Sports

Karl Lindholm: Men’s basketball: Grieving a lost season

JACK FARRELL (NO. 24) plays here in a 98-78 win against Endicott in December 2019. Farrell scored 31 points in this game and 1,098 points in his three pre-pandemic years playing for the Middlebury College men’s basketball team. He twice made the All-NESCAC team and was an All-Northeast Regional all-star his junior year, 2020. Photo by Will Costello

Tara Parker-Pope is the editor of “Well,” the New York Times consumer health site. On March 15, she wrote a piece titled “It’s OK to Grieve the Small Losses of a Lost Year.”
Citing mental health experts, she discusses “disenfranchised grief,” that is, grieving those “smaller losses that don’t involve loss of human life, or the loss of a job,” or other losses on that scale: “There is a kind of grief,” she wrote, “that isn’t routinely acknowledged. From lost time with grandchildren to canceled vacations, we need to give ourselves permission to mourn.”
Some months ago, I would have found that thinking grandiose, self-absorbed; “get over yourself. After all, 2.5 million people have died!”
I don’t feel that way so much now.
I place the lost opportunity to attend sports live in-person in the category of “disenfranchised grief,” and certainly that’s so for those young athletes who love to play sports and whose time to do so is so brief.
I have often told friends, only half-joking, that I get through the long Vermont winter by staying indoors, going to basketball games at Middlebury College in a warm gym. This has been true for a long time.
I was particularly looking forward to going to Middlebury men’s basketball games this year. The Panthers were undoubtedly one of the best D-3 teams in the country. They had lost two important players to graduation in 2020 but were returning the core of a great team. The top six returning players were all seniors, members of the class of 2021.
This scintillating six scored 75% of the team’s points in 2019-20 (62 points a game — the team as a whole averaged 83 points a game). In all, they have scored more than 3,000 points in their three years.
These six extraordinary seniors are Max Bosco (economics and computer science; from Scarsdale, N.Y.); Ryan Cahill (economics; Chester Springs, Pa.); Tommy Eastman (physics, Honeoye Falls, N.Y.); Jack Farrell (economics and Chinese, Verona, N.J.); Will Ingram (economics and computer science, Dallas, Texas); and Griffin Kornaker (economics and Spanish, Rochester, N.Y.).
Imagine their “grief” at losing this season.
This year would have been the capstone of their Middlebury basketball career, the endpoint of their formal play after dedicating so much time and effort to refine their skills to be able to play at this level.
I am not alone, I trust, in my regret for not having been able to go to games this year and follow these extraordinary athletes. Middlebury men’s basketball has become an event that the Addison County community embraces with enthusiasm — and in numbers!
It’s a fact: attendance at Middlebury men’s games in Pepin Gym is greater than that at any of the other 10 schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).
The vast majority of these fans are not Middlebury students. Panther coach Jeff Brown observed that the proof of community interest is “during school breaks, when there are no students here, and we still see 500-600 fans in the stands.”
This support has not been lost on the players. Last week I asked the players to write briefly to me about their experience this year and at Middlebury generally. They all acknowledged the support they received.
Tommy Eastman commented, “I am not sure if the community realizes how important they are to us. D-3 teams across the country play in front of crowds of 50 or so all the time — but we get to play in front of a large, energetic crowd every single night. It makes us feel special and amplifies the energy.”
Those fans, we fans, were rewarded with a thrilling brand of basketball, fast-paced and high-scoring — and successful! Competing in one of the best D-3 basketball leagues in the country, Middlebury men’s hoop won 66 games and lost 21 from 2017-2020, and were 27-7 at home and 20-10 in NESCAC play.
All three years the team earned bids to the NCAA tournament, playing six games and winning three. In 11 of the last 13 years, Middlebury has qualified for the NCAAs, a remarkable run of success.
The leader of this group of senior teammates is Jack Farrell, who averaged 17 points a game in 2020 and scored more than 1,000 points in just three years (1,098). He was named to the All-NESCAC team in both his sophomore and junior years and was a regional all-star in 2020. Fans thrilled to his electrifying dashes to the hoop. Coach Brown called him “the fastest player I have coached.”
Jack considered using his remaining year of eligibility playing at Middlebury or somewhere else as a graduate student but has accepted a position with IBM in Atlanta (likely working remotely from home in the next year).
Max Bosco scored 839 points in his three years and would have undoubtedly scored more than 1,000 had he not lost this season. He is a terrific outside shooter who can also put the ball on the floor and score near the hoop or get fouled (85% on 250 free throws in three years). In two successive years, his last-second shots defeated Hamilton, 77-76 in ’20 and 80-79 in ’19. After graduation, Max will be in New York “doing Internal Audit at Nasdaq.”
Four of these six players were backcourtmen either 6’0” or 6’1”, so the Middlebury style was uptempo, relying on speed rather than size. When the team went into its set half-court game, the offense was most often led by Griffin Kornaker at the point. Griff averaged more than eight points a game and four assists in his last two years. He will use his remaining year of eligibility playing basketball and pursuing a Master’s in Finance at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Tommy Eastman transferred to Middlebury from SUNY Geneseo, but made quite an impression in his only season, averaging 14 points a game and seven rebounds, earning a spot on the All-NESCAC team. He was the soul of versatility: at 6’4” he often had to guard players underneath who were much bigger; on offense he was very skilled near the hoop as well as on the perimeter.
Jeff Brown observed that “it’s too bad we only got a glimpse of Tommy in his one year on the team; he’s the total package.” Tommy intends to go to graduate school and play basketball another year at Brandeis, Nazareth, or Stevens.
Limited by injuries in his first two years, Ryan Cahill emerged in 2019-20, playing in 25 games and averaging more than six points a game. A complete player, he could run the floor and shoot the three-point shot, and at 6’7” gave the Panthers much needed size on the defensive end. With his teammate Max Bosco, Ryan was on the NESCAC All-Academic team. He has accepted a position in Boston as an investment banking analyst.
Will Ingram was a defensive specialist, earning a spot in the rotation in ’20, playing 15 minutes a game and starting six. An outstanding on-the-ball defender, he was often called upon to guard the opposition’s top backcourt player. Will is embarking on a career in the financial services industry, having accepted a position with Bank of America in his hometown of Dallas.
In their email comments to me, all reflected their appreciation for Coach Jeff Brown and assistant coaches Connor Merrill and Rob Alberts — and also to coaches Kyle Dudley and the late Russ Reilly who departed after the sophomore years of these players.
Tommy Eastman wrote: “When it comes to coaching staffs, this one is as good as they come, and I truly mean that. Their love of the game is only matched by their love of us as players, and it is fierce! I felt as if I was given a home right away at Middlebury, and I truly feel blessed to have been able to play for Coach Brown & Co.”
For his part, Jeff Brown acknowledged his admiration for “how connected as a group” these basketball-playing classmates were — “the friendship piece,” as he put it. “They liked and supported one another, really embraced the idea of team, and led the crew in the classes below them, pulling for them.”
So, Middlebury hoopers in the class of 2021, as you move on to the next stage, know that you carry the best wishes of your many fans in the Middlebury community.

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