The Final Step: Lenoir-Rhyne Throttles Mercyhurst for First D-II NCAA Title


Lenoir-Rhyne captured its first-ever national title Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

PHILADELPHIA — Lenoir-Rhyne gradually built itself into a Division II contender since it debuted a dozen years ago under Greg Paradine, first with conference titles, then NCAA tournament berths and eventually a couple trips to the championship game.

Sunday provided the biggest payoff yet, a 20-5 bludgeoning of Mercyhurst as the Bears earned their first national title.

“I told these guys the first day we got together in August that we could do this, we could be national champs, that we had the talent in this room to be national champions,” Paradine said. “These guys believed it and it came to fruition.”

Evan Voss had four goals and an assist to earn most outstanding player honors and Riley Seay added four goals for Lenoir-Rhyne (18-3), the No. 5 seed in the South Region. The Bears navigated road games at defending champion Tampa, Rollins and Limestone before walloping the overwhelmed Lakers at Lincoln Financial Field.

The breakthrough came two years after Lenoir-Rhyne faded in the second half of its first title game appearance, eventually falling to Le Moyne 12-6.

“That was the biggest experience for us,” redshirt senior defensive midfielder Dylan Stape said. “We knew that time, [we thought] ‘Wow, we’re here,’ and the stage was very big for us. We kept telling the younger guys, it’s just another game. There’s a lot of people out there cheering for us, but it’s just another guy and go out and do your best.”

The margin of victory was the second largest in Division II title game history, surpassed only by Merrimack’s 23-6 rout of Saint Leo in 2018.

Brett Olney made 12 of his 16 saves in the first half for Mercyhurst (16-3), which was seeking its first title since 2011 and had not reached the final since 2013.

“I thought the lights were a little bright for us today,” Lakers coach Chris Ryan said. “It’s no one’s fault. If anything, I’ll fall on the sword on that one. It’s my job to get the kids ready to play. I just think we all [have to] learn from this and push forward and get back here. Hopefully, the next time we get back here, we’re a little more prepared to be successful.”

The Lakers committed turnovers on their first four possessions thanks in part to Lenoir-Rhyne’s pressure, and it effectively negated the advantage they possessed thanks to Division II Player of the Year Shawn Doran (17 of 27 on faceoffs). The Bears took the first 11 shots of the game and led 4-0 before Mercyhurst put an attempt on cage.

“I think we let them get to us a little more than we wanted to, and it showed,” midfielder Nicholas Mabe said. “They’ve been here before and we haven’t, and we let it get to us and that can’t happen.”

Added midfielder Quinn Simonson: “They really came out ready to play today. We didn’t show up.”

While the Lakers sputtered to create scoring opportunities, Lenoir-Rhyne kept the scoreboard operator busy. It was 6-0 after a quarter, and the Bears found all sorts of ways to pile up goals in the next 15 minutes.

Pole goals from Nate Ashley and Victor Powell? Sure. Fortuitous rebounds to Seay and Toron Eccleston in the final three minutes of the half to add a dash of luck to a game otherwise defined by flat-out dominance? Why not?

The Bears’ eight goals in the second quarter was the most in any period of a Division II final since UMBC dropped eight on Adelphi in the third quarter of the 1980 title game (a drought slightly padded by the hiatus of the D-II tournament from 1982 to 1992). And Lenoir-Rhyne’s 14-1 lead marked the most lopsided halftime margin in D-II final history, surpassing Merrimack’s 13-1 edge on Saint Leo in 2018.

“We just overwhelmed them with everything we did and we just played how we’ve been playing all year and we just took it to them,” Powell said.

Mercyhurst showed a spark with four goals early in the second half to close within 15-5. But the Bears stymied the Lakers the rest of the way, silencing Mercyhurst for the final 24:15.

While the result was lopsided, it did showcase the value Voss delivered as a sophomore. The attackman set a career high with four goals in the semifinals against Limestone and matched it Sunday.

Voss finished the tournament with 12 goals and eight assists, cramming a little more than a third of his production for the season (29 goals, 29 assists) into the four-game title run.

“What’s been great about Evan is we’ve typically been a midfield-oriented [team], dodging from out front of the cage, and he gave us a presence from behind,” Paradine said. “It was really hard to defend us because we could attack from all over.”

It is only the second men’s title in any sport in Lenoir-Rhyne’s history and the first in NCAA-sponsored competition. The Hickory, N.C., school won an NAIA football championship in 1960.

Despite the 542 miles from western North Carolina to Philadelphia, there was a boisterous section of Bears fans who had little reason to do anything but revel Sunday. Many of them were former players who helped build the program’s foundation over the last dozen years, and their presence was one of several reasons Paradine was emotional about reaching the summit of Division II.

“Those guys came to build a program from nothing,” Paradine said. “We got a little competitive in the first couple years. Then we were able to win a [South Atlantic Conference] championship. Then we were able to get to a national championship. You never know. We get to a national championship in ’21 and there’s no guarantee we’re ever going to get back to that point.”

Two years later, the Bears took that last, validating step, and left no doubt in the process.


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