Men's lacrosse opens season with three home victories

PANTHER SOPHOMORE MIDDIE Andrew McGurrin races upfield as Connecticut’s Jack Venturelli tries to defend during Saturday’s men’s lacrosse game at Middlebury, won by the Panthers, 20-8. Middlebury improved to 3-0 with a pair of recent wins. Independent photo/Steve James

PANTHER JUNIOR MIDDIE Jack Hoelzer whips one of his two goals past Connecticut goalie Colin Smith on Saturday. The Middlebury men’s lacrosse team rolled to a 20-8 victory and won again on Tuesday to improve to 3-0. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY SENIOR ATTACKER A.J. Kucinski jumps into a knot of teammates celebrating one of 20 Panther men’s lacrosse team goals in their victory over Connecticut on Saturday. Another win on Tuesday pushed the Panthers’ record to 3-0. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY FRESHMAN ATTACKER William Ryan, who scored twice, prepares to shoot during the Panther men’s lacrosse team’s home win over Connecticut on Saturday. Teammate Will Ahl looks on. The 3-0 Panthers also won on Tuesday. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — Before the announcement that all school activities were being suspended and students were being sent home, early indications looked positive for the Middlebury College men’s lacrosse team after three seasons in which the Panthers hovered around .500.

Home wins on Saturday over NESCAC foe Connecticut, 20-8, and on Tuesday over Plattsburgh, 30-8, moved the Panthers to 3-0, the program’s best start since 2015.

An explosive and balanced offense led the way. Ten Panthers scored vs. Connecticut, six in their opening 16-12 victory at Bowdoin the week before, and 13 in Tuesday’s rout of the Cardinals.

Coach Dave Campbell (144-82 in his 14th year leading the team) said there has been a lot to like about the Panther attack.

“We have a lot of experienced guys that are in the second year of doing the things we’ve been coaching up,” Campbell said. “And we’re playing with good pace and making good decisions, and we have a lot of guys who can finish. And they’re playing really selflessly. They’re playing team ball. They’re sharing it. That’s been huge.”

In goal junior starter Tyler Bass stopped more than half the shots he saw this season, and he played behind an aggressive group of veterans that included seniors Zeke Emerson and Alex Farley and junior Ben Snow.

“We’re playing with a bit of an edge all over the field, and we talk about that all the time,” Campbell said. “I think our defensive guys exemplify that. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulders. They’re playing physically. They’re going after guys. We’re taking some penalties, but we’re playing a physical brand of lacrosse, which I like to see.”

Campbell added a couple more reasons for the 3-0 start after a 1-3 mark a year ago and 2-2 records in each of the three prior seasons. One he cited was the leadership of the captains, Emerson and senior middie Jake Madnick, and the team’s other dozen seniors.

“The credit goes to our seniors and our captains. They’ve put in so much work to get ready. That’s one thing,” Campbell said.

The other is a change in approach he and assistants Gus Brakeley, Bob Ritter and Duncan Fitzgerald adopted this spring — asking the Panthers to be early risers to allow them to all practice together and longer in the school’s Virtue Fieldhouse each morning.

“We can have everybody there for a longer practice than we’ve had for the last few years without lights on this field. And I think that’s made a difference. We’ve simply had more practice time now than we’ve had the last few years,” Campbell said.

Certainly the Panthers looked in sync vs. the Camels. They took a 3-0 lead in the first 7:18, assisted eight of their 20 goals, and scored at least four times in every quarter. The early goals came from Tyler Forbes, whose shot trickled through Camel goalie Colin Smith in the second minute, and then Kyle McFetridge and senior A.J. Kucinski each picked corners.

Camel Gus Mazzocca got one back with 6:10 to play in the period, and then with a second to go Will Brossman took a Kucinski feed at the top of the box and whipped the ball home to make it 4-1.

The Camels hung reasonably close for a while in the second quarter. A Zach Gustafson goal pulled them back within reach at 6-3 at 7:31, but after Bass made back-to-back point-blank saves on Camel Sean Smith Middlebury went on a 3-0 run.

 Senior Michael McCormack scored his second beautifully placed goal from the left side; Forbes netted the rebound off a senior Danny Jacobs shot, and Jacobs converted after picking off an errant clearing pass (one of the Camels’ 24 turnovers, many of them forced). A late Camel goal made it 9-4 at the half.

The Camels still trailed, 11-6, at 7:44 of the third when the Panthers went on a 7-0 run that erased any hope for the visitors. McCormack and junior middie Jack Hoelzer each scored twice in that surge.

 McCormack (four goals) and Forbes (three) paced the Panthers. Kucinski had two goals, two assists and picked up five ground balls. Brossman, Hoelzer and William Ryan each scored twice. Sophomore defender Andrew Ng caused five caused turnovers and scooped five ground balls, while Madnick picked up eight ground balls. Bass made 11 saves and allowed seven goals in 52 minutes.

Jack Rutter led the Camels with four goals, and Smith made 13 saves and allowed 17 goals before Billy Dreyer made three stops in the final 11:26.

In their last action before the premature end to their campaign, on Tuesday the Panthers blew out visiting Plattsburgh, 30-8.

The 30 Panther goals were the most for the program since the 1980 team scored 31 in an ECAC championship victory over Babson. Middlebury outshot the 2-2 Cardinals, 84-34; won 32 of 42 faceoffs; and scooped 50 groundballs, 24 of them by faceoff specialist Madnick.

The Panthers erased all doubt with a 9-1 run to close the second quarter and assume a 16-4 halftime lead.

Forbes (five goals), Kucinski (four goals, two assists), Jacobs (four goals) and McCormack (three goals, three assists) led the Middlebury assault. Also of note, senior attacker Connor Quinn, a Middlebury resident, scored his first — and given the circumstances what appears to be his final — goal. Bass made five saves and allowed four goals in the first half.

On Saturday, before the coronavirus pulled the plug on his team’s season and that of all the other Panther programs, Campbell had been feeling good about 2020: “I’m very optimistic.”

Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at

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