In the iconic final scene of Gladiator, after killing Commodus, Maximus says with his dying breath “There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized.”
In D3 lacrosse, the day-to-day parity that helps make lacrosse at this level so compelling does not exist on the level of championships. Only 6 current D3 teams have won titles. Salisbury is the alpha dog. Cortland is right there with the Gulls. Tufts, the newest member of this exclusive club, looks to be a long-term force in the North. Nazareth and Washington College are both well over a decade removed from their last championships, and neither looks like a serious threat to return to that level any time soon. Middlebury, once right with Cortland and Salisbury at the top, is a ship adrift. Some people thought my selection of Tufts as my preseason pick to win the national championship was a bold or risky pick, despite the fact that picking a champion in recent years has essentially been pick ‘em proposition between Salisbury, Cortland, and Tufts.
Most D3 fans you talk to want more parity on this level. Do you remember how exciting it was to see a new team break through in 2010, when Tufts shocked the nation and toppled Salisbury in the championship game? I remember watching as they advanced through each round, each time thinking that this had to be where their run came to an end because upstarts like this don’t just take down traditional power after traditional power. But they did, and when I sat in M&T Bank Stadium as they hoisted the championship trophy, I had one thought as a college sophomore: if they can do it, why can’t we?
Really, it is that kind of hope that compels players and fans alike. The opportunity to do or see something spectacular, something as special as that first championship run must have been for those Tufts guys, is what keeps you in the gym or glued to a grainy webcast. It is the manifestation of the American ideal of the self-made man in sport, and it reaffirms how we have been taught to see the world. Regardless of the reality, the idea that anyone can accomplish anything they set their mind to is undeniably central to American identity.
That’s why, when Roanoke lost their opener to a mediocre St. Mary’s team, the idealist in me sighed. Roanoke may still go on to have a very good season, maybe even make the NCAA tournament, but they will go another season without taking a step forward. Increasingly, a program that once looked like it would break up the maroon and gold monotony in the South now looks like it has plateaued. Fans’ dreams that Roanoke could inject some parity into the playoff picture in the South look increasingly unlikely to ever be realized. The dream is dead.
I’ll still be looking for a team that can do what Roanoke failed to do. When it happens, I’ll be watching every step of the way.
Hope springs eternal. #ROLLSTANGS