Middlebury christened their home turf on Saturday, Sept. 14 with a convincing 5-1 victory over Connecticut College before the next day dismissing St. Lawrence by a score of 4-0 on the road on Sunday, Sept. 15. The first-year players inspired optimism in their return from their Middview trips, while returning leaders Katherine Theiss ’14, Catherine Fowler ’15 and Ellie O’Brien ’14 played with punishing effectiveness. On Sunday, defenseman Cassie Coash ’15 displayed her new talent between the pipes in her first career start in goal.
The impressive weekend assuaged initial concerns that Middlebury would falter after losing the on-field services of prolific scorer and two-time NESCAC Player of the Year, Lauren Greer ’13. Greer now serves as assistant coach, providing a steadying presence to her former teammates and new players.
On Saturday, first-year forward Pam Schulman ’17 made clear that new class of Panthers would play a significant role in rebuilding the team. Right from the opening whistle, Schulman charged skillfully down the right wing and clanged a running shot into the low left corner of the goal. About five minutes later, a nifty backhand centering pass from Theiss earned Middlebury a corner and Schulman found the noisy backboard of the goal once more. Schulman came inches from finishing the game with her first career hat trick, but a scoop shot banged high off the cross bar.
“There was a big crowd in front of the net, and before the game coach DeLorenzo told me that if I see space up high to go for it,” Schulman said.
Middlebury also cheered the strong performances of first-years Olivia Jurkowitz ’17 and Alex Kuzma ’17, who each tallied an assist, and Lauren Beresteckic ’17 who repeatedly threatened with her speed down the wing and forced Conn. to commit several costly fouls. Josie Trichka ’17 and Lily Taub ’17 also contributed good minutes.
Meanwhile, veteran Panther players, especially Theiss, Fowler, and captains Deidre Miller ’14 and O’Brien have already stepped up into new leadership roles this season. O’Brien praises the scrappiness of individual players like the aforementioned Berestecki, and likens her current team to a determined group of “little engines that can.”
With the all-time record goal scorer Greer limited to coaching, the team has responded in hydra-like fashion, with talents Theiss and Fowler already showing a powerful scoring appetite in her absence on the field. O’Brien showed a mastery of the defensive midfield position, stymying any potential rushes as they came and effectively distributing the ball up field. Not including set pieces, the Camels were only able to produce one shot on the Middlebury goal. Electrifying junior midfielder Alyssa DiMaio ’15 worked well with O’Brien on Saturday, drawing praise from her captain as a sleeper All-American candidate.
“[She] makes everyone on the team look better,” said O’Brien on the effect of her ball control and passing on the game.
The Saturday game progressed comfortably for Middlebury, and Theiss drew a small roar from the one hundred and twenty-five fans in the bleachers when she redirected a hard shin-high blast from Kuzma upward and past the Camels’ keeper for Middlebury’s third goal. Connecticut College finally found an answer after Middlebury conceded a corner and the Camels connected for a rebound goal. Fowler, last week’s NESCAC Player of the Week, fired off a number of heavy shots from the arc, but the Connecticut goalkeeper made a series of acrobatic saves. Eventually it was Theiss, who persisted and scored the next two goals for Middlebury, that earned a hat trick and ensured the team’s win.
Sunday presented a different challenge for the Panthers, as the game was the continuation weather-suspended match against St. Lawrence. Despite the delay, the team rolled to a commanding 4-0 victory. Kuzma scored her first Middlebury goal to give the Panthers a halftime lead, and Bridget Instrum ’16 added her own before two set-piece shots from Fowler iced the cake.
Although the Panther defense denied St. Lawrence from getting a shot on goal, the game was anything but stress-free for goalie Coash, in cage for the first time at Middlebury. Coach Katharine DeLorenzo called an emergency goalie tryout on Saturday night to find a replacement, and two hours of blocking, kicking and flopping later Coash earned the starting nod. After surviving the game easily, teammates Madeline Despins ’15 and Anne Entwisle ’15 could laugh with Coash about her impeccable positioning and always-ready hands as the rest of the Panthers kept the ball far from her net.
Now, boasting a spotless 3-0 start to the season, a tough away contest against Bowdoin looms as the first major test of this gritty, balanced Middlebury team. The teams face off in Maine on Saturday, Sept. 21.