High Point coach Jon Torpey didn’t have to watch the selection show for the NCAA’s Division I men’s lacrosse tournament Sunday night.
He’d already been told that his team wasn’t getting into the 17-team field.
“I got some word earlier that afternoon that we weren’t in the final (at-large) grouping,” said Torpey, whose Panthers threw their fate into the hands of the selection committee by losing the Southern Conference championship game to Richmond.
The advance warning didn’t make the news any easier to take.
“It hit you like a ton of bricks,” he said. “I thought we were going to be in there. Based on what we did, I thought it was a no-brainer.”
What High Point did was pile up 13 wins, tied for the second most in the nation this season, including road victories at ACC champion Virginia and then-No. 2 Duke. The Panthers totaled three top-20 RPI wins in all and five against teams that did make it into the NCAA bracket.
What Torpey’s team didn’t do is beat Richmond in the one game that mattered most.
Despite having beaten the Spiders one week earlier on the same field, regular season champion High Point fell behind early in the rematch and never recovered in a 15-7 setback to the tournament’s No. 2 seed. Richmond will play at Duke, the only state school to make it into the tournament, in the opening round on Sunday.
“It wasn’t our best day,” the veteran coach said of only his team’s third loss of the year.
In some conferences — most notably the Big Ten, in which 8-7 Johns Hopkins got an at-large bid despite losing its tournament final to Penn State — one “bad day” isn’t so damaging. That’s not the way it works in one-bid leagues such as the SoCon.
This isn’t a phenomenon limited to lacrosse, with only eight at-large spots available. Earlier this spring, both Furman and UNC Greensboro got left out of the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament despite having equally strong resumes.
It’s a fact of life that still has Torpey hot under the collar, especially since he’s yet to get an explanation from anyone on the NCAA committee as to why his team was passed over.
At the same time, he said he’s already put the disappointment behind him enough to appreciate how special a season the Panthers put together.
“I talked to the guys with our staff and in terms of what we did, it’s remarkable,” Torpey said. “I thought we grew a lot as a group and had a lot of guys that weren’t in the mix at this point last year step up and become major contributors.
“We set like 30 new season highs. A lot of good things. It’s always bittersweet to end it like that, but it was as good of a year as I’ve ever had coaching.”
High Point swept virtually all of the SoCon’s major awards with Torpey winning Coach of the Year honors, sophomore Asher Nolting (44 goals, 48 assists) being named Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season and senior Tim Troutner Jr. garnering recognition as the league’s top goalie.
Troutner won a school-record 12 games this season to increase his career total to 30 victories. He also recorded the first shutout in program history in a 13-0 win against St. Bonaventure on Feb. 1.
The Annapolis, Md., native became High Point’s highest-ever draft pick when he was taken second overall in the recent Major League Lacrosse draft. He also went 20th overall and was the only goalie taken in the entire draft of the new Premier Lacrosse League, which begins play next month.
“I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I’m happy for him,” Torpey said of Troutner. “He’s one of those special guys you don’t get to coach very often. It’s awesome. We’ve had 14 from our program picked, and it gives something the guys something to shoot for post-college.”
With the season now officially over for the High Point men, it’s up to the Panthers’ women to carry the flag for their school in the NCAA Tournament. They earned their automatic bid by winning the Big South Conference tournament against Winthrop on April 28 and will play a first-round game in Charlottesville, Va., against Navy on Friday.
North Carolina is also in the women’s bracket as the No. 3 overall seed. The Tar Heels will open their tournament at home on Sunday against the winner of Friday’s matchup between Johns Hopkins and Florida.