Worcester State University Athletics brought home two championship trophies on Sunday, Feb. 26 with the men’s basketball team winning the 2023 MASCAC Men’s Basketball Championship and the women’s ice hockey team capturing the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Alliance Championship.
The Lancers basketball team continued their unbeaten stretch to 14 and beat Westfield State (Worcester 65 – Westfield 53) in their first championship since 1994. The Lancers have dueled it out with Westfield for the last two MASCAC championships (2020 and 2022).
The women’s ice hockey championship featured a rematch against Anna Maria College. For the second straight year, the Lancers took down the Amcats in the ECHA championship by a one-goal margin (Worcester State 3 – Anna Maria 2)
Here are recaps of both games:
Brissette Court was lit up Sunday afternoon as the Worcester State Lancers and the Westfield Owls clashed in the 2023 MASCAC Men’s Basketball Championship. Tournament MVP graduate student Erik Bjorn (Holden, MA) grabbed 24 rebounds to lead Worcester State to their first MASCAC Championship since 1994.
It was a slow offensive start on both ends as the game remained 8-6 through the opening nine minutes of action on Brissette Court. Each team was struggling to find their offensive rhythm early in the half as they adjusted to the high intensity of the game. The Owls were quick to jump out to a five point lead after an early timeout from the Lancers was called to help settle the team that had already accumulated five turnovers in the opening 10 minutes. The Owls worked to capitalize off the stagnant start form the Lancers but two missed layup opportunities from senior Kumar Brown (Enfield, CT) and senior Brendon Hamilton (Worcester, MA) provided the Lancers a chance to build their way back into the action. A sophomore Aaron Nkrumah (Worcester, MA) three pointer cut the lead to just two and one of Bjorns 24 rebounds on the night led to a quick senior Tayjaun McKenzie (Boston, MA) three pointer that pushed Worcester State ahead 12-11.
The lead would continue to change possession over the next two minutes as Hamilton was quick to put the Owls back in the lead. The Lancers would reclaim the lead with eight and half minutes remaining in the first half, building it up to a five point differential. Westfield’s junior Gerry McManus (Hudson, MA) and senior JT Thompson (Columbia, SC) would work in effort to keep the game within reach for the Owls as they headed into halftime, but a burst of three pointers by the Lancers would see the lead extend to 11 points before the break in play.
Worcester State came out hot to start the second half, continuing their three pointer spree as junior Sam Dion (Barre, MA) sank a deep three off a crisp pass from Bjorn to push the lead to 16 before a timeout a minute and a half in by the Owls changed the pass of play. Some tactical restructuring by Westfield saw them stemmy the offensive success of the Lancers. A three-pointer by junior Deajon Pendleton (Haverhill, MA) began the wave of attack by the Owls that would keep them within 13 points for much of the second half. Thompson took over the attack for the Owls in the second half, scoring 22 of his 29 points in the second half to keep the Owls on the Lancers heels. A foul by Dion with five minutes remaining brought Thompson to the line sinking 2-3 free throws, going for 6-11 on the afternoon, to close the gap to 11.
Westfield went full throttle in the final minutes nailing a quick three from senior Brendan Keveny (Quincy, MA) and Thompson working the outer arc to close the gap to just seven points with just under two minutes in the game. The intensity of the final two minutes could be felt in the gym as Westfield looked to repeat as MASCAC Champions and defeat the Lancers for their third straight MASCAC Championship. Rebounding became the key to the game in the final minutes as the Lancers snagged all the remaining rebounds in the game to prevent second chance opportunities for the Owls, while layups by Dion and Bjorn pushed the lead back to 10.Senior Zion Hendrix (Charlotte, NC) sealed the victory for the Lancers with a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 12. A last chance three by Keaveny was rebounded by Nkrumah to seal the 65-53 victory and the MASCAC Championship for the Lancers.
The Lancers outrebounded the Owls 57-30, including 22 offensive rebounds that they turned into 31 points. Worcester was 10-29 (.345) from behind the arc, while Westfield shot 32.2 percent from the floor (19-59).
The Owls were led by the 29 points of Thompson, while Brown recorded 12 rebounds in the game. Hendirx led the Lancers with 16 points while Bjorn recorded not only a season high 24 rebounds but now has a career 1,009 rebounds to go along with his 1, 068 career points.
Women’s Ice Hockey
It was a championship game full of storylines. A rematch of last season’s title game between the Worcester State University Lancers and the Anna Maria College Amcats. It was a rubber game, as the two squads split their season series a game a piece. It was a comeback game for the Amcats who looked to redeem their loss in last year’s ECHA final and for the Lancers, who lost their first conference game in program history to the Amcats less than a month ago. The stage was set for an epic championship battle. And the game did not disappoint.
In a period rich in scoring chances set up by designed plays and established zone time, an unassisted goal would prove to be the only scoring for either team in the first. Sophomore Kiersten Erickson (Broomfield, Colo.) put the Lancers up 1-0 with a close-quarters wrist shot after picking the pocket of an Amcat defender right out in front of the Anna Maria crease. The goal, coming at 15:20, was the highlight of an action-packed opening 20 minutes. Anna Maria spent over four minutes on the power play, but were unable to get anything across the goal line. A last-minute penalty on Worcester State meant that the Amcats would get the chance to come out of the intermission with a great opportunity to score an equalizer.
Take advantage of that opportunity they would, as the Amcats pulled even with the Lancers on the period-opening power play. Sophomore Olympia Myers (Grimsby, Ont.) came away with the equalizer. The Amcats kept momentum on their side about eight minutes later, when junior Shayla MacDonald (Victoria, B.C.) took advantage of a second-chance opportunity, sliding a rebound past the last line of Lancer defense to give Anna Maria their first lead of the game. The second-chance goal would make another appearance before the second intermission, when Lancer senior Cassidhe Wozniak (Turner Falls, Mass) found the back of the net on a rebound with just 50 seconds to go in the period. Tied 2-2, the stage was set for an epic conclusion to the ECHL season.
Worcester State would apply immediate pressure in the third, spending a significant amount of the period on the attack. With a little more than nine minutes of regulation play remaining, the Lancers found themselves on their first power play since in the first period. Wozniak was there once again, to wrist a backhander into the net to put the Lancers back on top. A light shot turned pass off the stick of senior Katie Puumala (Framingham, Mass.) opened the goal mouth up for Wozniak to finish the job. Down 3-2, Anna Maria pulled their goalie with a minute and fifty seconds left, but caught up in confusion, too many Amcats were on the ice. The penalty coming within two minutes of the end of the third period all but sealed the deal.
For the second straight year, the Lancers took down the Amcats in the ECHA championship by a one-goal margin. Two seasons into women’s ice hockey’s existence at Worcester State, the team has captured two conference titles.
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