At long last, the men’s lacrosse team took home its second NESCAC crown this past Sunday in Lewiston, Maine, edging out the Middlebury Panthers 9-8. For the second time in program history, the Dirty Birds sit atop the NESCAC ladder, with their last conference title dating back to 2009. The win also guarantees the Cards an NCAA tournament bid, the second in program history. The championship game was a low-scoring affair, but the Cards nevertheless found a way to come out on top. After trailing for most of the game, the Cards were able to jump ahead with 4 minutes and 58 seconds remaining on a Harry Stanton ’18 goal. The junior has delivered in clutch moments like this all year, and leads the conference in goals with 65.
The second-seeded Cardinals faced the Panthers after taking down No. 10 Tufts the day before. That game was easy sailing for the Dirty Birds, who won 17-12. The team started off fast against the Jumbos, scoring 6 goals in the first 9 minutes and 14 goals in the first half alone. This loss was especially difficult for Tufts to swallow, since the Boston powerhouse has won the NESCAC title for a whopping seven consecutive seasons. In the game, Carter Hawthorne ’19 led all players with eight points on three goals and five assists. This gaudy assist number is nothing new for Hawthorne, who leads the NESCAC in assists with 45. Hawthorne’s superb dishes earned him the title of NESCAC Player of the Week.
Stanton also had a strong game with four goals and two assists. Though the Cardinals stretched the lead up to 12 goals, they knew the game was far from over given the high stakes. Tufts fought back in the second half to cut the lead to as little as five goals, but that was the closest the Jumbos got to catching their Connecticut foes. The Cards’ defense stayed solid, preventing the Jumbos from scoring any more goals. That win sent the team to the NESCAC championship for the first time since 2013. It also extended the team’s impressive win streak to 16 games.
The red-hot Dirty Birds entered the championship final against Middlebury brimming with confidence. After all, the team already defeated Middlebury once before, beating the Panthers 17-15 on the road.
The championship game started with eight minutes of scoreless play before Taylor Ghesquiere ’18 found the back of the net for the Cardinals. Middlebury scored the next two goals, taking a 2-1 lead into the second quarter. Middlebury was able to take this momentum through the entire second quarter, as they outscored the Cardinals 4-1 to increase their lead to 6-2 at halftime. The only goal the Cardinals managed to muster in the quarter was a Christian Barker ’19 effort with over 11 minutes left in the half. In the second half, Wesleyan’s defense clamped down. The unit allowed only 2 goals total in the last 30 minutes of action, and none in the final quarter. This stifling defense is largely a testament to the prodigious talent of goalie Ted Bergman ’17, who ranks second in saves, with 200, and save percentage, at 56.1 percent. Ghesquiere scored to start the third quarter, but a quick Middlebury response held the Panther lead at four. The Cardinals finally cut into the lead with back to back goals by Ghesquiere and Tom Martello ’20. The teams traded a pair of goals, and the stage was set for the final quarter, with the score 8-6, in Middlebury’s favor.
In all sports, the fourth quarter is what separates true champions from mere contenders. In this defining period of time, the Cards showed that they really had the intangibles, the je ne sais quoi, the right stuff. Barker scored the first goal of the quarter, then Hawthorne tied the game with 8:48 left to play. Stanton capped the game and the season with a masterful goal, and in a flourish, the NESCAC men’s lacrosse trophy now resides in Middletown.
“It was a crazy game and it feels great,” said an elated captain Quinn Mendelson ’17. “It took the full 60 minutes but we did what we’ve done all year. We stuck together, believed in each other, and it worked out. Couldn’t be happier about it.”
The team now advances to the NCAA tournament, where a matchup against New England College awaits on May 10. Getting through the north region of the bracket will be a grind, just as the season proved to be. Four NESCAC teams received bids to the tournament, a testament to the league’s strength.
Though the season-long goal of winning the NESCAC is now completed, Mendelson is not afraid to dream bigger.
“While we’re at it, we may as well go for the national championship,” he said. “We’re all are psyched about it.”