Wesleyan Hoping to Prove the Numbers Wrong
There are formulas that determine which teams get into the regional rankings. Sure, there's always a human element – they wouldn't have a committee if it was just math – but for the most part, it boils down to numbers. But the fact that Wesleyan, a team with a 12-4 record in the cutthroat NESCAC, couldn't crack the Top 14 teams in the North didn't sit well with the Cardinals.
"They don't respect us. It's obvious," said Wesleyan head coach John Raba after his team upset top-seeded Middlebury in the conference tournament semifinals. "We have to go out and prove it now. We have to show people we are the real deal. I think we have been the whole season; that's the thing that has been tough."
What gets lost in the numbers is just how close Wesleyan is to a perfect season. It's certainly the lament of numerous teams at this time of year, but the Cardinals have three one-goals losses – Middlebury, Bowdoin and Conn. College – along with a two-goal setback to Bates in Lewiston, which, for whatever reason, has been historically a house of horrors for Wesleyan.
"They've all been road losses, tight games and overtimes games," Raba said. "We're battle-tested, which is good. It's always good to take a couple of losses to deal with the pressure. Right now, we're playing good lacrosse."
On their way to the NESCAC finals, which occurs on Sunday at noon, the Cardinals have gained a measure of revenge. It started in the quarterfinals when Raba's squad paid back Bowdoin with an overtime victory, followed by Saturday's 9-8 victory over Middlebury. Beating the Panthers showcased Wesleyan's ability to ignore seemingly insurmountable deficits.
Trailing 7-3 late in the second period, the Cardinals appeared to be on the cusp of getting blown out, but they didn't flinch.
"We've been down three goals six times [this year] and we've come back to win," Raba said. "The guys, they don't get worked up if we're down a few. We always come back and that's been the story of our team this year. It's a bunch of guys who don't get too down. When things aren't going well, they are going to keep fighting."
Wesleyan scored four straight goals to tie the game before junior Graham Macnab scored his fourth goal with under a minute to seal it for the Cardinals. For Raba, Macnab's success in the Middlebury game is a microcosm of his squad.
"Just like our team in general, Graham was under the radar," Raba said. "It's not individuals; it's more about what we're doing as a group. I think our guys really buy into it. If it's not Graham, it has been different guys at different points. Today, it was Graham's day."
In addition to the chip on their shoulder, Wesleyan has a little history going for it. While there are no members on the current team who witnessed it, the last time the Cardinals played in a final, it was at Middlebury in '09 when they won it all.
Still, Raba knows that the Tufts team his troops will be facing on Sunday have something that the Cardinals have been using as incentive, especially since Wesleyan handed the Jumbos an 8-7 loss on April 20.
"We wanted to definitely play Bowdoin again and Middlebury again," Raba said. "When you lose to those teams, you certainly want another shot at them. And I'm sure it's no different with Tufts. I'm sure they want another shot at us. It should be a heck of a game."
And it will be another chance for Wesleyan to prove a team can't be judged on numbers alone.