First up, this just in (and no surprise, really): I was wrong. And happy to say so.
When the Middlebury women’s lacrosse team lost to Tufts in the NESCAC quarterfinals, 13-12, a week ago Sunday, I assumed and wrote the 11-5 Panthers’ season was over. But their strength of schedule — all five of their losses came to teams ranked in the top 17, and Middlebury has five top-19 wins — earned Coach Missy Foote’s Panthers a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.
They will host Ithaca (11-6) on Wednesday at 3 p.m., and, if they prevail, will head to undefeated NESCAC champion Trinity (17-0) for a Saturday game. Trinity — coached by former MUHS and Panther all-star Kate Perine Livesay — is hosting a four-team regional, with Bowdoin and NEWMAC champion Babson meeting in the other game. Babson isn’t too shabby — I saw them play vs. my daughter’s Wellesley team — but the 14-2 Polar Bears will almost certainly win that match-up. The Panthers lost at home by one goal to Trinity, and also defeated Bowdoin by four on Kohn Field.
Coach Dave Campbell’s men’s lacrosse team did enough in the NESCAC tournament to easily nail down another NCAA Division III berth, reaching the final at top-seeded Tufts before losing an OT heartbreaker. The 12-4 Panthers rallied from four goals down in the fourth quarter to take two one-goal leads late in regulation, including in the final minute, but couldn’t nail down the win.
On Wednesday, Castleton will head up Route 30 for a 3:30 p.m. game at Middlebury. To their credit, the 12-7 Spartans earned the NAC’s automatic NCAA berth, but nobody believes they can put up much of a fight. Barring a shocker, next up for Middlebury will be either Keene (13-2) or Amherst (13-2). According to Panther coaches, Middlebury would host Keene if the Owls prevail, or travel to face the Jeffs if Amherst wins. The Panthers did not face Keene this year, but lost at Amherst, 9-7.
Finally, congratulations to the Panther softball team, which cruised through the NESCAC double elimination tournament this past weekend with a 3-0 record to win the program’s first league playoff title — and earn its first NCAA D-III berth. Coach Kelly Bevere’s 29-6 team will head to one of the tournament’s eight double-elimination, eight-team regionals on Thursday; one team from each regional will advance to the final eight-team tournament in Salem, Va., a week later.
The Panthers, despite their program-best 29 wins, did not receive any love from D-III voters in the rankings this spring. But they are the No. 3 seed in a regional that will be hosted by No. 2 seed Ithaca. Messiah (35-5) is the top seed in the regional. Middlebury opens with No. 6 seed Keuka (20-3-1), and then opponents and times will depend on results. If all goes well, the Panthers will be playing on Sunday, or Monday if the regional comes down to one winner-take-all contest.
So, good luck to all. No predictions, except we can be certain that unlike the L.A. Lakers, the Panther teams will not end their season with a flurry of cheap shots, verbal or physical.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]