By Matthew De George
For Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/25/19
Ask enough players at the NCAA men’s lacrosse championships in Philadelphia this weekend, and you’re bound to get tales of championships past. Philadelphia, Baltimore, Foxborough, their hometown or overnight trips, in person or on television – memories of the sport’s most important weekend run the spectrum.
No one’s story beats Evan Wolf’s.
It was 2013 when the NCAA Final Four blew into Philadelphia. Wolf, a blossoming talent at Lower Merion, attended championship weekend at Lincoln Financial Field with a rooting interest – his brother, Jordan, an All-American attackman as a junior at Duke. In the final that Memorial Day, he watched Duke storm back to stun No. 1 Syracuse, 16-10, a victory sealed by Jordan’s four goals and two assists.
“That was a really fun moment for him and my family,” Evan said Friday. “It’s kind of come full circle, and he now gets to come watch us play and watch us do the same.”
Like his brother, Evan has the kind of talent to decide a national championship, which he hopes to put on display Sunday when Amherst tangles with Cabrini in the Division III final at 4 p.m.
Wolf has tallied 115 points this season (73 goals, 42 assists), to land on the Tewaaraton Trophy watch list. USILA this week named him Division III Player of the Year.
His last collegiate lacrosse game won’t just be in the national title game, the first in Mammoths history. It’ll be a national title game in his backyard, on hallowed turf that holds so many dear memories.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Wolf said. “We know we’ve always had a pretty good team and pretty good program, and we felt that this is where our team belongs. And it’s nice that this year we were able to break through to the national championship game.”
The similarities in the intangibles category are eerily profound. Cabrini and Amherst are both playing for their first national titles, having never previously made even the Final Four. Amherst (18-3) lost to Tufts and twice to rival Williams this season … the teams it vanquished in the national quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively.
Cabrini (21-2) had never won more than 17 games in a season. The Cavaliers lost consecutive games in late March to York and then-No. 1 Salisbury. In the tournament, they beat No. 4 York in overtime, thanks to a goal from Mike Gerzabek (Springfield-Delco), then banished the demon of Salisbury, which had eliminated Cabrini in its three previous NCAA quarterfinals.
“It means everything for this program,” said goalie Riley White, a Plymouth Whitemarsh grad. “Everyone here just works so hard, and to be able to play at the Linc is just unreal. We have so many local guys, and it’s just means so much to us. It’s probably more than we could ever ask for, playing here and being able to be in our hometown and represent, that’s the best thing about it.”
White, a third-team USILA All-American, has backstopped a defense that is the fifth-stingiest in the national, allowing 6.61 goals per game. A veteran defense led by second-team All-American Tommy DeLuca has been a big reason for that.
Amherst, which ranks fifth in the nation in scoring offense at 17.81 goals per game, is more free-wheeling, which presents a clash of styles. Not that the Cavaliers – with program-record scorer Jordan Krug, who has 108 points this season – can’t light up the scoreboard, too, at just shy of 17 goals per game (11th in the nation).
And Cabrini boasts the hometown advantage, one that showed as the team practiced at the Linc Friday with about as loose and fun a session as you can have, ending with a shooting contest that didn’t stop at poles or goalies … or even assistant coaches.
“Philly just makes it 100 times better,” said Krug, a Marlton, N.J., native. “It’s a little extra drive, I feel like. Since we knew last year it was coming back to Philly, I think it was a goal. I think we knew our team was strong enough to get to this point and we’re real excited. The fact that it’s in Philly feels like another home game. There’s going to be tons of fans here supporting us.”
“I feel like we’re not going to really know that it’s over when it happens, it’s just so surreal right now,” White said. “I think we don’t even know that we’re here right now. It’s so exciting that after the game, we’ll all just be like, ‘wow, I can’t believe we did that. I can’t believe it happened.’”
Wolf isn’t ready to concede the homefield edge so easily. As willing as he is to deflect credit for his personal accolades onto the collective at Amherst, he’s adamant about embracing this experience.
“The next couple of days are going to be really fun and exciting, just doing the last preparations for the game,” he said. “I’m assuming there is a lot of family and friends coming. I’m trying to tune that out and leave my phone turned off and just enjoy every second of this and enjoy Sunday. It’s going to be a great game.”
And if history is any indication, it could end with a Wolf lifting a trophy.