Carpenter offers coaching, playing background as new Tiger lax leader

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School’s new boys’ lacrosse coach played lacrosse for four years in college and coached locally for two decades.
Middlebury businessman and newly installed selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter takes over a program that has recently returned to a competitive level.    Carpenter graduated from MUHS in 1980, and his coaching experience consists of 14 years of youth and middle school football and another half-dozen years of middle school and club lacrosse.
Carpenter, a 1984 graduate of St. Lawrence University, describes coaching as the best part of his day.
“There’s still some kids I coached when I came back here 20 years ago who still call me coach,” he said. “You develop a different kind of rapport. It’s an opportunity to hopefully have a positive impact.”
Carpenter replaces Dennis Smith, the MUHS head football coach, who took over the lacrosse program three years ago after a late-spring resignation, but only with the understanding that he would not stay for longer than he did.
During Smith’s tenure the lacrosse team bounced back from a string of unsuccessful seasons to win 11, 13 and 15 games in 2012, 2014 and 2015, respectively, going a round deeper into the playoffs each spring and reaching the D-I final in 2015.
Carpenter said he will stay on for at least a few years unless a perfect candidate comes along who can offer the lacrosse program what Smith has provided the Tiger football program — a decade or more of service.
“I’ve committed for several years. I think the program needs some stability. I think it was great Dennis stepped up, but you look at the football program, since I was a student here we’ve had four coaches in 40 years or something,” Carpenter said. “Until we can find someone who can stick with it long-term, I’ll stick with it for a while. It’s a program I’m passionate about, and I’d like to see some stability in the program.”
Carpenter’s experience with lacrosse began in college, where he was a four-year member of the St. Lawrence football team as well as the lacrosse team. The head lacrosse coach assisted the football program and asked Carpenter if he would like to pick up a stick and try out for the lacrosse team.
“The coach saw me and said, ‘Here’s a stick. You’ve got eight weeks to tryouts.’ I just lived in the gym for eight weeks … I played wall-ball for hours on end, and ended up making the team,” Carpenter said. “By my senior year I was captain of the team, and every year there we made the NCAAs. We had some good teams.”
Carpenter still roots for the Saints, who are highly ranked this season, although he admitted to mixed feelings this spring when they knocked off Middlebury College, a team he also backs strongly.
“I still follow the program,” he said. “It’s always tough when they play Middlebury.”
Carpenter, a retired Vermont Army National Guard general, was drawn to coaching both sports when he came back to his hometown, but acknowledged he will be learning on the job at the high school level.
“It’s a level up, so it’s a fun challenge. So I’ve studied a lot of film trying to get my head around where you take a high school group, at what level are you coaching, because you’re not spending as much time on the basics,” Carpenter said.
He believes he won’t be aiming low: Because of the organized youth programs and the availability of college games locally, on television and online, the Tigers have a strong knowledge base.
“I think the kids today have a higher IQ of sports than we did when I was growing up,” Carpenter said. 
Helping with the transition will be two assistants with whom Carpenter worked at the club and middle school levels, Dave Donahue and Booth Hodde. All three were college midfielders and all three have sons on the team. Donahue will focus on the midfielders, Hodde on the attackers, and Carpenter on the defenders and goalies.
Carpenter is happy to have them along.
“We work really well together as a team,” he said.
They would love to see the Tigers compete for titles, but Carpenter said that will not be the coaches’ day-to-day emphasis. He said he believes teams are ultimately more successful when athletes are “more focused on the team than on individual accomplishment,” and that he would focus on instilling the ethic of “the value of hard work and working towards a goal.”
Carpenter said that approach is actually the best way to ensure success.
“We’re going to do the best we can, and be the best team we can be. If that team wins a championship, that’s great. But the real value is accomplishing what you’re capable of, and getting it out of each kid,” he said. “If we focus on those types of values, hopefully the team plays well together, they support each other, they have a great experience, they have fun, and they notch more wins than losses.”
And the athletes can also learn life lessons along the way.
“This is how to interact with people, how to lead people, how to be a positive force. And there’s so much of that applies to their everyday lives, to their effectiveness going forward,” Carpenter said. “So many people can apply things they learned in a high school sport to their jobs later on in life.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]

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