Men’s lacrosse back in familiar territory deep in NCAA tournament

Tufts midfielder Conor Helfrich (LA '16) raises the NESCAC championship plaque after the game on Sunday, May 8. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

Tufts men’s lacrosse was a formidable force heading into this season, riding six consecutive NESCAC titles and back-to-back NCAA Div. III titles while searching for still more accolades. Before the season even began, graduating senior co-captain John Uppgren and classmate Conor Helfrich became the first Jumbos to be selected in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft in Tufts history. Their 15-man graduating senior class, one of the strongest the program has ever seen, led the team to at least a 17-2 record throughout the regular and post season, with the Jumbos still competing in the NCAA tournament this past week.

The Jumbos have achieved the same record as the past two seasons, with only two regular season losses. They started off the season with four wins, beating Stevens Institute, Keene St., Middlebury and Colby.

The graduating senior class — graduating seniors Ben Andreycak, Garrett Clarke, Kyle Howard-Johnson, Jake Gillespie, Conor Bilby and John Uppgren — made big contributions to the scoresheet. Although this will mean that an entire attack starting lineup will have graduated at the end of the season, rising seniors Zach Richman and Austin Carbone will have to grow to anchor the attack next year.

At the faceoff position, Helfrich shone. He has won 299 of 470 faceoffs, earning a record of 0.61, and putting him in the number one spot for most faceoffs won in the NESCAC. Rising senior Tucker Mathers also performed well at the faceoff position, winning 43 of 73 giving him a 0.58 win rate.

In the defense, only graduating senior Blake Wood returned to his starting role, with classmates Jon Sax and AJ Enchill and rising junior Tyler Olney called up to start. Other defensemen like rising junior Connor Lansdale and rising seniors Tyler Carbone and Mathers will look to make their mark next season.

The beginning of the season saw the Jumbos either go down early to their opponents, or nearly give up a lead that they had developed early on. Therefore, the second half of the season was very focused on orchestrating the “complete game” that pushed for a full 60 minutes of spotless game play. This was carried out successfully against Conn. College, Williams, Hamilton and Amherst in the regular season, and against Conn. College and Williams again and Middlebury in the post season that culminated in the team being crowned NESCAC Champions for the seventh time.

After the weekend’s games, AJ Enchill was named NESCAC Player of the Week for his stellar defensive performance.

“We are getting closer to playing our best lacrosse as a team,” Uppgren said. “Every game this season has been really tough. We had a huge target on our backs going into the season; every team tried to play their best game against us, and we needed to expect that. It took us a little bit to find our team chemistry and have all three phases all playing well and playing the same game. But we’re peaking right now and heading in the right direction, and I’m just excited for the next couple of weeks.”

One highlight of the season came in the NESCAC semi-final against Williams on May 7, where Richman tied the record for most goals in a game, netting eight. His signature move of receiving in front of the goal, turning and shooting was unstoppable, with all eight shots ending up in the net.

Other highlights of the season included Uppgren surpassing DJ Hessler’s (LA ’14) point record, being named NESCAC Player of the Year and being named to the NESCAC All-Conference first team alongside Andreycak and Gillespie. Wood was named to the All-Conference second team. Gillespie had a standout season, going from not starting a single game last season to becoming the conference’s second highest scorer, only one behind Uppgren. On May 10, Gillespie was also named as the New England Div. III Player of the Year.

“A lot of our success can be attributed to our seniors,” Richman said. “They all have been great leaders on and off the field, and they bring the energy that we need every day. I can’t say enough about this senior class and everything they’ve done for our program this year.”

Needless to say, the senior class will be sorely missed.

The Jumbos faced the Emmanuel College Saints in the first round of the NCAA tournament on May 11. Coach Mike Daly confidently put out a starting lineup that included only three regular starters, giving almost the entire bench playing time. Even so, the Jumbos, in a different class from the Saints, easily dominated en route to their 25-5 win. The game saw rising sophomore Ben Connelly score his first collegiate goal, and classmate Danny Murphy net his second and third of his career.

On May 14, the Jumbos dominated the Cortland St. Blazes in a 16-9 victory. The highlight of the game came when the Jumbos successfully defended a Cortland three-man advantage, with only three Jumbos forced to defend six attackers. The Jumbos even turned the tables to score on a fast break seconds after the penalty was over.

Tufts will face Ithaca College in the quarter-finals of the NCAA tournament on May 18.