By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — It’s safe to say no one knew exactly what to expect from the Middlebury Union High School boys’ lacrosse team this year after 16 seniors, many of them three-year starters, graduated from the 2008 squad.
Probably no one went out on a limb and predicted that after Saturday’s home 13-7 win over rival Woodstock, the Tigers would be 6-1 and riding a six-game winning streak. Their only loss was a close setback to preseason Division I favorite Champlain Valley.
Senior attacker Asa Sargent, who led Saturday’s attack with four goals and an assist, said it was fine by him if opponents wanted to take the Tigers too lightly: They believe in themselves.
“Everybody’s just overlooking us,” he said. “We’re taking advantage of everybody overlooking us, I think. We’re strong. We’re going to win state’s.”
This season the Tigers have unusual team unity and heart, Sargent said.
“It is team chemistry, definitely. It’s people looking for that one more pass, not being selfish. It’s all the little things coming together. We’re clicking,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of faith in each other.”
Longtime coach Jono Chapin agreed. Right now, the Tigers have only about 20 healthy bodies, but Chapin said he has no trouble finding volunteers when he asks.
“We have a great group of guys, because having such low numbers ... they certainly have a good attitude about pitching in,” Chapin said. “What the circumstances dictate, they seem to go ahead and find a way to rally to that, so I give them a lot of credit ... It’s really these guys and how they’re coming together as a team.”
The Tigers said Saturday’s effort was typical: Of their 13 goals, 10 were assisted.
“We just pass the ball more,” Sargent said. “It’s a lot more fun that way, definitely.”
The Tigers took a 3-2 lead after the first period on two goals by senior attacker Colin Hoefle, with assists from junior attacker Colin Martin and Sargent, and a solo strike by Martin. Woodstock got unassisted goals from Noah Carvalho and Josh Robinson, who led the Wasps with three scores.
The Tiger defenders took over in the second quarter as MUHS went up by 6-2 at the half. Junior Ben Doria, senior Levi Fleury and freshmen Dillon Robinson and Steel White allowed only rushed shots on goalie Ross Lengyel (five first-half saves). The Wasps ended up with a 37-35 edge in shots at goal, and their goalie, Nick Maura, made 11 saves, but the Tigers shots were much more dangerous.
“We had pretty good defensive pressure throughout,” Chapin said.
At the other end, senior middie Devlin Rutherford picked up a ground ball and converted, and Sargent (from Martin) and senior middie Cooper Quenneville (from Rutherford) added to the Tiger lead.
In the third quarter the Tiger defense and goalie Taylor Wood (eight second-half saves) allowed just one goal, but the offense was less crisp. Still, Sargent netted a feed from White after a nice White steal at midfield, and Quenneville raced in from midfield and to make it 8-3 after three.
In the fourth, the teams traded scores. For MUHS, Sargent finished after winning a ground ball, junior attacker Kyle Rouse netted a clever cross-crease pass from Hoefle, senior middie Keegan Sullivan deposited a Rutherford setup, senior middie converted on the fast break from Hoefle, and Sargent capped the scoring with a helper from Rutherford.
Sargent said it was a good all-around effort for the Tigers.
“We had people cutting. We had strong defense. We shut them down. We had strong goaltending. It just all came together for us today,” he said.
Of course, this is no longer the 1990s, when Woodstock and MUHS battled for the state championship every year. But Sargent said it’s still satisfying to send the Wasps home unhappy.
“It’s always good to beat these guys,” he said. “It’s a tradition.”