By Dan O'Connell
Associate Director, Athletics Media Relations
TOWSON, Md. - In the history of college lacrosse, the 2001 Tigers will always require a special footnote.
That was a team that surprised everyone – even the team’s coach, Tony Seaman.
In 2001, the Tigers were a very young team and not too much was expected. Towson was coming off a season in which it won only three of 13 games. There were only six seniors on the roster. Of those six, only midfielder Justin Berry, defenseman Kevin Meyran and goalkeeper John Horrigan saw significant playing time.
In their first four games of the season, the Tigers went 2-2. Nobody was surprised when they lost to Virginia by 12-8 or fell to Maryland, 9-7.
On March 17, the Tigers spotted unheralded Dartmouth a 3-0 first quarter lead. In the third quarter, Dartmouth still owned a 5-3 lead before the Tigers came back. In the second overtime, Hunter Lochte scored the game-winner to give Towson a 7-6 victory. It’s doubtful that anyone who watched that game could have predicted that the narrow win would start an eight-game winning streak.
The lacrosse world took note of the Tigers on March 31 when they erupted for seven goals in the fourth quarter to upset #9 Loyola, 19-14. Kyle Campbell led the assault by scoring seven goals while Berry won 25 faceoffs and had 12 ground balls. Horrigan kept the Tigers in the game with 23 saves.
A week later, Campbell added seven more goals to lead the Tigers to an important 16-12 win at Hofstra. After wins over Hartford and Vermont, the ninth-ranked Tigers clinched the America East regular season title with an 18-8 win over Drexel to extend their winning streak to eight. However, the Tigers’ bid for a ninth straight win came up short when they fell to fourth-ranked Johns Hopkins, 14-13. A goal by Bobby Benson with 1:51 remaining erased a memorable Tiger comeback. Towson rallied from a 12-6 deficit to tie the game at 13-13 on a goal by Jay Horowitz.
As the top seed in the America East Tournament, the Tigers earned the right to host the semi-finals and the finals. In the semi-finals, the Tigers rolled to a 13-2 halftime lead and whipped Vermont, 18-7.
In the championship game, the Tigers finished off their championship run with a 13-11 victory over #11 Hofstra. After the game was tied at 8-8 in the third quarter, the Tigers took control and went on a 5-1 run to grab a 13-9 lead with less than five minutes remaining. Brad Reppert led the Tigers with four goals and four assists while Ryan Obloj added four goals, including three in the second half.
With the America East automatic qualifier secured, the Tigers earned a number six seed and faced Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at UMBC.
Playing their first NCAA Tournament game since 1996, the Tigers bolted to a 4-1 lead and never trailed against the Blue Devils. After Duke tied the game at 8-8 midway through the third quarter, Josh Tankersley and Campbell scored back-to-back goals for a 10-8 Tiger lead. When freshman Brian Myers scored with 9:41 remaining, the Tigers owned an 11-9 advantage. Obloj gave the Tigers a 12-9 lead when he scored off a pass from Brad Monaco to clinch the win.
With the Tigers preparing to face third-seeded Maryland at Byrd Stadium, Coach Seaman talked about his team. He said, “The greatest part about this team is that every day is a game that’s fun. It’s not like this is a big deal. The seniors have been through so much and I told them to enjoy this. The rest of the team is so young. They think it’s a birthday party.”
If the first 16 games were a birthday party for the young Tigers, they were about to celebrate the Fourth of July at College Park. Hoping to avenge an earlier loss to the Terps, the Tigers came out firing and grabbed a quick 5-1 lead in the first quarter.
The Terps bounced back and cut the deficit to 8-6. When Maryland scored the first three goals of the second half to take a 9-8 lead, many Terp fans in the crowd of 10,118 were confident their team would prevail.
But the final 2:12 of the third quarter set the stage for the drama that was about to unfold in the fourth period. A goal by Horowitz with 2:12 left in the quarter tied the game at 9-9. Just 56 seconds later, Jamie Daue gave Maryland a 10-9 lead when he scored. Berry won the ensuing faceoff and ran towards the goal where he fired a shot into the net to tie the game at 10-10 with 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
With 8:07 left in regulation, the Terps’ top scorer, Andrew “Buggs” Combs, scored his first goal of the game off a pass from Dan LaMonica to give Maryland an 11-10 lead. It was a significant goal for the Tiger faithful since Combs was the son of Gordy Combs, the Tiger football coach, and LaMonica was the son of Lynda Filbert, the Tigers’ assistant gymnastics coach.
Once they had the lead and the ball, the Terrapins seemed content to hold the ball. The Tigers killed off a penalty with three minutes left.
Finally, the Tigers got a break when Maryland turned the ball over and the Terps were called for a penalty. Then, with 44 seconds left, Lochte took a pass from Campbell and fired a rocket shot past goalkeeper Pat McGinnis to tie the game at 11-11. It was the Tigers’ first goal in nearly 17 minutes.
They only needed 17 seconds to score another goal. Berry won the faceoff and passed the ball to Danny Cocchi. Cocchi found defenseman Neil Adams running free towards the goal and fired a perfect pass to him. Adams fed the ball to Obloj, who drew a double team, and passed it to Campbell. With 27 seconds remaining, Campbell scored to send the Tigers on their improbable trip to the NCAA Final Four at Rutgers.
Campbell, who scored four goals with an assist in the win, said “As soon as Danny picked up the ball, Neil came down with it and everything fell into place. We had our fast break just the way we wanted it.”
In the national semi-finals, the Tigers were matched up with number two-ranked Princeton, a team that was in the midst of a remarkable run of national championships. During the ten-year period from 1992 to 2001, Coach Bill Tierney led Princeton to six NCAA titles.
At practice on the day before the Tigers’ game with Princeton, Coach Seaman stole a page from the book of Norman Dale, the renowned basketball coach of Hickory High School portrayed by Gene Hackman in the movie, “Hoosiers.”
At the end of practice at Rutgers Stadium, he took out a tape measure and went to the goal cage. With his team watching, he showed the Tigers that the cage was the same size as all the other ones the team had used.
After Syracuse easily dispatched of Notre Dame in the first semi-final game, a crowd of more than 21,000 and a national TV audience on ESPN watched Towson get off to a good start against Princeton. Campbell, Myers and Lochte scored early goals to give Towson a 3-1 lead after 11 minutes.
But Princeton came back and dominated the second quarter. The Ivy League champions scored six consecutive goals and built a 7-3 lead. With only 19 seconds left in the first half, Obloj scored an unassisted goal to pull Towson to within 7-4 at intermission.
In the third quarter, the teams traded goals and Princeton took a comfortable 8-5 lead into the fourth period. With 12:51 left, B.J. Prager’s goal put Princeton up by 11-8.
However, Towson had another comeback left.
With 5:52 remaining, Horowitz scored an unassisted goal to make it an 11-9 game. With 4:16 left, Campbell tallied an extra man goal to cut the lead to 11-10.
With 2:33 remaining, Reppert score his third goal of the game in Towson style as he converted on a fast break started by Horrigan.
Berry won the next faceoff and tried to take a timeout. Before it could be awarded, he passed to Horrigan, who was harassed by Ryan Boyle. Ryan Mollett picked up the loose ball and found Sean Hartfolis, who scored with 2:02 remaining to put Princeton ahead, 12-11.
In the last two minutes, goalkeeper Trevor Tierney faced a barrage of Towson shots. When he made a save on a rocket shot by Lochte, Princeton controlled the ball and held on for the win. Princeton went on to beat Syracuse in the national championship game.
In the semi-finals, Tierney backed the top defense in the nation by making 13 saves. Princeton came into the game allowing only five goals per game.
“Midnight struck for Cinderella when Hartfolis scored that goal,” commented Seaman, who went on to be named National Coach of the Year.
“It was a wonderful, terrific year,” he added. “We never backed down or quit. We didn’t have a team of superstars but we always played tough.”