In 2016, the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team lost to Tufts in the Nescac championship game by a score of 20–14, finishing their season with a 12–7 record. In 2017, the Panthers finished sixth in the Nescac in the regular season, but made a run to the finals in the playoffs. In what would have been an unlikely story, the Panthers ultimately fell short to Wesleyan 9–8 in the Nescac championship game.
With the past two seasons in the back of the returning Panthers’ minds, they aim to finally get over the hump and win the conference title for the first time since 2007, the end of Middlebury’s stretch of dominance in Nescac men’s lacrosse when they won the conference title eight straight years.
As one of the team captains, Nick Peterson ’18, points out, a Nescac championship is the team’s long-term goal. There are many small steps the Panthers need to take in order to have a chance at their larger goals.
“We always enter each season with the mindset of one game at a time and try not to look too far ahead,” Peterson said. “That being said, we want to win the Nescac championship before anything else. In order to compete for a National Championship, we first need to win our league and enter the month of May playing our best lacrosse. Our expectations are to approach each practice and game with the same mentality day in and day out.”
In the Nescac playoffs last season, Middlebury upset third-seeded Amherst 12–11 and previously undefeated and top-seeded Bates 14–13 to reach the Nescac finals, where its season ended with a 9–8 loss to Wesleyan.
Still, the Panthers were playing their best lacrosse at the end of the season.
“I think the reason our season ended on a strong note with our run to the finals was because we so enjoyed being together as a team, and did not want our time with each other to end,” Parker Lawlor ’18 said. “We played like we had nothing to lose.”
If the Panthers want to challenge for the Nescac title this spring, a good place to start is repeating what they were doing at the end of last season.
They will be without six of last season’s starters due to graduation, but the Panthers still return a wealth of experience, including their top-five point-getters from last season.
“It’s always hard to replace any senior class, but we feel that we have a great group of returning players who can step into the roles that we lost to graduation,” Peterson said. “The biggest position we lost last year was our long stick middies, but we have a few younger guys who have worked hard in the offseason and the preseason to step into this spot and be productive for our team.”
A.J. Kucinski ’20 scored 38 goals and 36 assists to lead the team in points, and Henry Riehl ’18 led the team in goals with 53. Lawlor and Danny Jacobs ’20 both added 29 points.
Returning on defense are Eric Rogers ’18, who started 13 games, and Clay Hunt ’19, who started in 11. Chase Midgley ’19 started in 11 games in goal last season, and saved 55.4 percent of shots in net.
Leading the team will be seniors, Peterson, Lawlor, Riehl, Rogers, Wes Quinzani ’18, Henry Giarrusso ’18, John Jackson ’18, Stephen Clarke ’18 and Kenan Yates ’18.
Lawlor is convinced that his fellow classmates have done an excellent job in creating a welcoming and encouraging environment for all of the team’s players.
“I think that, as a senior class this year, we have focused on building strong relationships and building a culture in which everyone is valued, no matter their role on the team,” Lawlor said. “I feel confident saying that this is the tightest team I have played on in my four years here.”
The tight-knit community Lawlor describes will be crucial with the addition of 14 first-year players, who will be eager to contribute to the team.
After last season’s successes, including its win over previously undefeated Bates, and failures, its loss to ninth-place Colby, for example, Middlebury knows its season can take a lot of different routes.
“We can beat anyone,” Lawlor said.
But, as last season demonstrated, beating one good team does not make a season. As Peterson and Parker pointed out, the Panthers need to treat every moment on the lacrosse field as if it is their last, if they want to achieve their lofty goals.
The men’s lacrosse team’s first game is this Saturday, March 3, at 1 p.m, when the Panthers will host No. 14 Bates, a rematch of last year’s Nescac semifinals.