Men’s Lax Shifts to Keeping Playoff Hopes Alive

By IMRAN GANDA

For the second straight season, the men’s lacrosse team has fallen into an early hole in the Nescac with a 1–4 record in the conference. The Panthers lost all three of their games over spring break, including a 17–8 defeat at Bowdoin on Saturday, March 24, 12–7 at No. 8 Denison on Tuesday, March 27, and 18–11 at home against Amherst on Saturday, March 31.
But, tied for eighth place halfway through the Nescac schedule, Middlebury still has time to gain ground in the standings, especially with an easier schedule on the horizon. Middlebury plays Colby, who is tied with Middlebury in eighth, and Trinity, who is winless in the Nescac, in its next three conference games. The team played Trinity yesterday, on Wednesday, April 4, after this paper went to print. Thus far, Middlebury has played four of the top six Nescac teams and only one of the bottom five.
Middlebury’s recent difficult stretch of games should reap benefits in the long run by helping the team improve, as team captain Henry Riehl ’18 pointed out.
“We have a lot to work on, but we took a step in the right direction with our teamwork,” said Riehl, optimistic Middlebury could turn its season around in the second half.
On the first Saturday of spring break, March 24, the Panthers travelled to Brunswick, Maine to take on Bowdoin. The first quarter ended in a stalemate, 4–4. Panther attacker A.J. Kucinski ’20 scored a brace, and Danny Jacobs ’20 and Chase Goree ’20 added goals as well.
But the Panthers did not continue their high-volume attack, as they scored only four in the remaining three quarters. The Polar Bears managed to score a total of 11 goals during the middle quarters to put Middlebury away.
From Maine, the Panthers travelled to Granville, Ohio, to take on the Denison Big Red the next Tuesday. Similar to the Bowdoin matchup, both teams came out strong in the first quarter, and the game was tied at three after the first 15 minutes.
The Panthers managed to regain the lead after a goal from Riehl a little over a minute into the second quarter. But then the momentum shifted in favor of the Big Red.
Denison rattled off six consecutive goals to give them a 9–4 edge late in the third until Riehl answered back with his third goal of the game. Parker Lawlor ’18 found the back of the net with half a minute left in the quarter.
The Panthers cut Denison’s lead to three, 10–7, after Kucinski assisted Goree roughly five minutes into the fourth. But Denison ended any hopes of a comeback by scoring the game’s last two goals to secure a 12–7 victory.
“Denison was a great opponent. They executed their game plan very well,” said Riehl. “We struggled in the second half.”
Indeed, the Big Red have been a too great of an opponent for eight of the 10 teams they have played this season. They rank eighth nationally.
Heading back to Middlebury to host Amherst last Saturday, March 31, the Panthers hung with the Mammoths in the first half, as they were tied 8–8 at the halfway point. But the Panthers were held to just three over the final 30 minutes. Once more, they could not play with their opponents for the full 60 minutes. Amherst outscored Middlebury 10–3 in the second half to win 18–11, giving the Panthers their third straight loss overall and fourth straight in the Nescac — a frustrating end to their spring break slate.
“While the Amherst game was very frustrating, we played our most complete game,” Riehl said. “Despite the loss, we are confident about our performance against a great Amherst team, and we understand what we need to work on day in and day out.”
Even with an easier stretch coming up, the Panthers cannot afford to take any of their next matchups lightly. Not only do they need to win to earn a spot in the Nescac playoffs, but they also need to build some momentum if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.
“Every Nescac opponent presents a challenge,” Riehl affirmed. “We’ll continue to treat every opponent equally and prepare to play each Nescac team to the best of our ability.”
If selections for the NCAA tournament were made right now, Middlebury would almost certainly not be in the field. To earn an at-large bid, the Panthers will need to surge in the second half of the season. Or Middlebury can earn a spot in the field by winning the Nescac tournament. Either way, they learn from these losses to get better over their final seven regular-season games.
Despite Middlebury’s slump, DIII coaches still hold the Panthers in fairly high regard in the national landscape. In the latest USILA Coaches poll, Middlebury earned votes, placing them within the top 30 teams in the nation.
The Panthers will travel to Waterville, Maine, this Saturday, April 7, to take on the Colby Mules.

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Men’s Lax Shifts to Keeping Playoff Hopes Alive