With freshly shaven heads, a dominating pair of opening wins and a squad ready to fill the shoes left behind by a particularly eclectic group of seniors, there’s no doubt about it — Tufts men’s lacrosse is back. After winning their ninth NESCAC title last year prior to their untimely exit in the NCAA quarterfinals, the Jumbos have quickly cut to the chase in proving why they are one of the most dominant Div. III programs in the country.
Kicking things off properly in the competitive NESCAC, Tufts decimated Colby in its season opener on Saturday by a score of 24–10. Three nights later, the Jumbos walked away with their first non-conference win of the season against the Springfield College Pride in a 25–6 blowout. With their 49 total goals, the Jumbos lead the NESCAC in scoring, as well as assists.
For the Jumbos, who are led by fourth-year coach Casey D’Annolfo, the opportunity to pick up the sticks again energizes the 53-man roster.
“I think something that we’re trying to focus on this year is just have fun out there,” senior co-captain Matt Treiber said. “We work hard every day and it gets stressful at times, but on game days, it’s just really a time for us to go out there, show our stuff, and have some fun.”
The electrifying opening victories come as an encouraging sign toward the success the team hopes to achieve this year. Last year, the program produced an all-time-high of 10 USILA All-Americans. Out of that group, four were graduating seniors, including attackers Danny Murphy (LA’19) and Ben Connelly (LA’19), defenseman Arend Broekmate (LA’19) and midfielder Stewart Stockdale (LA’19). In total, 14 seniors graduated last spring.
“Really, really awesome class, really great group of guys, on the field leaders and off the field leaders, which I think was pretty impactful,” D’Annolfo said. “[Murphy] and Brian Powers, who were both in that class, are on the coaching staff this year, which has been huge for us to have those guys as emotional leaders and be a bridge between the players and the coaches.”
Undoubtedly, the departure of the 2019 graduating class was a challenge that the Jumbos were forced to address coming into the 2020 season. The attacking core of Murphy and Connelly both scored 150 goals while at Tufts, leaving them tied for third for most goals in a career in the program’s record book. The mark also designates them as the highest-scoring duo in program history.
That being said, the Jumbos are fortunate to have one of the most talented rosters in the country. D’Annolfo claims that one of the great things about his group is their focus on succeeding as a team.
“No one’s being selfish,” D’Annolfo said. “They’re bypassing good shots for great shots, and they don’t really care who gets the glory or who gets those points. They’re just all about how many goals we can score.”
Tuesday night’s rainy win over Springfield proved that this team is ready to bounce back to the same levels of dominance they’ve consistently held over the course of the last decade. The win saw the continued aggression of the returning midfielder core consisting of junior Garrett Samuelson, senior Nick Shanks and junior Bryce Adam.
The trio combined for eight goals on 21 shots. Defensively, the Jumbos held the Pride scoreless for almost three quarters, with senior goalkeeper and co-captain Mason Pollack recording his 31st career win. Five goalkeepers got the chance to protect the net in the game, propelling the Jumbos to their 19-point-differential victory.
Prior to the game on Tuesday, the win against the Mules gave the first glimpse of this year’s Jumbo playmakers taking charge on the offensive front. Samuelson, Shanks and Adam all combined for a whopping 10 goals on 29 shots.
Despite the 33-point-differential over the first two games, D’Annolfo noted that there were lessons to be learned in their success.
“I don’t think it’s an indication for the rest of the season,” D’Annolfo said. “Colby was missing some pretty key components to their team, so it wasn’t like we saw their best version, and they’ll get better throughout the course of the year. I think we played well on that day. Certainly pulled a lot of things out that we could have done better.”
D’Annolfo also emphasized the importance of playing with speed in the upcoming weeks.
“Overall, I was pleased with the speed that we played with,” D’Annolfo said. “You know, that’s one of the things that we’re trying to accentuate this year — playing fast.”
One key Jumbo playmaker was absent from the opening week action. Junior attacker Max Waldbaum led the Jumbos last year in goals scored with 68, good for the second-most individual goals in the NESCAC. Listed at 6’ 2” and 235, he is one of the biggest members of the team and one of the best players in the country, according to D’Annolfo.
“He’s day-to-day, and we’re hoping to get him back sooner rather than later,” D’Annolfo said. “I would assume that when he comes back, he’ll be pretty impactful for us.”
Looking ahead into the next week, the team faces Amherst tomorrow and Ithaca College on Tuesday. The Mammoths — who won both of their first pair of games by a score of 16–8 — ended the Jumbos’ season early last year in a close NCAA championship quarterfinal game.
“It’s a rivalry game, so everybody’s jacked up for it,” Treiber said. “But I wouldn’t say that it’s anything different than the past two games. We’re really just striving to be the best version of ourselves.”
Treiber made clear to give a shout out to the scout members of the lacrosse team. According to Treiber, the information they provide on upcoming opponents is crucial to the Jumbos’ success.
“They are essential to our wins, and they always give us good looks,” Treiber said.
The matchup against Amherst will be on Saturday afternoon at Bello Field. Face-off is at 1 p.m.