Senior midfielder Zach Lesko holds off a defender in Tufts' 23–5 win over Hamilton on March 4. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily

Jumbos earn pair of decisive victories to kick off 2018 campaign

In its first official action since falling to Wesleyan in the 2017 NCAA tournament, the No. 9 Tufts men’s lacrosse team registered a pair of convincing wins over Hamilton and Keene State. Despite its opening weekend being reduced from two games to one due to weather, Tufts quickly established itself as a NESCAC powerhouse with a 23–5 romp over Hamilton (0–1) in Clinton, N.Y. on Sunday. Two days later, the Jumbos trounced the Keene State Owls (1–2) in their home opener at Bello Field by a score of 24–10.

Tuesday night, Tufts sought to maintain its hot start to the season against a Keene State team that it defeated 26–14 in last year’s NCAA tournament. For the second straight game, the Jumbos roared out of the gates. Tufts put six shots past Keene State senior goalie Mathew Howe in the opening 15 minutes, including three from senior attacker Andrew Seiter, while shutting out Keene State on the defensive end. The Owls responded with improved play in the second quarter, scoring five goals to the Jumbos’ six, but the hosts stretched their lead to 12–5 at halftime. Tufts junior attackers Danny Murphy and Ben Connelly both equaled Seiter’s three first-half goals with three tallies of their own.

The Jumbos didn’t hold back after the break, tacking on five scores in the third quarter and seven in the fourth to hold the visitors at bay. Connelly led all players with six goals, while Murphy added five assists to his three scores for a game-high eight points. Sophomore goalie Mason Pollack earned his second win of the year, making 16 saves on 24 total shots.

On Sunday, the Jumbos’ strong offseason training regimen showed immediately, as they reeled off 16 unanswered goals to begin play against the Hamilton Continentals. The dominant run was highlighted by three goals from Murphy and was capped by Seiter’s goal with more than eight minutes left in the second quarter. Murphy was one of three Jumbos to record four points on the day, illustrating the visitors’ offensive prowess. Connelly, who recorded a goal and three assists, noted that the scoring barrage wasn’t simply an early-season fluke.

“We returned a lot of guys on the attacking side of the field from last year,” Connelly said. “We all feel very comfortable with everyone we are playing with, so we should be able to put up big numbers.”

After Tufts’ highly anticipated matchup with No. 7 Cortland (2–0) was postponed due to a winter storm, the team shifted its attention to a much weaker Hamilton squad. The Continentals finished last season with a 4–11 record and a 1–9 mark in the NESCAC. Nevertheless, the Jumbos remained focused from the top of their roster through the bottom, as explained by junior midfielder Nick Katz.

“We obviously watch film on our opponents and pay attention to the scouting report, but we also go into every game just concerned with ourselves,” Katz said. “We don’t care if we are supposed to beat them or not. We know that if we stick to our fundamentals, we will win.”

Led by their starters, the Jumbos posted a shutout in the first quarter while pouring in 10 goals. Tufts converted on 10 of their 17 total shots and only turned the ball over four times, compared to Hamilton’s 10 giveaways in the opening frame. Among all the positives that Tufts took away from the game, the team’s transition play — converting turnovers into offensive opportunities — stood out. The Jumbos held an advantage over the hosts in ground balls (69–45) and successfully converted 27 of 29 clears from their defensive zone.

“Our ability to create turnovers, retrieve ground balls and quickly start our counterattack and score goals was awesome,” Katz said. “It’s a part of the game that involves the whole team, so it is always nice to see that come together.”

The Jumbos’ defense allowed just four shots in the first quarter, all of which were stopped by Pollack. The Arlington, Va. native remained in the game through the end of the third quarter, posting 13 saves in his 45 minutes of work. With the Jumbos leading 19–4 after three periods, Pollack was relieved by senior Robert Treiber, who made three saves in the fourth quarter and conceded only once.

Tufts’ early lead also gave coach Casey D’Annolfo an opportunity to give valuable NESCAC experience to his younger players, many of whom made a significant impact. Sophomore midfielder Nick Shanks opened the scoring with a goal just over two minutes into the first quarter, and all four of the Jumbos’ goals in the final frame were scored by underclassmen. Perhaps most impressively, first-year midfielder Evan Cunningham was Tufts’ main face-off man this weekend, winning 12 of 22 attempts in his first-ever collegiate game.

“The [first-years] played really well, which was great to see in the first game,” Connelly said. “We have had a good offseason with them, so everyone on the team feels comfortable with each other. But it’s always hard for the [first-years], no matter what. Chemistry will get better as the year goes on, but they are off to a great start.”

Tufts can also count on a healthy dose of senior leadership and production from its upperclassmen this season. Murphy led the team with 95 points (54 goals, 41 assists) last season, earning Honorable Mention All-American honors for his efforts. The team’s trio of senior captains — defender Connor Lansdale, midfielder Cam Irwin and midfielder Frank Hattler — provide strong leadership, as well as on-field impact.

“We all look to them to set the tone, and throughout the offseason, they’ve done that job,” Connelly said. “We are all confident in ourselves and they keep us going. They have stepped up a lot from last year and are taking ownership.”

Tufts (2–0) will play another non-conference opponent when it visits Stevens Institute of Technology (3–0) in Hoboken, N.J. on Saturday.

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