Men’s Lax Season Ends Early, Falls to Tufts in Conference Quarters

By Imran Ganda

For the first time in four seasons, the sixth-seeded men’s lacrosse team (9–7, 5–5) failed to win a game in the Nescac playoffs, when they lost to No. 6 Tufts, the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, 16–12 on Saturday, April 28, in Medford, Massachusetts. After ending last year on a high note by making an improbable run to the Nescac championship game as the sixth-seed, the 2018 season ends in disappointment for a group that looked primed to make some noise in Nescacs after winning six of its last seven regular season games.

“Obviously we were aiming higher than what we ended up doing, but this team is full of heart and tremendous character,” A.J. Kucinski ’20 said.

Middlebury lost to Tufts 13–10 one week before Saturday’s matchup, but led 7–3 early in the second half before the Jumbos scored seven unanswered goals. The Panthers learned they could compete with the Jumbos, but it would take one of their best efforts to beat the sixth-ranked team in the nation, which had lost only one game the entire season.

Having just played a week ago, we knew what to expect, as did they,” said Kucinski.

The higher-seeded hosts dominated early on, scoring the game’s first three goals in the first seven minutes of action and taking a 6–2 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“In that first quarter, they executed quickly and built a lead,” Kucinski said. “But there was still plenty of lacrosse to be played after that.”

But the Panthers discovered how difficult it was to come from behind against the Jumbos. Every time Middlebury cut the lead to three goals, Tufts came back with a goal of their own, and after three quarter, the Jumbos still led by four, 11–7.

Tufts gradually spread the icing on the cake in the final quarter, extending its lead to as big as 15–8 before Middlebury scored four of the last five goals to make it a 16–12 final.

With seven days separating their two games, the Panthers felt they adjusted themselves to the Jumbos’ game plan effectively. As mentioned time and time throughout the season, however, the Nescac is a tight and competitive conference that can see matches going in any direction.

“It just came down to them executing a few more plays than we did,” Kucinski said. “That’s obviously a tough pill to swallow, but that does not mean we did not compete, and I’m proud to call myself a part of this group.”

With the season ending prematurely, the returning Panthers will now take the time to rest, recuperate, and think about the next season. But it’s the end of the line for Middlebury’s nine seniors, a group that included four team captains, seven regular starters, and the team’s leading scorer (Henry Riehl ’18). In their four seasons in the blue-and-white, the seniors made two NCAA tournaments and two Nescac championship games while going 43–29.

“On Saturday, I had a few opportunities to score big goals to give our team momentum, and I did not execute,” Riehl said after his last game at Middlebury. “With that being said, I gave it everything I had, and that’s all you can ask for. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to play four years with so many amazing guys.”

The senior class of any sports team is integral to setting the tone with regard to season expectations and team culture. Although Middlebury was unable to advance past the quarterfinals this season, the seniors have helped instill a certain mentality among the underclassmen, who look forward to return next season determined to bask in success.

“We were led by a tremendous senior class who were examples on and off the field to us, and we will miss them in both regards, but they have laid a great framework for the rest of the team, and our expectations are very high for the future,” Kucinski stated.

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