Falcons' offensive effort after notching his third career hat trick with a total of three goals, tying the game high.
WALSCH NAMED SOCON OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Walsch, the 2016 SoCon Offensive Player of the Year, earned 2017 offensive honors by racking up 34 goals, 23 assists and a league-leading 57 points over the course of the regular season. The junior from Finksburg, Maryland, also led the league this season with 33 points on 19 goals and 14 assists in the Falcons’ seven conference games this season. Walsch scored on 33 percent of his shots and netted goals on 51.5 percent of his shots that were on frame. His signature performance came in an eight-point effort in the Falcons’ 20-2 route over Bellarmine on April 1. For the season, Walsch tallied seven hat tricks, three of which came consecutively against Detroit Mercy, Mercer and Jacksonville. Walsch earned league offensive player of the week honors on March 21 after his five-point performance in the Falcons’ opening SoCon game – a 14-6 win over Mercer. The junior attacker was also named the SoCon’s Offensive Player of the Month, where he led the SoCon with 24 points on 11 goals and 13 assists in leading the Falcons to a 4-1 record in April.
MAKING THE CUT: Air Force placed five players on the All-SoCon first-team, decided by the league’s coaches. Walsch is joined by teammate Nick Hruby, as first-team attackers. The Falcon's Grant Gould helps comprise the first-team midfield, while Brandon Jones rounds out the defense. Trent Harper was voted on as the league’s top faceoff specialist. Junior defender Sean LaVine was added to the second-team’s close defenseman line. Matthew Schwartz is one of six SoCon freshmen to earn a spot on the all-freshman team; he has 11 goals and 11 assists this season.