December 11, 2012

#BestOfLax 2012: LM Picks Top Moments of Year

Alyssa Murray called for a key stick check that sent Syracuse and Florida to sudden-death overtime.
© John Mecionis

by Lacrosse Magazine staff | | Twitter | Related: Best Players, Coaches

Nearly 34,000 votes were cast in Lacrosse Magazine's "Best of Lacrosse 2012" polls in October, and we thank each and every one of you who voted. The final results of the year-end fan voting can be found here.

Now it's time to roll out our staff picks as they appear in the December issue of LM alongside those fan vote results.

Check back to this month for more Best of Lacrosse 2012 content and talk about it in the comments section below or on Twitter using the hashtag #BestOfLax.

Best Game

Syracuse vs. Florida (NCAA Semifinal)

Alyssa Murray scored 74 goals for Syracuse in 2012. But she found a way to make a different kind of impact in the Orange's dramatic 14-13 double-overtime victory over Florida in the NCAA women's lacrosse semifinals at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.

The Gators let a seven-goal second-half lead evaporate, but looked like they would survive when Gabi Wiegand scored the apparent go-ahead goal with just nine seconds left in overtime. As Florida players started celebrating just a few feet away from her, Murray sprinted "a little crazed," she said, to the nearest official and called for a stick check.

"We were fighting for our life," Murray said. "It was something you have to do."

Wiegand had an illegal pocket, her goal disallowed. It sent the game into a second, sudden-death overtime. Fifty-eight seconds in, Syracuse's Sarah Holden cemented the second-biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history — Duke blew a nine-goal lead against Virginia in 2007— with a goal that sent the Orange to its first NCAA championship game.

"It was just a really smart call by Syracuse," Florida coach Mandee O'Leary said.

Said Syracuse coach Gary Gait: "Sometimes it takes a little bit of divine intervention."

Fan Vote

Syracuse vs. Florida (NCAA SF) 47%
Denver vs. UNC (NCAA 1st-Rd) 23%
Navy vs. Oregon (NCAA play-in) 17%
Colgate vs. Lehigh (Patriot final) 8%
Canada vs. USA (U19 prelim) 5%

The Orange demonstrated a flare for the dramatic all season. It started, ironically, with a 12-11 double-overtime win March 3 over these same Gators in Gainesville — a game in which Florida failed in an attempt to get Katie Webster's game-winning goal overturned with a stick check. Syracuse won 18 of its next 19 games, including a wild 17-16 NCAA quarterfinal win over North Carolina at the Carrier Dome in which Tewaaraton Award finalist Michelle Tumolo strapped the Orange to her back in the waning minutes.

"We look each other in the eyes, and we don't give up," Tumolo said.

That was only the prelude to the rematch with Florida — and the best lacrosse game of the year.

Best Team Breakthrough

Iroquois Nationals

The Iroquois Nationals under-19 team became the first Iroquois team to ever beat the U.S. in field competition, with a 15-13 pool play victory at the FIL U19 World Championships in Turku, Finland.
© Tero Wester

The gravity of the situation was not lost on Iroquois Nationals U19 team captain Lyle Thompson. "It's hard to forget a game like this," Thompson said on July 15 after the Iroquois beat Team USA, 15-13, in pool play at the 2012 FIL U19 World Championships in Turku, Finland. "It means a lot to me, the team, our people."

Lacrosse is, after all, the Creator's Game, and it was the first outdoor, field win by an Iroquois Nationals team of any level against the United States. To put it in perspective, the indigenous team drew from a total population pool of about 13,000 from the six Native American nations of the Haudenosaunee together with the Hiawatha First Nation, all located along the Canada-U.S. border. According to US Lacrosse statistics, there's at least that same number of youth boys' players on Long Island alone.

And about 10 percent of that — an overflow crowd of 1,200 at a city park in Finland — watched the Iroquois make history.

The U.S. led 4-0 midway through the first quarter and 8-4 with eight minutes left in the first half, but the Iroquois used a 6-0 run over 18 minutes, 39 seconds of the second and third quarters to take a 10-8 lead.

The Iroquois never trailed after going ahead 9-8 less than four minutes into the third. The U.S. fought back several times — rallying twice from two goals down to tie the score at 11 and 13 — but Hank Delisle scored the final go-ahead goal with 5:35 left.

Delisle, Brendan Bomberry and Randy Staats each had hat tricks for the Iroquois. Six others scored one goal. Warren Hill made 12 saves, earning the game ball in the post-game locker room.

"It's pretty amazing," Iroquois coach Freeman "Boss" Bucktooth said afterward, proudly displaying over his right shoulder a purple and white belt representing the Six Nations. "We threw a different style at them, different than what they're probably used to. ... We've got a lot of talent on the team and a great coaching staff. We put everything together. We'll walk away with a win [over] the USA team at any time."

Fan Vote

Florida women 43%
Loyola men 29%
Iroquois Nationals 17%
Oregon women 6%
Colgate men 5%

Thompson, who is now a sophomore at Albany, where he's playing alongside his brother, Miles, and cousin, Ty, had the ball in his stick at the end of the game to kill clock.

"Lyle comes from a long history of lacrosse," Bucktooth said. "His father and I played and his grandfather and I played with each other. He's got good blood in him. His grandfather on his mom's side was the fastest throughout the Six Nations. On his father's side, they have great speed and were some of the fastest guys in the Six Nations. He's dynamic."

Just as the Iroquois were, as a team, that day.

Best Individual Breakthrough

Eric Lusby, Loyola

Fan Vote

Alyssa Murray 33%
Tatum Coffey 25%
Jeremy Sieverts 21%
Eric Lusby 17%
Matt Kavanagh 4%

Raise your hand if you had Eric Lusby breaking the all-time NCAA tournament scoring record before last season? Or even before the postseason started? Put your hand down, you're lying.

Lusby, who didn't play in 2011 while recovering from a torn ACL, broke the NCAA tournament scoring mark previously held by Virginia's Matt Ward (2006) and Duke's Zack Greer (2007) by tickling the twine 17 times. The lefty ying to linemate Michael Sawyer's yang, "The King of the Front Swing" scored 14 of Loyola's 26 goals in the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship, leading the small school on North Charles Street to its first-ever national title. He single-handedly outscored Maryland in the championship game, 4-3. That qualifies as a breakthrough.

Best Individual Performance

Michelle Tumolo, Syracuse

Fan Vote

Vito DeMola 63%
Michelle Tumolo 25%
Jeremy Noble 6%
Cody Jamieson 3%
Taylor Cummings 3%

Michelle Tumolo summarized her game-winner in the 17-16 NCAA quarterfinal win over North Carolina pretty well. "It was pure bliss," she said.

But that goal wasn't the whole story. With the Tar Heels leading 16-14, Tumolo put the Orange on her back, scoring a solo goal at 2:24 and assisting Kailah Kempney's equalizer at 39 seconds. Kempney returned the favor by nabbing the final draw control and setting Tumolo up for triumph. Tumolo juked her defender near the crease and released a low shot as she fell to the ground, scoring with just five seconds on the clock and sending the Orange into the final four. Pure bliss, times three.

Best Comeback

Denver Outlaws (MLL Semifinal)

Fan Vote

Syracuse women (NCAA SF) 53%
Colgate men (NCAA 1st-Rd) 27%
Denver Outlaws (MLL semi) 8%
Denver men (NCAA 1st-Rd) 8%
Syracuse women (NCAA QF) 4%

With their offensive leader and Major League Lacrosse MVP Brendan Mundorf sidelined with an ankle injury, the playoff snakebitten Denver Outlaws had a moment of glory — or more specifically, 27 minutes — in the 2012 MLL semifinals at Harvard Stadium in late August. After trailing the Long Island Lizards 12-3 with 11:32 left in the third quarter, the Outlaws scored the final 10 goals of the game and held the Lizards scoreless the rest of the way to win 13-12.

"That has to be the best comeback game I've ever played in," said Denver rookie attackman Chris Bocklet, who started in Mundorf's place and scored a team-high six goals, five in the second half. Fellow rookie Mark Matthews tallied five points to add juice to the Outlaws offense.

Meanwhile, Long Island became stagnant. "We became a standing-around, iso offense," Lizards coach Joe Spallina said. "We were very predictable on that side of the field." They also ran out of energy on defense. Jeremy Sieverts scored what held up as the game-winner with 6:19 left.

Although Denver's win will be remembered for years — it was the largest comeback in MLL postseason history — the epic victory couldn't propel Denver to its first MLL championship. The Outlaws lost to the Chesapeake Bayhawks 16-6 in the next day's final, extending Denver's streak of postseason appearances without a title to seven straight seasons.

Best Milestone Moment

Fan Vote

Kathy Jenkins (600 wins) 38%
Cindy Timchal (400 wins) 28%
John Grant Jr. (NLL scoring record) 16%
Mike Messere (HS wins record) 14%
Zed Williams (NY scoring record) 4%

John Grant Jr.

Which of John Grant Jr.'s milestones do you want to talk about? Breaking the NLL single-season points record, in a to-the-wire competition with Garrett Billings of the Toronto Rock? Grant did it, even though he played in just 14 games to Billings' 16. Junior also reached his 1,000th career point (fifth player in league history to do so) and 500th career goal (third player in league history) during the 2012 season. Perhaps most impressively, Grant did all this late in his career. At 37, he is the oldest player to ever be named the NLL's Most Valuable Player.

A version of this article appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

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