After earning a second consecutive SEC championship, completed with a sparkling undefeated record in conference play, Saline boys lacrosse now looks to translate its season-long success into the playoffs. The Hornets will take on Belleville to open regional play Monday night at Hornet Stadium.
“I think we had a good year,” second-year head coach Ryan Crawford said. “We accomplished one of our goals, which was to win our conference. This is the second straight year we’ve won the Red Division.”
Saline finished the regular season ranked No. 10 in Division I thanks to a 14-3 overall record to go along with the team’s second undefeated conference season in a row. Last season’s undefeated mark in SEC play was the first in the program’s history. The Hornets are joined in the top 10 by traditional state powers such as Birmingham Brother Rice and Detroit Catholic Central.
The favorable state ranking can be attributed to a gauntlet non-conference schedule, featuring contests against top teams including Brighton, Plymouth, Detroit Country Day and Midland. When asked about what stood out in the regular season, Crawford immediately pointed to his team’s success against superior non-conference opponents.
“We played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the state and so far have only two losses,” he said. “We beat some perennially great programs.”
Saline capped off its undefeated record in conference play with a second win over rival Ann Arbor Pioneer, also beating Ann Arbor Skyline twice this season to complete a total domination of the two most talented teams outside of themselves in the SEC Red Division.
Despite finishing off the regular season with only three losses, competing well out of conference and dominating the SEC, Crawford still sees plenty of room for growth as his team prepares for a tough regional bracket.
“Going into the playoffs we need to improve on getting more secondary scoring,” he said. “Our defense has had a great season and we need to start doing a a better job offensively to compliment that. If we want to have success against the best teams in the state we cannot rely on one or two players to carry the team.
“To advance in the playoffs we will have to do the little things to control the game. That always starts with ground balls. Ground balls lead to possessions and with some of the talent we have on the offensive side of the ball, we can score quickly and often. Our defense has been very consistent all season and if we can give them an early lead we feel good about our chances.”
The Hornets will need to flawlessly translate their regular season success into the playoffs if they plan to make a deep run, as the team will be challenged early with a deep and talented regional bracket. Teams that fill this bracket include Plymouth, Northville, Ann Arbor Pioneer, and Ann Arbor Skyline.
Saline defeated Plymouth 14-13 in early April, swept the Pioneers and Eagles in conference play but lost to Northville 11-6 earlier this month. Belleville, the Hornets’ first-round opponent, beat Huron on Wednesday to earn a spot in the regional bracket. Saline enters the bracket as the number-one seeded team.
“In my opinion our region is one of the most competitive in the state,” Crawford said. “Between Plymouth, Northville, Skyline and Pioneer there is a lot of talent. We will have to play our best to advance no matter who the opponent is.”
After losing to Northville by a goal in the second round of last season’s regional and boasting an impressive overall resume headed into this season’s, playoff expectations are sky-high for one of the best teams in Division I all-season long.
“We like our chances to make a deep run,” Crawford said. “We have a good mix of experience and youth. This is a large, talented senior class and they have come close to a regional title before. They know what it takes to win this time of year and they are doing a great job getting the younger players ready to compete.”