Lynn Men Win D-II National Championship.
EVANS, Ga. — When Lynn lost in the NCAA men’s Division II national championship game a year ago, Coach John Rootes had a photograph made of the scoreboard that illuminated the final score.
The photo, and the painful memory it evoked, served as motivation for the Fighting Knights to finish the job of winning the title this year. That lofty goal was achieved Saturday when Lynn held off a furious late rally by Saginaw Valley State to secure a 3-2 victory in the 2012 national championship match at Blanchard Woods Park.
“We took a picture of the scoreboard last year when we lost (in overtime),” Rootes said. “The NCAA calls it sudden victory, but that’s a euphemism for it. It was devastating for us to lose in sudden death like that to Fort Lewis.
“But it really motivated our guys from that day. We started preparing the next day for this moment. Every single player on our team, that’s all they’ve talked about since that time. We got close, but we knew we had to commit ourselves to getting back here and finishing the job. We talked about it this week when we got to the Final Four, about how we all thought we had some unfinished business.”
Considered it finished now, although Saginaw Valley State (18-3-4) did not go down easily after falling behind 3-0.
“We never quit,” Coach Cale Wasserman of the Cardinals said. “We play whistle-to-whistle no matter what the score is.”
It took Lynn (19-3-1) barely two minutes into the game to establish the lead it would never relinquish on a set play off a corner kick. Just seven seconds into the third minute, defenseman/midfielder Johnny Mertl picked an opportune time to score his first goal of the season. Teammate Jack Winter executed a perfect corner kick to the top of the box, where A.B. Magnusson assisted and got the ball to Mertl, who headed it in to the far post.
“Johnny is a defensive midfielder, so his responsibility isn’t really to score goals,” Rootes said. “But he’s such a good dribbler of the ball and such a good player that he gets himself in really good positions. I tease him all the time that he couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn with a banjo – but he came through at the right time and scored a fantastic goal on that set piece.”
The early goal put a crimp in Saginaw Valley State’s plan for the game coming in.
“When you give up a set piece (goal) three minutes into the game, I don’t want to say it deflates the room a little bit – but it motivated Lynn and it allowed them to stay organized,” Wasserman said. “They didn’t have to pressure us much, and we’re a team that thrives on counterattacks. When you’re chasing the game, it makes it tough.”
Lynn added an important insurance goal later in the first half in the 41st minute, when a direct kick from James Aldred found Yannick Braeuer in the box and Braeuer headed it in for a 2-0 advantage. The Fighting Knights carried that lead into halftime.
“(Braeuer) came in and scored a beautiful goal there,” Rootes said. “The kid (from Saginaw Valley) had his arms around Yannick’s waist and was pulling him down as Yannick headed the ball. It was a class goal. He and Johnny picked the right time to step it up.”
When Anthony Desperito added a third goal on a breakaway, assisted again by Winter, it was 3-0 in the 67th minute and Lynn appeared to have the game well in hand.
But Saginaw Valley State had other ideas. With a determined and almost desperate effort that seemed to be lacking earlier in the game, the Cardinals scored a pair of goals in less than five minutes and kept the pressure on for the rest of the contest.
The first goal by Zach Walega came on a chip shot that he dropped just over the head and behind Lynn goalkeeper Matt DiCerbo into the left corner of the net in the 78th minute. The goal seemed to rejuvenate the Cardinals, who then scored again to cut the Lynn lead to 3-2 on a Lachlan Savage goal assisted by Zack Minor early in the 83rd minute.
From there, the rest of the game was a mad scramble as Saginaw Valley State kept up the pressure and Lynn tried to hold on.
In the end, the Fighting Knights were able to take a different, more joyous photograph on the field afterward. To get there, though, they never permitted themselves to forget the photo taken a year earlier after the loss in the title game.
“It was a great motivator,” Rootes said. “It was a motivator for them to get into the weight room, to get up early and do the running. They all worked really hard over the summer to get themselves fit so they could be in this position. It’s so gratifying to see these young men, after how hard they worked, to be able to fully accomplish the goal that they set out to reach.”