The St. John's University Johnnies celebrate their 2011 UMLL DII Championship title following their 10-9 overtime victory over the defending champion University of St. Thomas on Sunday, May 1. Photo by Tom Dube
After coming out strong early in the year a disappointing weekend that featured back-to-back losses to the University of St. Thomas and North Dakota State University would end the Johnnies' regular season.
"That weekend was a gut check," St. John's coach Derek Daehn said. "We knew we were good and we played very good lacrosse all year but we had a few letdowns that came about during those two bad games."
The two losses left some questioning the Johnnies’ chances for a 2011 MCLA National Championship Tournament appearance.
St. John's celebrates the 2011 UMLL DII championship title -- its fifth in seven years. Photo by Steve Sanner
Those questions were answered on a cold and windy afternoon on Sunday, May 1, at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn.
St. John’s defeated its arch rival, the University of St. Thomas, 10-9 as senior midfielder Jake Mellem (Andover, Minn.) buried his third goal of the game just minutes into a tense overtime session.
"There will be times when you don't have your best game or you don't get the bounces but the beauty of sports is competing and knowing anything can happen if you work hard and believe," Daehn said.
"This team is made of an excellent group of student athletes that work hard and believe in each other. This victory is a result of that."
The Johnnies captured their fifth UMLL Division II title in seven years with the victory and punched a ticket to their seventh consecutive trip to the MCLA National Championship Tournament.
For Daehn -- in his third year as head coach -- the title was his first at the Johnnies' helm.
"Without a doubt it was the sweetest win of my coaching career," Daehn said. "There is a sense of we are building on our strengths and getting better as the season progresses, but there is still one huge goal in front of us."
Down by three goals with under two minutes remaining, St. John’s reached down for the extra effort and scored four unanswered goals to end the game.
Johnnies’ freshman midfielder Lukas DeBruzzi (Irondale, Minn.) kicked off the comeback throwing a bounce shot on net in the midst of a botched clear by the Tommies.
Senior attackman Matt Draxler (Plymouth, Minn.) found himself wide open on the back door of the Tommies' net and scored a quick-stick goal after an excellent pass by Jake Helmer (Mahtomedi, Minn.). The timely effort by Draxler and Helmer brought St. John’s within one goal with under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.
Junior midfielder Tyler Safranek (Annandale, Minn.) capitalized on the Johnnies' building momentum to tie the game after picking up a loose ball to the right of the Tommies’ crease and getting a quick shot off in heavy traffic.
St. John's senior midfielder Jake Mellem (No. 17) celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime. Photo by Steve Sanner
Mellem’s game-winning goal came after several crucial saves by sophomore goaltender Michael King (Kansas City, Mo.) and a St. Thomas turnover.
The Johnnies received scoring from six different players -- junior midfielder Tyler Nault (Apple Valley, Minn.), senior midfielder Matt Williamson (Bloomington, Minn.), Safranek and DeBruzzi along with three goals each from Draxler and Mellem.
The victory also ended the Johnnies’ four-game losing streak against St. Thomas and was the first win against the Tommies since Saturday, April 18, 2008.
With the players, coaches and fans excited about victory, Daehn admitted there is little time to dwell on the game.
"The upcoming week is finals and there is also graduation on May 15th for our seniors," Daehn said. "We will take a moment to enjoy our win but we will immediately get back to work to improve a few things and focus in on getting better."
St. John’s will travel out to Denver, Colo. for the 2011 MCLA National Championship Tournament as first-round action begins on Tuesday, May 17.
According to Daehn there's only one thing on the Johnnies' mind: