Indiana Tech has been waiting for this moment for a year.
The Warriors men's lacrosse team reached the NAIA National Invitational final last season for the first time in program history but lost to undefeated Reinhardt 17-8 in the title game after falling behind 8-1 in the first quarter.
A year later, Tech has another shot at the first national championship in program history. Standing in the way, once again, are the Reinhardt Eagles out of Waleska, Georgia, ranked No. 2 in the country and coming off back-to-back 10-goal victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
“It's definitely tough, being the national runner-up,” Warriors coach Bryan Seaman said. “It sounds like a great thing, but I remember standing there and watching the other team celebrate and thinking, 'Man, I can't wait to get back here. We're close.'”
The Warriors and Eagles meet for the championship this afternoon at Ashton Brosnaham Athletic Park in Pensacola, Florida. This time, it's Indiana Tech that is the undefeated, top-ranked team in the country. Tech (18-0) has already matched its program record for victories set last season, while Reinhardt (12-1) was tripped up in double overtime by Keiser in March, falling 12-11.
Since then, however, the Eagles have rolled, winning 10 straight games and gaining their revenge with a 16-6 drubbing of Keiser in the quarterfinals Wednesday. They followed that with a 14-4 rout of No. 5 Aquinas in the semifinals Thursday, while the Warriors fell behind early against fourth-ranked University of the Cumberlands before rallying to win 11-8.
History, too, is on Reinhardt's side: the Warriors and Eagles have faced off six times and Tech is 0-6. Three of those losses have come in the National Invitational. Reinhardt is the sport's major NAIA power, winners of four consecutive national championships.
Still, the Warriors are a more confident bunch heading into this finale than they were a year ago. After finally breaking through to the final in 2021 after three straight losses in the semifinals from 2017 to 2019 – the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic – there is only one more step to take.
“This is what we expect at this point in the year,” Tech attacker Andrew Ryan said after the Warriors beat Benedictine in the quarterfinals Wednesday. “We expect to be here, we expect to be in this position. We haven't won a national tournament yet, but that's what we plan on doing.”
While Seaman knew his team would be motivated to return to the championship game, he knew it was far from inevitable. The coach has spent much of the season, including the lead-up to the National Invitational this week, preaching focus on one game at time.
He did not shy away from discussing the loss that ended the 2021 campaign, but he made sure it was not the team's sole focus.
“Really the challenge is bouncing back from getting so close and ultimately being disappointed at the end,” said, the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. “That lingers for a while, so I think the challenge was to get back on the horse and realize, 'Yeah, we want to get back there, but it's not just going to happen. We have to do all the same things we did before and do it better because everybody else is getting better too.'”
Now, the championship game is all that's left. Tech is getting set to face a team led by first-year coach Tyler Yelken – former coach John Snow stepped down after last season – and coming off 12 straight goals in the semifinal against Aquinas, a team the Warriors beat 11-7 in March.
“It's very transparent in our minds now knowing that if we come out with a very strict game plan and we play the way we know we should, we're very confident in winning this entire championship,” Tech senior defenseman Blaine Flanigan said. “I would love to go out on top.”
Indiana Tech vs. Reinhardt
What: NAIA National Invitational final
Where: Ashton Brosnaham Athletic Park in Pensacola, Fla.
Records: No. 1 Indiana Tech (18-0); No. 2 Reinhardt (12-1)
When: 2 p.m. today