Men’s lacrosse to face top-seeded Siena in MAAC Tournament semifinal on Friday
On a crisp late winter’s day two weeks before the season started, JU men’s lacrosse head coach Matt Kerwick talked about the exciting opportunity that would come from playing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCCA Tournament.

The chill in the air may have long dissipated on the First Coast, but the Dolphins will return to a colder climate with a chance to make their season special as Kerwick’s team will face top-seed Siena in Buffalo, N.Y. in a MAAC Tournament semifinal matchup on Friday at 4:30 p.m.

JU (5-9, 3-3 in the MAAC) captured the fourth and final tournament seed on Saturday thanks to Canisius’ defeat of Manhattan. The Dolphins will now look to atone for a one-goal loss to Siena earlier this season, taking on a Saints (11-5, 5-1) team that beat every league opponent except Detroit this year.

“Our goal all year has been to first make it to the conference tournament and we’re excited for the chance to compete against a crop of talented teams for the right to earn the automatic entry,” Kerwick said. “I’m proud of my team for making the tournament in its first year in the league and we’ll try and give it everything we have.

“Siena is solid in all aspects of the game and they gave us a tough battle the first time we played them. To be the best, you need to beat the best, and we’re looking forward to having another opportunity to see how we match up against the MAAC’s regular-season champion.”

The Dolphins will enter Canisius College’s Demske Sports Complex knowing that its goalie is coming off one of his best efforts of the season. Freshman Peter DeLuca won the MAAC’s “Rookie of the Week” award after tying a career high with 20 saves, helping to keep JU competitive in a 10-6 loss to the defending national-champion and seventh-ranked Duke Blue Devils.

DeLuca raised his save percentage 16 points in the game, recording a 20-save game for the second time in his career in holding Duke to just 10 goals on 46 shots faced. The first-year netminder will look to get another shot at a Siena team averaging 11.47 goals per game. DeLuca leads the league with 11.29 saves per game while Siena counterpart Tom Morr is second with 11.20.

Morr has won “Defensive Player of the Week” honors three times and leads in the league in save percentage (.577). The Dolphins will look to get another crack at the junior after Morr recorded eight fourth-quarter saves—and 16 total— in Siena’s 14-13 win on April 9 at D.B. Milne Field.

JU will be playing in the first conference tournament game in program history. The Dolphins played as an independent in its inaugural 2010 season but will now look to secure the first lacrosse title. To accomplish that, Kerwick will depend on TJ Kenary and Bobby Stockton to continue and show the offensive pop that has allowed both to share the team lead in goals with 19.

Sophomore midfielder Cameron Mann will also be asked to show the two-way game that has propelled him to the top of JU’s point-total list. Mann has already compiled 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points, leaving him with 11 more points than the next closest teammates.

The Dolphins continue to sit in the upper echelon of national statistical rankings. JU is averaging 10.43 goals per game, placing it 19th nationally for average scoring offense in Division I. The squad has also been aggressive on the other side of the ball, causing 139 turnovers (9.93 per game) that ranks fifth only behind teams such as Georgetown and Detroit.

JU also remains the national leader in ground balls, posting the highest per-game average in the country at 40.36. The Dolphins have 565 ground balls through 14 games, trailing Duke by 55 for the most total.

Siena boasts some impressive statistics as well thanks to a balanced roster that has six double-digit goal scorers and three offensive threats who have 23 or more goals.

Leading the group is junior Bryan Neufeld, who has paced Siena’s attack with 36 goals and 19 assists for 55 points. Neufeld has been led a potent Saints man-up unit, scoring six goals with the man advantage and even tallying a goal with his team down a player. Fellow attackman Danny Martinsen (23-20-43) also has been a reliable scoring threat as a sophomore. The duo would be challenging enough, though JU will also have to account for junior midfielder Chris Roth (27-12-39).

The Dolphins will ask its three mainstay defenders to shoulder most of the burden of marking Siena’s scoring threats. Tanner Gard, Jake Ziegler and Stephen Spindler will be asked to sustain pressure. Spindler will try and maintain the physical form he showed against Duke in which he set a career-high with five caused turnovers.

Placed in a difficult spot, Spindler has stepped into the starting lineup when JU co-captain Corey Lovrich was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Spindler is averaging 1.54 caused-turnovers per game, tying him for 32nd nationally.

Second-seed Marist will face third-seeded Detroit in the other semifinal game later on Friday. Fans can follow the action with free live stats and watch an online video stream. There will be a package deal for all three games for $13.95 for all three games or $5.95 for a single game. The awards banquet Thursday night will also be video streamed and is available free of charge.

- By Brian Bohl