(Photo Courtesy of Bryant Athletics)
The 2021 NCAA DI Men’s lacrosse bracket was released on Sunday, setting in stone the 16 teams that will be fighting to be the last one standing on Memorial Day. And as always, in the days following the bracket being released there is a lot chatter and debate around not only which teams will make a run to Championship Weekend, but also which teams are most likely to pull off an upset win and thus create the most chaos.
Here is a look at three underdogs that could possibly make the most noise during this weekend’s first round action:
Record: 9-3 (5-2 NEC)
Bid Type: Auto (NEC Champs)
The Bryant Bulldogs are no strangers to May upsets. Many would argue that Bryant’s upset of two-seeded Syracuse in the first round of the 2014 tournament is the greatest in the history of college lacrosse. But on top of the history that Coach Mike Pressler and the Bulldogs’ program brings into this year’s NCAA Tournament, perhaps no team has endured what the Bulldogs have on the road to the big dance in this wildly unpredictable season.
For starters, Bryant went through three separate pauses due to COVID-19 protocols and during their regular-season meeting against Saint Joseph’s in mid-April only had one available goalie – freshman Teagan Alexander. On top of that, Mike Pressler’s squad fought the injury bug all season, which included missing star attackman Marc O’Rourke for the first eight games of the season. Despite all that, the Bulldogs fought through and ended the season with four consecutive wins, which included a 16-10 NEC Championship Game victory over Saint Joseph’s. O’Rourke had four goals and an assist in the win.
The Bulldogs will face the No. 4 seeded Virginia Cavaliers, who are still the defending champions, in the first round on Sunday. Virginia has’t played since April 24th when they lost to Syracuse for a second time this season.
Record: 10-2 (6-2 CAA)
Bid Type: Auto (CAA Champs)
A member of arguably the most unpredictable conference this season, the Dragons come into the NCAA Tournament riding a nine-game winning streak that dates back to March 24th. That streak includes a 15-11 victory over Hofstra in the CAA title game where the Dragons pushed out to a 10-1 lead late in the second quarter. Also in that contest, fifth-year attackman Reid Bowering continued his late-season success, scoring five goals in the win, after having a slow start to the season. The same can be said for fifth-year faceoff man Jimmeh Koita, who has gone an average of 51% over the past three contests after being inconsistent for much of the season.
In addition to the hot streak that the Dragons are riding into this year’s big dance, Coach Brian Voelker and the Dragons have a similar history as the aforementioned Bulldogs. In 2014, Drexel upset fourth-seeded Penn 16-11 in the first round.
Drexel faces No. 6 Notre Dame in the first round on Saturday. The Irish’s last game was May 1st when they blew out Syracuse for a second time this season.
Record: 9-5 (4-3 Patriot, 3-1 South Div.)
Bid Type: At-Large
In a normal season, the Loyola Greyhounds would likely not be tabbed as “underdogs” coming into the NCAA Tournament. But that just speaks to the kind of season it has been for Charlie Toomey’s squad. While the Greyhounds had to suffer the disappointment of having to forfeit the Patriot League title game due to a positive COVID test on Sunday morning, it was just the first of many this season. A near loss to Richmond in their opener, first-ever loss against Lehigh, and an 8-7 overtime loss against arch-rival Towson prompted many to tag Loyola as the most inconsistent team in the nation through the first half of the season. And if it weren’t for a win in their first meeting with Navy on April third, Loyola might not even be in this position at all.
Following their last two losses (Army and Navy) in mid-April, the Greyhounds have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the nation. They ended their Patriot League regular season schedule with an 11-7 win over a scrappy Lafayette team, upset eventual Big East champion Georgetown 11-9, and then beat both Navy and Army to advance to the Patriot League title game, which they had to pull out of. In those past four wins, not only have offensive weapons such as Aidan Olmstead and Kevin Lindley been more consistent than ever but so has goalie Sam Shafer, who has averaged a 55% save percentage since their last loss of the season against Navy.
Loyola faces No. 7 Denver in the first round on Sunday. The Pioneers come into the tournament off the heels of a one-goal loss in the Big East title game against Georgetown.