After a historic season in 2016, the Vassar College men’s lacrosse team looks to further improve its performance this upcoming spring. Last year, the Brewers performed the best in program history, finishing with an overall record of 8-8, and a conference record of 3-4. The season came to an end when the squad faced off against the Union Dutchmen in Schenectady, NY, for a spot in the Liberty League playoffs, narrowly losing the game 17- 13.
In hopes to compensate for the loss of last year’s senior class, Head Coach Marc Graham recruited a freshman class of 13. Defensive midfielders TJ Morrow and Nick Page, as well as attacker Noah Parson, graduated this past spring. Parson, one of last year’s captains who hails from Cary, NC, holds a spot in the Vassar lacrosse program as the most outstanding attacker to date with 127 career goals combined with 52 career assists.
In his last semester at Vassar, Parson led the team in goals with 42, as well as in overall points, earning 57. He also earned seven man-up goals, 15 assists and 19 groundballs in his senior season.
“Replacing a player like Noah is not something that we can easily do,” admitted Graham, who is now leading the team for the sixth consecutive season. “But an advantage that we have this year is our increased depth. We have a larger number of players who can make contributions to our scoring.”
Despite losing the influential captain Parson, the team welcomes back returning senior captain and midfielder Brandon DeStasio from West Hempstead, NY. He is joined this year by three new senior captains, including attacker Sam Houston-Read from Waban, MA, midfielder Liam Moriarty of New Fairfield, CT, and defender Matthew Altman who also hails from New Fairfield, CT. The current squad boasts nine senior players, compared to the three of last season. While the 2016 team consisted of 29 players, this season the roster appears significantly longer, listing 37 names. DeStasio explains that although the team felt a loss as it graduated three impactful players, he has high hopes for the upcoming season.
“We lost our leading scorer and two strong defensive midfielders,” DeStasio explained. “They will be hard to replace, but we have many returning players from last year and a strong freshman class ready to step up.”
As one of the leaders of this 37 player squad, DeStasio plans to steer the team to success by leading by example. “Whether it’s on the field or in the weight room, I just try to set the tone for the rest of the guys. Overall, my goal is to get everyone to buy into our team’s system and our collective goals.”
Returning midfielder sophomore James Thomas of Manhasset, NY, came out strong his freshman year for the Brewers. Thomas emerged as a tenacious scorer for the Brewers in his rookie season, ranking as the third leading scorer with 24 goals. His 12 assists earned him 36 total points, ranking him third place on the team in overall points as well. Thomas also contributed 18 groundballs to the Brewers’ total during the 2016 season.
After snagging Liberty League Rookie of the Week four times throughout last season, Thomas was named Liberty League Rookie of the Year. Collecting even more accolades, Thomas also took home a Liberty League Second Team honor and Vassar College Male Rookie of the Year.
“James is tenacious and the kind of player that does anything he can to help the team win,” Graham stated about the returner. “He has scored some impressive goals in our scrimmages so far and moves the ball well, which contributes largely to the success of our team offense. I expect more of the same from him in the 2017 season.”
To continue his strong contribution to the team, Thomas has been working hard to improve. He explained, “I’m looking to work on the accuracy of my shot and also using both of my hands more in order to keep the defense guessing.”
The team’s newest and largest class includes four attackers, seven midfielders and two defenders. They have pushed the team’s 24 returners to improve in positions all over the field.
“All of the incoming freshmen are talented,” noted Graham. “They were each brought here to help add different skills sets to our program. We have a very talented group of attack men, each of whom has their own specialty. All of them could contribute to our scoring early and often.”
Graham spoke highly of the integration of the freshmen into the team’s playing dynamic on the field: “Our young midfielders and face-off guys are all finding roles that help us everyday in practice, and we have a couple of young defenders who are working hard to crack the lineup.”
In their season opener against the Rangers of Drew University, the freshmen showed their skill and ability to compete at the collegiate level. Freshman midfielder and face-off specialist Matthew Lowery from Bel Air, MD earned the Vassar Featured Athlete of the Week for his 10-4 faceoff record, as well as his one goal on one shot again, this past Saturday for the Brewers. He also scooped eight groundballs for the team in the same game.
Meanwhile, freshman attacker Michael Mullen from Dresher, PA tabbed the first Liberty League Rookie of the Week honor for his memorable performance against Drew University. Mullen earned a total of four points off of two goals and two assists. He scored both the Brewers’ first and last goal of the game, earning the game-winning goal in just his first collegiate lacrosse game.
The Brewers took home a victory in this first game against Drew University, narrowly winning 6-5. Although the Brewers led the game 6-1 in the first half of the game, the Rangers were able to find the back of the net and answer with three more goals of their own, almost tying up the game.
Houston-Read joined Mullen in the offensive efforts, similarly earning four points on two goals and two assists. Lowery and sophomore attacker Drew Adams of Westwood, MA scored the team’s remaining two goals. Sophomore attacker Patrick Gibbons from Garden City, NY also earned himself one point from an assist to Houston-Read.
Vassar beat out the Drew University Rangers in almost all team statistics. The Brewers not only had fewer personal turnovers on both the offensive and defensive ends, but also caused more turnovers for their opponents with strong work on the defensive end. They outshot their competitors 37-17, won 39-24 in groundballs and went 10-5 on the circle.
Sophomore goalkeeper Matthew Boyd of Essex Fells, NJ took the win for the Brewers, making five saves over the first 30 minutes of the game. Junior goalie Erik Mikelinich from Dix Hills, NY continued Boyd’s impressive goaltending efforts, making three saves during the second half.
Although Vassar pulled out a win over their competitors, they are looking to improve their play as the season continues. “While a win is a win, we are not satisfied with our game against Drew,” DeStasio relayed. “Our defense played really well, only allowing five goals, but we know that our offense is much better than what we showed. Drew played a very strong game, but we can perform much better than the way we did on Saturday.”
Despite their historic performance last season, the team is not content with their fifth place standing. The players are aiming to secure a spot in the Liberty League playoffs this season, which requires finishing in the top four spots of the league. With such a large, experienced group of returners as well as skillful newcomers, the Brewers believe they have what it takes to accomplish this goal, which would be an unprecedented achievement for the team.
“There is no question that our team goal is to make it to the playoffs in 2017,” conveyed Graham. “In 2016, we got close, and this year we want to take the next step. It is something that has never been done, and it will certainly not be easy, but our guys have been working hard and are determined to make it happen,” Graham asserted, echoing his embattled players’ sentiments.
This season, the men will travel to Florida for training and games during their spring break period. There, the team will take on Wesleyan University at Lynn University in Boca Raton and Salve Regina at the University of Tampa in hopes of playing against aggressive competition before beginning their regular season. The first Liberty League game for the Brewers will take place on Mar. 25 against Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.
The team will play their next game home against Oneonta on Mar. 1 at 7 p.m. on Gordon Field.