Last season, the women’s lacrosse team’s season ended with an 8–4 loss in the NCAA regional final to The College of New Jersey. So when the Panthers faced the Lions on Tuesday, March 27, they sought revenge, but revenge they could not yet get. The Panthers fell to No. 3 TCNJ 10–6 for their first loss of the season.
Even with their loss to TCNJ, Middlebury (9–1) went 3–1 over spring break and stayed undefeated in the Nescac (5–0) by beating No. 18 Bowdoin 14–4 and No. 6 Amherst 11–9, the second-highest ranked Nescac team in the IWLCA Coaches poll. The Panthers also added a victory over Union in midweek play this past Tuesday by a final score of 16–4.
On the first Saturday of spring break, March 24, the Panthers dismantled No. 18 Bowdoin 14–4 on Kohn Field. A balanced attack led Middlebury to victory as 11 different Panthers scored. Kirsten Murphy ’21 continued her excellent debut season by assisting on five goals, a category she leads Middlebury in with 14.
And once more the Middlebury defense dominated, allowing only four goals on 17 shots. Through 10 games, Middlebury’s opponents have scored 4.8 goals per game, the lowest average in the Nescac by almost two goals.
But after winning each of its previous four games by at least 10 goals, Middlebury came crashing back down to earth at TCNJ on Tuesday, March 27. Tied at three at halftime, the Lions outscored the visiting Panthers 7–3 in the second half to secure a 10–6 victory.
Middlebury surrendered more than five goals for the first time this season and scored a season-low six goals.
“Our loss to TCNJ on Tuesday taught us a valuable lesson,” said team captain Georgia Carroll ’18. “Our team has high standards for our play, and if we talk the talk, we have to walk the walk. The Middlebury team that showed up against TCNJ didn’t deserve to win, and we are grateful to have faced competition that held us accountable for our mistakes.”
Middlebury rebounded two days later, when the Panthers defeated Montclair St. 15–7 in their second and final game in New Jersey over the break — their 15 goals tied a season-high. The reigning Nescac Player of the Year, Hollis Perticone ’18, led another balanced offensive effort with three goals. Nine other Panthers got in on the scoring as well.
In their biggest game of the Nescac season thus far, Middlebury fell behind Amherst 2–0 in the first three minutes of last Saturday’s, March 31, game at Kohn Field. Not to be deterred, the Panthers responded with two goals of their own in the next three minutes from Emily Barnard ’20 and Carroll to knot the game at two just 5:17 into the contest.
After Amherst took a 3–2 lead, the Panthers rattled off five of the next six goals and never trailed again, taking a 7–5 lead into the half.
In the second half, the teams traded goals. Every time the Panthers scored, the Mammoths answered back but could never get any closer than two goals. Middlebury earned an 11–9 win, toppling previously-undefeated Amherst to stay undefeated in the Nescac. The Panthers are one of two undefeated teams remaining in conference play, along with Tufts, whom they will play on the last Saturday of the regular season, April 21.
On Tuesday, April 3, Middlebury beat Union 16–4 in its last non-conference game of the regular season, as 11 Panthers scored goals.
Middlebury will play its second game of its current four-game home stretch when it faces No. 21 Colby at Kohn this Saturday, April 7, at noon. The Mules will enter with a 1–4 Nescac record, but each of their four losses have come by one or two goals. They lost to Amherst by one goal and to Tufts by two goals.
Last season, Colby beat Middlebury twice, in the regular season and in the Nescac semifinals, before the Panthers avenged their losses with a 10–9 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Colby’s home turf.
As always, the Panthers have to get up for every game in the Nescac, one of the toughest conferences in DIII women’s lacrosse. Right now, eight of the conference’s 11 teams are ranked in the top 25, including four in the top 10. Even as the Panthers stand at the top of the conference currently, they realize that could change in a second if they fail to play up to their ability.
“We try not to think too much about the standings,” Carroll said. “It’s always anyone’s game, especially in the Nescac.”
As the TCNJ game taught the Panthers, they cannot just show up if they expect to beat the best teams in the nation. Of course, the team has demonstrated it can beat really good teams, even dominate them at times — look no further than their win against No. 6 Amherst and blowouts of No. 18 Bowdoin and No. 14 Wesleyan.
With four ranked opponents still on the horizon in the regular season, the Panthers have an opportunity to prove they belong in the conversation for a national title, improve upon the weaknesses revealed over spring break, and earn the top seed in the Nescac playoffs for the second straight season.