Sports

Men’s lacrosse opens strong vs. NESCAC rival

PANTHER JUNIOR MIDDIE Patrick Jamin looks to make a play during the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team’s home opener on Saturday. Jamin scored twice and had three assists. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team is coming off an 18-3 season in 2023 that included a trip to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals. 

On Saturday the Panthers picked up where they left off with a convincing 17-11 victory over visiting NESCAC rival Amherst in the opener for both teams.

In some ways the game was not as close as the score might make it sound: The Panthers opened with four unanswered goals in the first 7:13 and led by 5-1 after one period and 9-3 at the half. 

The Mammoths pulled no closer than five goals in the second half, once in the third quarter and twice in the fourth quarter, but each time Middlebury answered.

Coach Dave Campbell was pleased the Panthers, who were also scheduled to host RPI on Wednesday and will travel to Bowdoin on Saturday, set the tone so quickly. 

“We have some experienced offensive players this year, and I thought they played with a lot of poise early on in the game,” he said.

The Middlebury attack was both balanced and unselfish: Eight Panthers scored, led by Russell Thorndike with four goals and William Ryan and Cooper DeMallie with three apiece, while eight recorded assists, led by Patrick Jamin and Billy Curtis with three each. Twelve of the 17 Panther goals were assisted.

MIDDLEBURY JUNIOR MIDFIELDER Billy Curtis gets a step on an Amherst defender during the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team’s home opener on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Campbell said the Panther attackers appreciate the ball-movement approach he and Assistant Coach Troy Haefele preach. 

“Balance is a good way to describe our offensive group,” Campbell said. “Coach Haefele stresses sharing the ball, and I think our guys have bought into it. They are unselfish and keep the ball moving until a good opportunity presents itself. With so many returners they have a lot of confidence in what we are trying to accomplish on the offensive end.”

The defense was also solid and forced many of the 21 Mammoth turnovers (to 16 for Middlebury) and created many pressured off-target shots. The Mammoths outshot the Panthers, 47-34, but of those 47 shots only 24 were on target. Campbell said he was particularly pleased with the defensive effort given the absence of senior captain Luke Simpson due to injury. 

“Our starting close defense of Teddy Curran, Nate Ruoss and Henry Tarr were outstanding. It was Henry’s first start of his career and I thought he was outstanding,” Campbell said. “We miss our leader, Luke Simpson, but other guys stepped up.”

Sophomore Hayden Kern returns in goal and saved 13 of the 24 shots on net.

MIDDLEBURY SENIOR ATTACKER Will Ryan celebrates one of his three goals during the Middlebury men’s lacrosse team’s home opening victory on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

“Hayden was great. He steals a few (goals) a game, makes a lot of saves look easy, and then usually makes some plays outside of the crease, which give us extra possessions,” he said.

Jamin scored the first goal 1:21 into the game after the Panthers forced a turnover — he found the net’s right side from long range. DeMallie made it 2-0 1:15 later by converting from close range. At 9:34 Thorndike took a Finn McCarthy feed from behind the right side of the net and tossed it inside the right post. Twenty-eight seconds later Ryan took a Jamin pass on the doorstep and converted to make it 4-0.

The Mammoths got on the board at 8:21, when Brendan Reilly scooped a loose ball a few yards out from the crease and tossed it home. Twenty-eight seconds later Ryan stuffed a long Curtis cross-crease pass inside the right post, and it was 5-1.

Panther Tom Conley and Mammoth Alex Giacobbe traded unassisted goals early in the second period, and then the Panthers scored three goals over the next 10 minutes to push the lead to 9-2. Conley scored from the left side, Thorndike picked the lower right corner from a sharp angle after taking a feed from Curtis, and DeMallie spun around a defender on the right side and found the far corner. Reilly made it 9-3 with 1:30 left in the half after winning a long groundball battle. 

The teams traded goals for most of the third period. The Panthers pushed the lead to 10-3 at 11:27 on a Thorndike transition goal set up by Will Spehr. Amherst cut the margin to five goals at 7:14 on strikes by Giacobbe, with a man up, and Jake Bennett. The Panthers responded with two goals of their own to make it 12-5 after three periods: DeMallie whipped home a sidearm shot from the left on a feed from Jamin, and Jamin flipped a pass ahead to Will Zink in traffic for a doorstep conversion at 1:21.

PANTHER JUNIOR ATTACKER Russell Thorndike fires in one of his four goals against visiting Amherst on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

Defense took more of a back seat in the fourth quarter as the teams combined for 11 goals, six by the Mammoths. Jamin opened the scoring before the Mammoths went on a three-goal run to make it 13-8 at 9:16. Matthew Sheinberg, Bob Gross and Lau Thompson did the damage in that surge for the Mammoths. 

Then Curtis converted in transition from Thorndike, a play started by Tarr forcing a turnover. Mammoth Alex Vlacich cut the lead to five again one last time at 7:45, but then it was the Panthers’ turn to go on a three-goal run, this one clinching the game by making it 17-9 at 4:32. Drew Dummer scored in transition from William Munroe, Ryan scored from Jamin, and Thorndike found the net on a feed from Conley.

The Panthers shot with accuracy: Of their 34 shots 17 found the back of the net, and 11 were saved by Mammoth goalie Mitch Likens.

In all, Campbell said as always there is room for improvement, but he thought it was a positive outing for his team. 

“I was pleased with the effort and compete level we displayed for 60 minutes,” he said. “There’s a lot to clean up situationally and execution-wise, but that is to be expected early in a season.”

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