Men’s Lacrosse Loses in April for First Time; Eyes Elusive NESCAC Crown

By IMRAN GANDA

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS

“We still have plenty to improve on, and that only excites us, as we have a huge stretch ahead to show how far we can go,” A.J. Kucinski ’20 said after Tufts snapped Middlebury’s five-game winning streak on Saturday, April 21.

Despite losing to No. 6 Tufts, who is currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Nescac, 13–10 on Saturday on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium, the men’s lacrosse team (8–6, 4–5) feels satisfied with their performance over the past few months as the season comes to an end. Though their five-game winning streak came to an end Saturday afternoon to one of the Nescac’s top teams, the Panthers look forward to entering the postseason to try to win the elusive Nescac title.

The Tufts game was a well-contested bout with the momentum in favor of Middlebury. After a low-scoring first quarter, the Nescac foes were tied at two. Chase Goree ’20 and Jack Gould ’19 scored Middlebury’s only goals.

But then the Panthers took control of the pace of the game in the second quarter, outscoring the visitors 3–1 to take a 5–3 lead into the locker room.

“In the first half, we played with great spacing and attacked our matchups very well and played fast, which was to our advantage,” said Kucinski.

Middlebury maintained its edge on Youngman Field to start the second half, scoring two more goals to grow its lead to four.
But then, just like that, everything shifted. The Jumbos came back to score 10 unanswered goals, six in the third and four in the fourth, to take a 13–7 lead with 7:44 remaining in the game.

In the last four minutes, Henry Riehl ‘18 scored three times — his third, fourth, and fifth goals of the game, respectively — but Middlebury got no closer than three goals, suffering a 13–10 defeat.

Tufts’ 10–0 run in a little under 20 minutes proved to be decisive in Saturday’s contest. In defeat, the Panthers outshot the Jumbos 55–31, won 19 faceoffs to the visitors’ seven, and committed one fewer turnover (13–12).

But their failure to mitigate Tufts’ run and to convert their scoring opportunities cost them against an opponent that does not allow for many miscues.

“We knew they were not going to go away, and it came down to just needing to weather that storm a bit better offensively,” Kucinski said. “We could have shot the ball better and converted a few more opportunities that would have helped out the defense, who played great.”

Middlebury finished its regular season against Williams yesterday on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium, after the newspaper went to print. Throughout the season, however, the discussion around rankings has not crossed the minds of the Panthers. They understand that the Nescac is a conference with elite competition that is bound to produce upsets and the impossible.

“There is no doubt that in the Nescac, the team that shows up on game day wanting it more will win the game,” Kucinski said. “Anybody can beat anybody in this league, and our mentality is to go out and bring it, and we know we always are in the fight.”

For evidence to the truth of Kucinski’s comment about the unpredictability of postseason conference play, one has to look no further than Middlebury’s sensational run in the playoffs last year. After beating Williams on their final day of the regular season, they went into the playoffs as heavy underdogs but made it to the championship, where they lost by one goal to Wesleyan.

“With so many returners from last year and a strong belief in each other as a whole, our goal is the same as always: win the Nescac and ride that confidence into the NCAA tournament,” Kucinski stated. “Our run last year was measured by heart, focus, and everyone doing their job, and with that experience under our belt we can prepare ourselves to take the necessary steps to come out on top.”

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS

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Men’s Lacrosse Loses in April for First Time; Eyes Elusive NESCAC Crown