(Photo Courtesy of Washington & Lee Archives)
Since the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1971, a total of 25 programs have ever had the pleasure of competing in, at least, the semifinals. Furthermore, only 11 of those programs have come out on top and been crowned champions at the DI level.
But even in a sport where just a few have dominated, the story of the underdog is one that certainly persists in the minds of many. And while the underdog may not always be the one who comes out on top in May, the underdog has had success and found ways to knock off a Goliath every once in a while. And no matter what kind of implications the win has, if any, it will always be remembered as a slaying of a giant.
And while there is, admittedly, some recency bias in these rankings, here is a look at 15 of the biggest upsets in the history of college lacrosse:
Detroit Mercy 9, Ohio State 8 (2015 Regular Season)
After not having a winning season in their first six seasons, Chris Kolon took over the reigns of the program after being promoted to head coach. And in his head coaching debut the Titans pulled together one of their best wins in program history, which helped propel them to their first winning season (8-6). Led by a balanced offensive attack and a 14-save performance from Jason Weber, the Titans warded off a late-game comeback from the Buckeyes and secured the 9-8 victory. Ohio State came into the game receiving top-20 votes and finished in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
No. 12 Harvard 14, No. 4 Duke 9 (2016 Regular Season)
The Crimson weren’t necessarily bad as they were 3-0 and ranked coming into this game and held a top-20 win over Villanova. So the thought that they could hang with a top-five Duke squad wasn’t out of question, but it’s the way they beat Duke that makes this a memorable game and upset. The impressive attack duo of Devin Dwyer and Morgan Cheek, which combined for seven goals, was too much for Duke to handle. Harvard went on a 7-2 run in the second quarter to take a 10-5 lead at the half and held on for the win through the final two periods of play for one of the biggest wins in the Wojick era.
High Point 12, No. 12 Virginia 11 – Overtime (2016 Regular Season)
The final years of the Starsia era were nothing to rejoice about in Charlottesville. And beyond that infamous ACC losing streak, this loss may symbolize the state of the Cavaliers’ program at that time more than anything else. A High Point program in their fourth season came into Charlottesville 0-3 after losing to Duke, Boston U., and Maryland to start the season. After holding Virginia to just one goal in each of the second and third quarters, a Panthers defense led by a freshman Tim Troutner bent and allowed five goals in the fourth to tie things up and force overtime. Dan Lomas put away the historic game-winner.
15. High Point 13, No. 2 Duke 9/ No. 11 High Point 14, No. 9 Virginia 13 (2019 Regular Season)
Even if neither ended up carrying as much weight as originally thought, you can’t discuss college lacrosse upsets without mentioning one of High Point’s two upset wins in 2019 (Duke, Virginia). And while both were impressive, Duke was the most impressive because it was the first one and High Point was unranked at the time. Tim Troutner stood on his head on the defensive end and made 19 saves while the dynamic duo of Asher Nolting and Chris Young went absolutely bananas on the offensive end, combining for 10 points in the biggest win in program history. Both wins look equally impressive when you factor in that Virginia and Duke eventually faced off in the NCAA semifinals later that season.
14. Delaware 13, No. 1 Rutgers 9 (2017 Regular Season)
Ranked number one in the nation for the first time in program history and having all the attention of the college lacrosse world on them, the Scarlet Knights had seemed to hit a peak the likes of which they had never done before. But that peak didn’t last long. Literally, it didn’t even last a week. Delaware came in Piscataway, took an early 6-1 lead in the first quarter, and never looked back. Rutgers was able to rally late and win the second half, but they never able to catch the Hens.
13. Villanova 11, No. 4 Syracuse 10 (2013 Regular Season)
The Villanova Wildcats actually upset Syracuse 11-10 in both 2012 and 2013. And while the 2012 win broke their four-game losing streak against the Orange, the 2013 game was more of an upset in the eyes of many. Villanova came into the game with a 1-5 record and behind a 22-for-24 performance at the dot by Thomas Croonquist, took down the Orange. Villanova dominated in every category, including outshooting the Orange 44-21 and winning the ground ball battle 32-19. Two three-goal runs in the second half marked the end for the Orange, despite them consistently hanging around all game and only losing by one.
12. Princeton 18, No. 3 Johns Hopkins 7 (2017 Regular Season)
I actually remember dozing off in the second quarter of this one. No joke. That’s how bad of a beating Princeton gave Johns Hopkins on this Friday evening. Led by a six-goal performance from Austin Sims, the Tigers came flying out of the gates and took a 10-2 halftime lead. They stretched that to a 16-4 lead heading into the fourth quarter, and by that time everyone knew it was over. The Blue Jays had come into the game with a 4-0 record and coming off a dominating performance against North Carolina. But in Princeton, New Jersey, they were the ones who got dominated.
11. Colgate 12, No. 11 Syracuse 9 (2019 Regular Season)
The No. 11 Syracuse Orange came into the 2019 season-opener expecting to beat Colgate as they had done the past six meetings with the Raiders. And after all, they hadn’t lost a season-opener in the Carrier Dome in 205 straight contest. But Colgate had other plans. Led by impressive offensive outputs from Sam Cleveland (4G) and Duncan Hoskinson (3G), as well as Sam Cleveland and Griffin Brown, the Raiders stunned the Orange and earned the pleasure of riding back to Hamilton, N.Y., 12-9 victors.
10. St. John’s 8, No. 2 Notre Dame 7 (2012 Big East Tournament)
In 2012 and 2013, the Red Storm upset a top-five Notre Dame team. While both were impressive, the 2012 upset has to be considered the better of the two. St. John’s wasn’t ranked in 2012 as they were in 2013 and it was in the Big East Tournament. The Red Storm came into the conference tournament as the fourth seed, holding an 8-6 (3-3 in the Big East) record. Notre Dame was the top seed and ranked No. 2 in the nation. But the Red Storm, led by a five-point (3G/4A) performance from Kieran McArdle, proved to be too much that day for the Irish as they fell 8-7 and had to rally in the fourth to even make it a close contest.
9. Nazareth 13, Hobart 12 (1992 NCAA DIII Semifinals)
If any DIII game is going to make a list like this, it’s going to be this game. Hobart came into the contest looking to get back to the national title game and defend their title for the 13th consecutive season. However, Nazareth had other plans. While the Golden Flyers were 0-8 against the Statesmen all-time coming into this contest, they were certainly on their heels after narrowly losing to them early in the season. An 8-3 halftime Nazareth lead was erased and two goals in the final 34 seconds of regulation from Bob Wynne (Hobart) forced overtime. Marty Kelly scored the game-winner just seconds into the overtime period to secure the historic, 13-12, victory. Watch the full game on YouTube here.
8. North Carolina 10, Johns Hopkins 9 – Overtime (1986 NCAA Semifinals)
1986 marked the first Final Four as we know it today. And coming into that weekend, Johns Hopkins sported a 10-1 record with their only loss coming to Syracuse, who was also a final four team, and looking to three-peat as champions. Those dreams would be tarnished by a Tar Heel squad that lost, 16-4, against Hopkins earlier in the season. The Tar Heels, who were led by Gary Seivold and Pat Welsh, stunned the Blue Jays, 10-9, in overtime and went on to beat Virginia in the final to win their third title in program history
7. Maryland 16, Johns Hopkins 8 (1995 NCAA Semifinals)
The Blue Jays came into this contest after going a perfect 12-0 in the regular season and breezing by Loyola in the quarterfinals. The Blue Jays were sure-fire champions in the minds of many. But the Maryland Terrapins had other plans. Led by a 23-save from Terrapin goalkeeper and eventual NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Brian Dougherty, Maryland took down Johns Hopkins, 16-8. Essentially, the Blue Jays got boat raced.
6. Johns Hopkins 13, Cornell 8 (1978 NCAA Championship Game)
Cornell has three NCAA titles: 1971, 1976, and 1977. They were, essentially, the first dynasty of the sport’s NCAA era, and certainly the team of the 70s. Coming into the 1978 NCAA Tournament, the Big Red were not only back-to-back champions but they also held a 42-game winning streak, which included a 1976 semifinals, 1977 title game, and 1978 regular season victory over Johns Hopkins. Behind a three-goal performance from Bob DeSimone, the Blue Jays took down the Big Red and claimed their second NCAA title.
5. UMass 8, Mayland 5 (2006 NCAA Semifinals)
Most fans will remember 2006 as the last time we saw an undefeated champion (Virginia). But despite what the Cavaliers did, UMass was absolutely one of the best stories of the year. The unseeded Minutemen came into the NCAA Tournament and upset No. 6 Cornell and No. 3 Hofstra by one-goal in the first round and quarterfinals to advance to their first and only Championship Weekend appearance. Against a Joe Walters-led Maryland squad, Doc Schneider made 15 saves to lead the Minutemen to victory and a title game appearance, where they were trounced by, arguably, the best team in the past few decades.
4. Army 9, Syracuse 8 – Double Overtime (2010 NCAA First Round)
The No. 2 seed and defending champion Syracuse Orange came into the 2010 NCAA Tournament with an early March loss to Virginia as the only blemish on their record and looked poised for another Championship Weekend run. But they forgot the rule of never sleeping on a service academy. Army came into the Dome and simply never quit. Down two goals with 10 minutes left in regulation, the Black Knights erased the deficit and a Jeremy Boltus goal late in the fourth quarter forced overtime. Boltus later assisted on the Devin Lynch game-winner in the second overtime.
3. Delaware 14, Virginia 8 (2007 NCAA First Round)
Coming off of a perfect season and national title, Virginia had some major personnel losses from the year prior and more than a few blemishes on their resume. In fact, many forget that they lost to Drexel to start the season. But even with some losses and down points during the season, they were expected to still be a deep tournament team. And they would’ve been if it wasn’t for a Delaware squad that featured a freshman Curtis Dickson and senior Alex Smith. Dickson put up four goals to lead the way in the upset. The Hens made it to Championship Weekend, where they fell to the eventual champion Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. You can watch the full game on YouTube here.
2. Bryant 10, Syracuse 9 (2014 NCAA First Round)
Almost exactly one year to the day since taking down Bryant in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Mike Pressler and his Bulldogs waltzed right back into the Carrier Dome to face the Orange. Except this time it would be Bryant who came out on top. Led by a 13-save performance from Gunnar Waldt, the Bulldogs hung within two goals the entire game. Back-to-back goals from Tucker James in the fourth ultimately made the difference. Shane Morrell scored the final goal of the day for Bryant to push them back out to a two-point lead and help finish the upset.
1. Morgan State 8, Washington & Lee 7 (1975 Regular Season)
When talking about the greatest upsets in college lacrosse history, you can’t even start without bringing up Morgan State’s upset over Washington & Lee to start the 1975 season. The Bears, which had only had a program for a few seasons, traveled to take on a top-ranked Generals squad that was coming off their second consecutive semifinal appearance, where they fell, 11-10, to eventual champion Johns Hopkins. While the Generals jumped out to a 5-2 first-half lead, the Bears were able to climb back, in part due to the play of goalie Courtenay Servary, and claim the upset victory. Dave Raymond scored the game-winner to seal the deal. Washington & Lee went on to lose in the NCAA semifinals, again. Morgan State dropped lacrosse in 1981, but the legend of Morgan State lacrosse and this historic upset have lived on through documentaries and other forms of media. Rhiannon Walker of The Undefeated did a full oral history on this very game. Read it here.
20 thoughts on “Ranking The Biggest Upsets in College Lacrosse History”
I was a freshman starting midfield on that W&L team and I agree with your assessment. However that same year W&L defeated top ranked Hopkins in the first round of the playoffs which was a huge upset and should also be included in this listing.Charlie Stieff
Thanks for the comment Charlie!
I attended the Morgan State game and tipped my cap as the Bears played well and earned the victory. And just as Charlie mentioned , the WLU upset of an undefeated Hopkins team at venerable Homewood Field was actually a greater upset and a highly emotional victory for the Generals. WLU dominated the game throughout, coasting to a 11-7 victory.
I would like to add one to this list. The University of Baltimore beat Maryland in 1980 at the terps field and knocked them out of the playoffs. I left UB the year before and traveled to the game to see my friends from 1979 play. UB went on to be ranked 9 Div 1 in the country by 1982 under coach Meade.
Thanks for the comment, Ted.
Re: Hopkins Cornell 1978. JHU was led by Ned Radebaugh who won all but one face off. Cornell didn’t have the time of possession they expected. Best FO performance in a title game and possibly any game. Face off was eliminated the next year I think. It wasn’t that big an upset. A lot of first teasers and HOFs in that game
Morgan’s team was written about by Miles Harrison in his book 10 Bears. Athletes Athletes, Athletes.
Thanks for the comment, Sandy. Have seen the Ten Bears movie but still have yet to read Dr. Harrison’s book.
I was at Rutgers in ’78 when Ned put on a show. He totally dominated Craig Jaeger, A 1st team AA and one of the top middies in the sport. Sixteen straight wins, and 17 out of 18, if memory serves. As Sandy says, Cornell never had the ball. In terms of an upset, the bigger one happened three years earlier when Navy traveled to Ithaca to play No. 1 seed Cornell in the NCAA semifinals. (This was before the current Final Four format — the higher seeds hosted the semifinals.). Navy was No. 4 with a 9-4 record, Cornell was 15-1, with legends Eamon McEneaney and Mike French on attack. Navy took a one-goal lead into the 4th quarter, when middie Jeff Connelly posted a hat-trick and the Middies won, 15-12, earning their first trip to the NCAA championship game. They lost to the Terps, a team they had upset earlier in the regular season. The next time Cornell lost a game? In the ’78 Finals.
I would have to add a regular season game where Canisius upset #13 UAlbany on the road 14-10 to the honorable mention list simply because this was a Thompson’s lead UAlbany team held to 10 goals.
Thanks for the comment, Rich. Completely forgot about that one. A good win for the Griffs. Did consider that UMBC over #1 UAlbany in 2018, but ultimately left it off the list.
You overlooked the 2007 game between (unbanked) Drexel and No. 1 ranked Virginia. UVA was the defending national champions and Drexel had been picked to finish dead last in the CAA that season. The Dragons scored 2 goals in the last 7 seconds of the game to win the game.
Thanks for the comment, Jerry. Certainly remember that one – it was considered for sure. However, the fact that UVA did have a lot of attrition from that ’06 undefeated season and it was the first game of the season made it not get included. Believe I did mention the game when discussing ’07 Delaware over UVA in the first round.
1995 ncaa first round. 12 seed ND beats #5 duke . mid west auto bid had only been throttled every year in tourney. id argue top 5 upset of all time.
For those MCLA fans, How about an honorable mention Chapman v BYU circa 2007. Unranked (i think) Chapman beat reigning champion and #1 ranked BYU. This is when Chapman went 8-8 the previous year and was never a dominant team prior to that. They went on to make it to two consecutive national championships and have been a top 4 team every year since.
What about Canisius over 13th ranked Albany 2014
It needs to go back a bit to find what many consider one of the biggest upsets in D l lacrosse. May 1980. U of M is ranked and preparing for the NCAA s. They just had to put a University of Baltimore team away to finish their great season.
Well U of B arrived at Byrd Stadium for the game AND had forgotten their ball bag. So we borrowed a few from U of M to warm up.
2 min left in the game it s U of B 11 – U of M 9.
Final U of B. 11. U of M 10 !
We knocked them out of the NCAA playoffs and Coach Beardmore had coached his last game at U of M ! Period !
Now that’s an upset !!
The 1978 NCAA Division II Lacrosse Championship:
Roanoke defeated two-time defending champion Hobart in the final, 14–13, to win their first national title. This was also Hobart’s fifth consecutive appearance in the tournament’s championship final.
The Maroons (12–2) were coached by Paul Griffin.
The first time Georgetown beat Syracuse, at Georgetown. Early season. After the Gaits. In the nineties. Not sure if Urick was at Georgetown yet, but before Georgetown was elite. Maybe 30 people at a cold drizzly foggy early season game.
Here it is:
March 5, 1997 #2 Syracuse Washington, D.C. W(Georgetown), 14-9 2-0
Urick was coach, Georgetown was getting competitive, but not yet elite. Syracuse was loaded, must have had a Powell or two, but didn’t feel like going after ground balls, on the road, tired.
Lousy, crappy weather. Attendance, about 30, 29 friends or family and me.