Men’s lacrosse improves to 7-0

PANTHER ATTACKER BILLY Curtis lines up a shot in a recent Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team win over visiting Trinity. On Tuesday the host Panthers defeated Springfield to improve to 7-0. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — In defeating visiting Springfield, 15-8, on Tuesday afternoon, the Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team displayed many of the reasons why the program has gotten off to its best start in many years. The Panthers’ record is 7-0.

Offensively, the Panthers were balanced and unselfish. Nine players scored, and 10 of their goals were assisted.

Their transition up the field could not have been crisper: 20 for 20 on clearing attempts, while holding the Pride to 14 of 21. 

Defensively the Panthers are allowing nine goals a game after Springfield netted eight. Freshman goalie Hayden Kern improved his save percentage to .566 by stopping 13 of the 20 shots he faced before being subbed out late. 

The Panthers, ranked No. 7 in the latest NCAA Division III poll, also win faceoffs, with main man on the dot William Munroe prevailing on 10 of 18 on Tuesday. And they scoop ground balls: They are plus 47 on the season after Tuesday’s 31-26 advantage.  

MIDDLEBURY MEN’S LACROSSE attacker William Ryan bursts pasts a Trinity defender during a recent home victory over Trinity. The Panthers improved to 7-0 with wins over visiting Springfield on Tuesday and host Bates on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Coach Dave Campbell knows there are challenges ahead, starting with the Panthers’ game at undefeated, second-ranked Tufts on Saturday. Middlebury has also yet to face the three other NESCAC teams with one league loss: Wesleyan, Amherst and Williams. 

But he believes his team’s chemistry has played and will play a major role in its success this spring.

“We have great leadership. Our captains are phenomenal. Our seniors are awesome,” Campbell said. “Guys are buying into the team. They show up every day and have fun being together. They’re playing for each other, and they’re just buying into what we’re talking about. So it’s a total team effort.”

On Tuesday the Panthers blitzed the Pride with four goals in the first 3:02. Tom Conley got the party started. Russell Thorndike dispossessed a Springfield defender to the right of the goal and fed Conley with a cross-crease pass, and Conley finished low. Jack Sheehan whipped in a 14-yarder bomb, and then Cooper Demallie converted a Patrick Jamin feed from the doorstep. 

Johnny Kantaros then won a lengthy battle for the following faceoff, a mobile duel that moved all the way to the Pride end before Kantaros scooped the grounder and fired a 10-yard bullet home to make it 4-0. 

PANTHER FRESHMAN GOALIE Hayden Kern roams from his crease to scoop a ground ball in a recent home game vs. Trinity. Since them, more victories, including vs. visiting Springfield on Tuesday, have moved the Middlebury men’s lax team to 7-0.
Independent photo/Steve James

The momentum changed after that, in part because Springfield packed its defense into a tight zone. The Pride climbed back into the game, and by the end of the quarter the Panther lead was 6-3. Thorndike netted a bomb from the left from Jack Sheehan for Middlebury, but Kevin Tierney, Alex Turi and Nicholas Savastano (a man-up goal) scored for the Pride before Conley curled around the net and deposited a late goal for Middlebury.

Panther Logan White, from Tyler Forbes made it 7-3, in the first minute of the second quarter, but the Panther offense stagnated and Springfield closed to 7-5 at the half on scores from Connor Roberts and Mason Nocito. Roberts’ goal came from 60 yards away with Panther goalie Hayden Kern out of the net guarding a Pride forward to help defend a Springfield clearing attempt. 

Springfield kept coming after the halftime break, but Kern (13 saves, five goals against in about 58 minutes), made a series of strong saves, including back-to-back stops from point-blank on Turi. But the Panthers were still a little sloppy. After a couple off offensive turnovers Tierney scored to make it 7-6 three minutes into the period. 

PANTHER MIDFIELDER GRAY Thomas moves the ball up the field against visiting Trinity in a recent game. The Middlebury men’s lax team won that game and three more since to improve to 7-0 and move to No. 7 in the NCAA D-III rankings.
Independent photo/Steve James

Then the game took a turn: The Panthers rattled off five straight goals to close the quarter. 

Campbell first pointed to the defense, coached by Assistant Gus Brakeley, and Kern.

“We played zone, at least in the second half of the game, and that slowed them down. We got some really good goaltending from Hayden, which has been the case all year,” he said, adding, “He gets us going. He provides us energy, a lot of juice for the guys. They get up for him when he makes those saves.”

At the other end, Campbell credited a pep and strategy talk from Assistant Troy Haefele with helping spark an offensive turnaround. 

Campbell said that the attack got in a rut when Springfield ran a zone, and Haefele the attackers to “get in a mindset again where they’re reading a play and taking advantage of the space, taking advantage of the rotations of the defense, and making them pay” — essentially remembering to be more creative rather than just running the plays.

PANTHER ATTACKER RUSSELL Thorndike unleashes a shot against visiting Trinity in a recent Middlebury men’s lacrosse victory. The 7-0 Panthers are ranked No. 7 in NCAA D-III heading into a Saturday game at No. 2 Tufts.
Independent photo/Steve James

The Panther surge began about a minute after Tierney’s goal. DeMallie whipped home a left-handed shot from 10 yards out, with Billy Curtis assisting, and then they scored four times in the quarter’s final 5:03 

Will Zink made it 8-6 by cutting toward the cage and netting a Curtis feed. Thorndike, from Jamin; Luke Simpson, on a coast-to-coast rumble; and William Ryan, from Jake Peluso, added goals to make it 12-6 after three quarters. 

In the final period, DeMallie completed his hat trick by dodging in through contact; Ryan scored, from Bobby Hendry, and Zink got his second, from White. Turi added a pair of goals to lead the Pride with three. Goalie Jack Hamilton made six saves for Springfield, which dropped to 3-6.

On the previous Saturday, Middlebury erased an early two-goal deficit and nine Panthers scored against host NESCAC rival Bates in a 14-4 victory as the team improved to 4-0 in league play.

 The Panthers scored nine straight goals after the Bobcats scored twice in the first 3:06. Four Panthers scored to make it 4-2 after one period, and Thorndike scored three times in the second quarter as Middlebury took an 8-2 lead into halftime. Peluso scored to open the second half and complete the 9-0 surge. 

PANTHERS RUSSELL THORNDIKE (No. 52), Everett Easterby (34) and Luke Simpson (11) celebrate a Thorndike goal vs. Trinity in a recent Middlebury men’s lacrosse team home win. The Panthers are 7-0.
Independent photo/Steve James

Thorndike finished with five goals and an assist, Conley scored twice and set up a goal, and seven Panthers added a goal apiece. Kern made three saves for the Panthers, and Garrett Fitzsimmons stopped 15 shots for Bates, which got two goals from Connor Hartman. Bates fell to 0-6. 

After Tuesday’s game, Campbell credited both teams.

“We came out flying, and then Springfield did a good job responding, and we got a little tight,” Campbell said. “That’s just sports. Those things happen. But our guys played through it. This whole year, whether we’ve jumped out to a lead or gotten down early, our guys just keep competing and keep believing in each other. That’s what I love about them.”

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