USM men play host, aim for national tourney spot

For the second consecutive season, the University of Saint Mary will play host to the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments at Charles J. Berkel Memorial Stadium.

The USM men’s lacrosse team (8-7, 4-1) enters the tournament as the No. 2 seed and will take on rivals and No. 3 seed Ottawa (6-6) at 7 p.m on Thursday.

The other semifinal features No. 1 Missouri Valley (11-1), the nation’s top-ranked squad, against No. 4 Benedictine (5-6) at 4 p.m.

The men’s title game is Saturday at 4 p.m.

Saint Mary beat Ottawa 15-12 on Tuesday to wrap the regular season and capture the second seed.

“We knew it was a tough conference game on the road and we made some good plays,” USM head coach Matt Kimsey said. ““It was an uptempo game and we showed some good poise to get a big win to finish second in the KCAC and head into the tournament with for sure.

“I expect it to be another tough game. They are a good team. I don’t think a lot changes (in preparation) and it’s hard to beat a good team twice and has talent at a lot of positions.”

A year ago the Spires were knocked off in the semifinal against Missouri Valley after battling strong for a half before wearing down.

“We have some depth,” Kimsey said. “Last year we were playing with 12 guys and we will suit up 21 on Thursday. … The guys are a year older and having more experience of playing in the tournament is what you have to have. I think we are better prepared this year and we will see how we come out.”

The NAIA national tournament is an eight-team field which will play for the title in the first week of May. Kimsey believes the KCAC could get an at-large bid with the champion getting an automatic bid as both Ottawa and USM are top 10 caliber teams. 

The Spires have three wins over ranked teams – Missouri Baptist, Aquinas and Ottawa – and another one over Ottawa and a good showing in the final, if they weren’t to win, could see them through to Greenville, South Carolina – site of the national tournament.

“I think we’ve taken some steps and we’ve got eight wins on the seasons, which is more than last year and we played a really tough schedule,” Kimsey said. “We’ve matured I think and finished 4-1 in conference, behind Missouri Valley when last year we were the No. 4 seed. It’s nice to move up there. There are a lot of positives and there has been a lot of improvement for the program overall.

“Winning the tournament would definitely lock up a bid and that’s the plan. Missouri Valley, Ottawa and Benedictine are all teams we can play with, but we have to take care of business (Thursday) with Ottawa.”

The women’s tournament begins Thursday with No. 1 seed Benedictine College taking on No. 4 Clarke (4-3) at 10 a.m. and the other semifinal features No. 2 Ottawa against No. 3 Midland at 1 p.m. 

The championship match is at 1 p.m. Saturday.