After a tough start to the season, including two one?goal losses to in?conference rivals, the Tufts men’s lacrosse team has finally found the form that brought them to the Div. III Championship Semifinal a year ago.
A four?game stretch over spring break saw the Jumbos take down then No. 4?ranked Stevens Institute of Technology, No. 2 Stevenson College, NESCAC opponent Colby College and No. 15 Western New England University. The first three of those four games were all on the road, adding to the strenuous start to the season, but the Jumbos were clearly up to the task.
“Playing so many consecutive road games is definitely a challenge,” junior midfielder Beau Wood said. “But those same challenges allow us to grow as a team.”
The players and coaches now turn their attention to Trinity College, which the Jumbos face this Saturday at 1 p.m. on Bello Field. Trinity will bring a winless NESCAC record and 2?4 overall record into the conference clash, but Tufts knows not to take the Bantams lightly.
A season ago, Trinity was only one of two teams able to defeat the Jumbos in the regular season, winning 9?8 in overtime, in a game marked by Tufts’ inability to capitalize on opportunities.
Tufts outshot Trinity 54?33, held the groundball advantage 37?27 and won 15 of 21 faceoffs, but in a five minute stretch starting in the second period, Tufts was caught completely on their heels, allowing four unanswered goals to the Bantams, which were ultimately too much for them to overcome.
The Jumbos were able to overcome a similar poor stretch against Colby last Friday, in which Tufts fell behind 6?0 with two minutes to play in the first quarter, but then asserted themselves en route to a 14?9 victory.
With so many tough teams remaining on their schedule, the team knows they cannot be relying on come?from?behind wins to bail themselves out. They are stressing consistency for four quarters and hope to take a little revenge on a team very similar to the one the Jumbos lost to a season ago.
“Our only focus is on ourselves,” junior goalie Patton Watkins said. “We know that if we consistently apply the fundamentals of Tufts lacrosse the way we have been coached, then there isn’t a team in the country that can beat us.”
The Trinity lineup is largely unchanged from last year, after losing only a few players, as top goal?scorers Rob Nogueras, Jeff Hebert and Nick Shaheen all returned for their senior season. Much of the Jumbos’ attention will need to be on the trio, which combined for six goals and an assist against Tufts a season ago and have already teamed up to get 31 goals and 10 assists through six games this year.
“Trinity returns a lot of great players that we have to account for,” Wood said. “Trinity, along with every other team on our schedule, has the talent to make us pay for lapses in focus.”
The Jumbos cannot afford these lapses, particularly in?conference, as they currently sit ninth in the NESCAC standings. Despite their high national ranking at No. 6, and wins over top non?conference teams a week ago, they know that it is their seven remaining conference games that will be most critical, and that stretch starts Saturday.
“The biggest thing going into the Trinity game is the fact that we are 1?2 in the NESCAC,” Wood said. “Every game remaining on our schedule has the significance of a playoff game.”