Even before the initiation of conference games, the 10 seniors of the Vassar men’s lacrosse team knew that this was their year. Despite never reaching playoffs in all of program history, the Brewers felt confident that this year they would finally secure a spot in the Liberty League semifinals.
On Saturday April 29, they accomplished this feat with soaring colors, defeating the Dutchmen of Union College, and putting an end to Union’s season. Due to their astonishing 20-10 victory, the Brewers have locked down the No. 3 seed in the upcoming playoffs.
Before the match, the graduating seniors, who make up one of the largest classes in program history, were honored for leading the team to its highest level of success ever. Offensive forces to be reckoned with, senior captain Sam Houston-Read and fellow attacker Chris Billups have been consistent in Brewer’s scoring efforts. This season, Houston-Read has so far earned a team-best 44 points, while Billups leads the team in goals with 25. Captain Liam Moriarty has stepped up to lead the Brewer midfield alongside two-year captain Brandon DeStasio. Thus far in the season, Moriarty has racked up the team’s second highest number of points, 39. DeStasio ranks fifth on the team in both goals and points with 17 and 22, respectively. However, most of the senior class is amassed on the defensive half of the field. Captain Matt Altman—alongside fellow defenders Gianni Gelormino, Austin Haymes, Brandon Klein, Steven Mages and Eric Prezioso—leads the underclassmen in protective efforts. Collectively, these solid players have racked up 126 ground balls and caused 72 turnovers this season.
These experienced individuals have the ability to coach, adjust and inspire the underclassmen in an unprecendented manner. With a freshman class of 13, the seniors have been instrumental in molding them to the team dynamic and style of play. “All of the seniors have been coaches on and off the field this year,” first-year attacker Michael Mullen claimed. “They are more than willing to help others improve, and they have really helped me adapt to playing at the collegiate level.”
The seniors have influenced more than just the freshman class, though. They have become the go-to men to hype up the team before intense competition, and have created an unbreakable bond between everyone on the team. “We aren’t just a team,” sophomore midfielder James Thomas vowed. “We are more than that; we play for each other every day. We are all in this ride together and that has truly bonded us as a whole. The seniors are all impressive leaders. Liam can especially give the greatest pregame speeches to pump us up. After those, we don’t just run out of the locker room, we run through a brick wall.”
Much of this team’s historic, record-breaking season can also be attributed to their developed sense of composure and resilience. “We’ve done a much better job dealing with adversity than we have in the past,” DeStasio recognized. “When something goes wrong, we stay relaxed and remain focused, which comes from our preparation and confidence in each other.” This mentality showed as the seniors emerged ready to take down Union College on Saturday, the same matchup that overpowered Vassar for the remaining playoff spot last season. Four players out of the senior class found the back of the goal throughout the match.
Though the Dutchmen fought intensely as soon as the first whistle blew, the Brewers were able to get on the board first with an unassisted goal by Billups only three minutes into the game. Union was quick to strike back, netting two unassisted goals in the next two minutes of the game and taking the lead.
Within the next four minutes, sophomore midfielder Chris Koester grabbed a loose ground ball, launching it upfield to Mullen, who found the net to bring back the game 2-2. The rest of the first quarter saw Union and Vassar score back and forth five times, with Houston-Read and Mullen assisting each other for two different goals to break up the Dutchmen scoring. While the Brewers ended the first period in a 4-5 deficit, first-year face-off specialist Matt Lowery scored within the first seven seconds of the second quarter, evening out the scoreboard.
Though Union answered back with a goal, they were unable to finish any of their shot attempts for the rest of the period. At 6-5, the Dutchmen saw their last lead of the game. The Brewers scored six straight goals in the last six minutes of this quarter, showing their range of offensive threat and racking up the score to 11- 6. Mullen found Houston-Read again for the first of these points, followed by two unassisted goals scored by Billups and Thomas. The last three Vassar goals were scored in just the last two minutes of this period. Moriarty found DeStasio open for a shot and goal, while Lowery scored directly after winning the faceoff to follow. With only 25 seconds left in the first half, Houston-Read found Moriarty for one of his own to secure the five-goal lead.
The first goal of the third quarter would go to Union, while Vassar played man-down due to a penalty. But the Dutchmen could not protect their half, allowing the Brewers to go on yet another three-goal streak. Each goal, coming from Thomas, Houston-Read and sophomore attacker Drew Adams, was unassisted. Though Union attempted to gain some momentum off a goal scored with six minutes left in this period, Mullen answered with an unassisted goal of his own only one minute later. Vassar entered the final period at a 15-8 advantage.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Dutchmen came out determined to fire back, netting a goal within the first 20 seconds of the period. Nevertheless, the Brewers maintained their momentum and continually increased the margin. Mullen found Houston-Read for the third time, initiating another Vassar goal streak.
Following this, Houston-Read and junior face-off specialist Alex Georgalas each netted unassisted goals of their own. Adams recorded another point as he found Billups for a goal, while freshman attacker Cole Landolt drew two defenders and hit fellow first-year Austin Mello in front of the goal for another goal. Though the opposition found the net once with one minute left in regulation, it meant nothing, as the Brewers had already racked up 20 goals to Union’s 10.
Coach Graham explained, “The guys are feeling great about reaching the playoffs for the first time in program history. Five years ago, each of these seniors sat at my desk during the recruiting process and we talked about what seemed at the time like a dream; taking the Brewers to the Liberty League playoffs. The 10 seniors that are still here and with us are the guys that believed in that vision, set it as a goal, and have continued to work for four years to accomplish the task! I believe that after coming so close in 2016, with our road loss to Union 17-13, that we DID expect to win. All of the guys who were there knew that we had missed an opportunity, and from Day 1, the freshmen in the Class of 2020 have known nothing other than the goal of making the playoffs. We were certainly determined to win, and the decisive victory came from that determination.”
10 different Brewers scored in this massive win, a testament to the diverse offense Head Coach Marc Graham has fostered. “Having a bunch of guys on the team who can score helped us win the game because we didn’t have to rely on any one person to make plays,” Mullen noted. “We knew that as long as we played together, and involved everyone, that we would come out successful against Union.”
While Vassar only outshot their opponents 46-44, the team connected on a much higher proportion of their attempts. Sophomore goalie Matt Boyd held down the defense, earning the win with 19 saves. The team had fewer turnovers than their competition, 11 to Union’s 14, and caused more turnovers as well, 9 to Union’s 7.
Lowery and Georgalas were able to secure more than half of the game’s faceoffs, grabbing 18 of the total 34. The Brewers snagged 21 ground balls, only allowing the Dutchmen to scoop up 12. Klein grabbed a team-high four groundballs, as well as led in caused turnovers, forcing two.
Having secured third seed, the men of Vassar lacrosse will now look to defeat No. 2 Saint Lawrence University, who beat the Brewers 14-8 at their last outing on April 15. Despite this initial loss, the players believe that they have the ability to win the matchup.
“After our victory against Union, we have a lot of confidence both offensively and defensively,” Thomas conveyed. “It’s going to be really difficult for a team to beat us twice. We already know what to expect from Saint Lawrence, but they have no idea what’s coming at them on Friday.”