‘A bright future’: Even with shortened first season, men’s lax rookies show strong character

'A bright future': Even with shortened first season, men's lax rookies show strong character

COURTESY PHOTOS

By BLAISE SIEFER

Enthusiastic. Slick. Industrious. 

Those are the words that head men’s lacrosse coach, Dave Campbell ’00, used to describe the team’s rookie class. This tight-knit group includes 12 first-years who hail from five different states and cover all positions: attackman, middie, defenseman and goalie. 

Due to complications presented by Covid-19, the men’s lacrosse team was afforded just three games this season. “It was really tough for everyone when the news broke,” said first-year player Johnny Kantaros ’23. “We invested countless hours throughout the offseason into prepping for the season, but had little time to display our hard work.” 

The truncated season impacted each class differently. While the seniors saw one final chance to win a NESCAC title evaporate, the first-years were left with only three games to introduce themselves to the program. But for a rookie class like this, three games were more than enough time to build a lasting impression. How?  

The most obvious trait [the first-years possess] is talent; however, the most important trait is character,” Assistant Coach Gus Brakeley explained.

The character of the rookies gleamed in multiple areas this past year, including their commitment to preserving team traditions with enthusiasm. 

One tradition held by the lacrosse program is to honor former team manager Myron “Peter” Kohn, who worked for the team between 1981 and 2003. A constant presence from the sidelines, Kohn devoted substantial time and effort into the program; for his efforts, he earned induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame — the first manager ever to receive this distinction.

Kohn struggled with a mild developmental disability, but that didn’t dampen his spirits. From keeping the team grounded to sharing an electrifying collection of words before games, he was one of the most influential figures in the history of the men’s lacrosse program. 

Kohn died in 2009, but his impact on the program wouldn’t fade. “You enter the program as a first-year, and you’re instantly swarmed by this aura of a guy,” Kantaros said. “You quickly realize how important he was and how vital it is to carry on his legacy.”

It is tradition for one or two members of the first-year class to speak a few words in Kohn’s honor before every game, along with wearing helmets that symbolize him to and from games — practices known as “Keeper of the Kohn.” This year, first-years Finn Muldoon ’23 and Luke Simpson ’23 were responsible for carrying out these rituals. “They did a great job and really cared about what their responsibility represented,” Kantaros said. “They treated their duties with respect and humility.”

Besides honoring Kohn, the rookies have also demonstrated a sense of charity. This year, several first-years opted to shave their heads to benefit children’s cancer research through a foundation known as “Lacrosse for Life.” For every head shaved, the foundation donates $1,000 to the Boston Children’s Hospital.

First-year Luke Simpson was among the participants this year. In early March, Simpson and 17 other teammates picked up razors to set the standard of generosity and civic responsibility for Panther lacrosse. “Men’s lacrosse is committed to giving back in any way we can,” Simpson said. “Whether it is with us shaving our heads or through local Addison County charities, the lacrosse team is very motivated to help out.” 

The pattern of giving back and honoring tradition from the rookie class didn’t go unnoticed from upperclassmen. “What was most impressive about this group was their willingness to help the community,” said senior captain Jake Madnick ’20. “Whether it was being a ball boy for the football team or volunteering to do community service, this group was always eager to help.”

While this cohort has made a mark in the community, their contributions didn’t diminish when they took the field; in the short three-game season, the first years contributed seven goals and four assists. Among the point contributors was Will Ryan ’23, an attacker who netted five goals in two games. “The other first-years were extremely supportive [when I scored] along with the rest of the guys on the team,” Ryan said. “I think I’ll remember getting swarmed by teammates when I came off the field more than the goals themselves.” 

Other first years also made an early-season impact, including fellow attacker Will Zink ’23. Zink dished the assist to Ryan when he netted his first collegiate goal, and again set up Ryan in the next game. The Massachusetts native also tacked on a goal of his own in Middlebury’s match against Plattsburgh State. 

To top off their remarkable character and talent, the rookie class supplied high-spirits and an appropriate dash of comedy to the team this year, both in the locker room and on the field. 

Their sense of humor was on full display during their annual Halloween scrimmage. On the last day of October, the lacrosse team traditionally plays an intra-squad scrimmage while donning their costumes — which is a practice some members take seriously. First-year attacker Tom Conley ’23 arrived at his first-ever Halloween game dressed head-to-toe in a Spider-Man costume. 

Required to wear a helmet, Conley was forced to fit it over his suit, presenting a slight issue: “He couldn’t see that well — it was hard to see through the Spider-Man costume and his mask,” said teammate Johnny Kantaros. “I don’t really know what he was thinking, to be honest.”

Conley’s struggle with sight presented all sorts of issues for the attacker. “A few times, a ball would be thrown at him and he wouldn’t react,” Kantaros said. “It’d just fly right by him. He had everyone laughing.” 

Despite these challenges, Conley was determined to make an impact. When the two teams tied and the game came down to the next goal, the ball landed in Conley’s hands. “Then, somehow, he managed to fire a rocket into the net, good for the game-winning tally,” Kantaros recounted. “It was hilarious — everyone was shocked.” Conley was even sure to complement his goal with a silly celebration. 

“Classic Tom,” Kantaros mused. “That was definitely the highlight of the game for most of us.” From the costume to the celebration, Conley’s game-winning goal in his first-ever Halloween game is just one semblance of the positive energy the first-years have brought to the team. 

The immediate, multi-dimensional impact from the first-year class is inarguable, undergirded by a truly remarkable character. “They brought great enthusiasm to the team this year and were willing to do anything that was asked of them,” said Campbell, the head coach. “I think everyone in that class has the potential to play a major role for us down the road.” 

Madnick similarly predicts a bright future for this rookie group. “This class is filled with great players that have a ton of talent and a bright future at Middlebury,” he said. “More importantly, they have outstanding character and a bright future beyond Middlebury.”

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