Men’s lacrosse survives against Williams to save undefeated record

Senior attacker Ben Connelly vaults over a defender's stick in the second round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament on May 9, 2018. (Evan Sayles for Tufts University)

The No. 4 men’s lacrosse team chugged along this week, winning two matches by its lowest and highest margins of victory all year. The Jumbos demonstrated their dominance on Saturday when they beat Conn. College 24–6, and on Wednesday on Bello Field, Tufts’ nail-biting 15–14 win over Williams showed why the NESCAC may well be the most competitive Div. III men’s lacrosse conference in the country.

The No. 13 ranked Williams College Ephs (7–2) now sit tied for fourth place in the NESCAC, while Conn. College is last (3–7, 0–6 in NESCAC). With the victories, Tufts moves on to a record of 10–0 and sits atop the NESCAC power rankings along with rival Amherst College.

The Jumbos’ biggest test of the season was decided in the final minutes of the match. Although Tufts started the game with a confident 8–2 stretch, Williams College came back in the final six minutes of the first half. Led by sophomore midfielder Jared Strauss, the Ephs went on a 4–1 run, closing the gap to 9–6 in the Jumbos’ favor.

While the Jumbos still held a three-point lead coming out of the halftime break, the Ephs held on to their momentum. Off of two back-to-back goals by sophomore attacker Cory Lund and a goal from junior midfielder Brendan Hoffman, Williams finally brought the game to a 9–9 tie. Tufts responded with a goal, and soon after, breakout star sophomore attacker Max Waldbaum, who currently leads the Jumbos with 36 goals on the season, punctuated the offensive efforts with back-to-back unassisted goals to stretch the lead to 12–9 for the Jumbos.

But despite Tufts’ best efforts, Williams rallied once again in the fourth quarter. Lund opened the quarter with an early goal in the first minute of play which was followed by two unassisted Williams goals by Strauss and Hoffman to bring the score within one point of Tufts 14–13 lead.

Despite the oncoming pressure, and in an almost instantaneous response, Tufts junior attacker Matt Treiber scored the Jumbos’ final goal of the game with a shot over the left shoulder of Williams’ sophomore goalkeeper Henry Gahagan, setting the score back to a two-goal swing with 4:41 left in the game.

With just under four minutes remaining in the game, Ephs’ junior attacker Kevin Stump sunk the Ephs’ 14th point of the game, bringing the game within one point. From there on out, both teams fought for possession. For the Ephs, this meant capitalizing on their drives with the ball, while for the Jumbos, this meant running down the clock and protecting the net. In the end, it was a supremely miraculous body-save block by Tufts junior goalkeeper Mason Pollack with 15 seconds remaining in the game that kept the Jumbos out of overtime, potentially saving their undefeated season with the 15–14 victory.

Senior attacker and co-captain Danny Murphy spoke about some of the challenges that Williams presented his team.

“We knew coming in they were going to be a really tough and resilient team, and we prepared really hard for that. We got out to a very good lead in the first and second quarter,” Murphy said. “[Then] we kind of lost a few ground balls, they gained some momentum, and then they just did a really good job of converting their offensive possessions and shutting us down for a while. They were a great challenge, and I’m glad we came out on the other side.

On Saturday, the Jumbos faced another NESCAC opponent in the Connecticut College Camels. Coming from a historic 25–12 win against the Trinity College Bantams on March 23 — which tied the record for the second most points scored in a game in franchise history — the Jumbos were prepared and confident to roll through the Camels.

The Jumbos did just that. They eviscerated the Camels with glee, walloping the last placed NESCAC team by a football-like score of 24–6. With the win, not only did the Jumbos improve upon their already untarnished record, but it also marked the team’s largest margin of victory under coach Casey D’Annolfo.

D’Annolfo spoke about the victory against Conn. College, highlighting how the team was able to turn a relatively slow 3–3 start in the second quarter into a dominant blowout.

“We had a pretty slow start, and we were able to throw and catch,” D’Annolfo said. “We have a lot of success when the guys try to play simple and do the little things well. The way that we play is not overly complicated, so as long as we can get back to the basics we tend to have a lot of success.”

Although the Camels finally got back on the board in the middle of the third quarter, scoring their fourth point of the game, the Jumbos were already cruising towards their 9–0 record, scoring an additional eight points to bring the final score to 24–6. The Jumbos’ charge was led by two of Tufts’ star attackers, Murphy and Waldbaum, who each held four goals on the night.

Tufts’ contrasting wins this week may serve as a looming reminder of the challenges the team must face ahead if they want to preserve its spotless record. While every game in the regular season matters, Tufts’ remaining games are all against teams who are competing in the most dominant conference in the country. There are three more NESCAC teams besides the Jumbos that are ranked higher in the nation than No. 13 Williams.

D’Annolfo gave a brief preview of the importance of the upcoming NESCAC battles his team has to face, setting the stage for what is bound to be some of the most intense matchups the Jumbos will have to adverse this year.

“We’re playing four great teams the next four games,” D’Annolfo said. “The NESCAC is the strongest conference in the country. We’ve got five teams in the top 15, so that’s pretty legit, and we play most of those guys in the next two weeks. That’ll be big in terms of the conference seeding, and hopefully for the NCAA tournament after that.”

The Jumbos face their next NESCAC opponent on the road on Saturday against the Wesleyan College Cardinals (7–2, 3–2), who are currently ranked No. 6 in the country. Murphy spoke about the excitement the team has to face the reigning national champions.

“[Wesleyan is] a great team, and we have a chance to defeat the reigning national champions, so we’re really excited,” Murphy said. “We’re trying to stay calm, stay positive, and treat it like any other game. It’s another NESCAC opponent, and we understand it’s a big game, but we’ve just got to do what we gotta do, take care of the fundamentals, and we’ll be fine.”

The two NESCAC powerhouses will face off at Jackson Field in Middletown, Conn. on Saturday at 1 p.m.