Unsure a few weeks ago whether their season would continue, Tufts University has gone from bubble team to one win away from playing for a second national championship in three years, thanks in part to a couple players from the Philadelphia region.
Senior midfielder Kevin Lawson, of Narberth, Pa. and freshman forward Joseph Braun, of Yardley, Pa. both have a chance to do something special on opposite ends of their college careers at the NCAA Division III Final Four this weekend in Salem, Virginia.
“This year to actually be able to make a positive contribution on and off the field has been pretty surreal for me,” said Lawson, who made only five appearances when the Jumbos won the national title in his sophomore season. “Sometimes I get that feeling I think they call imposter syndrome.”
Lawson has started all 20 games for Tufts this season, scoring a goal and adding three assists. He’s played mostly on the right wing, a position he’s not played before with any consistency, but that filled a need.
Braun has seen the field less but has played a key role on the team as a target forward off the bench with 16 appearances and one start in his rookie year.
“It’s unbelievable to go from being probably one of the last four teams invited to the tournament nervously watching the selection show to the final four in my first year is unbelievable,” Braun said of the Jumbos run.
Braun credits the “championship mentality” that drew him to the Boston university out of high school with the team’s unlikely run that has seen them knock off Springfield, Rowan, UMass Boston and Kenyon without conceding a goal while winning three of the four games by a 1-0 scoreline.
“All the guys have really bought into the team and Coach Shapiro’s system,” said Braun, who won back-to-back state titles with Holy Ghost Prep in high school.
While both Braun, who started his club career at YMS, and Lawson both spent time with Lower Merion SC, the two didn’t know each other before this season.
“I remember looking up the roster and seeing that there was someone on the team who went to Harriton,” Braun said.
While Braun has three more seasons ahead of him, Lawson knows going into tonight’s game that it’s all either going to come to an end with an exclamation point or a what could’ve been question mark.
“Perhaps because I've seen what it's like to actually win, it weighs on me a little more,” Lawson said. “I want to be able to look at the bracket when it’s all over and see that we’re the only team left that succeeded.”
Tufts takes on St. Thomas (Minnesota) Friday at 11 a.m. The game can be streamed live online at NCAA.com.