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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Women’s lacrosse advances to NESCAC semifinals

Erica Barr ’23 rushes past a defender in the women’s lacrosse team’s 16–6 win over Bowdoin.
Erica Barr ’23 rushes past a defender in the women’s lacrosse team’s 16–6 win over Bowdoin.

The Middlebury women’s lacrosse team has strung together yet another undefeated regular season, as they went 15–0 overall and 10–0 in conference.

The Panthers walked into the 2023 campaign looking to defend their 2022 national title, which was one of three times Middlebury has been national champions over their past five seasons (2016, 2019 and 2022). Middlebury, ranked first in the NCAA DIII Women’s Lacrosse preseason poll heading into the year and has remained at the helm for the entire season. The Panthers have been so dominant that they won all games with high margins of victory.

Team members mentioned the importance of the depth and ability to adapt to certain in-game adjustments, personnel or scheme wise.

The team also attributes their success to the intensity of their practices, where coaches push the elite defense and offense to compete against one another, while also developing their own camaraderie. They say that as long as each player works together in their own role or niche, the team will produce an overall greater effect than each player could produce individually. Along with their synergy on the field, the team sticks together off the field as well, which builds a certain level of trust amongst the ranks and produces a “get to be there” mentality.

One of the two teams which lost to Middlebury by only six goals was the very opponent Middlebury encountered in the NESCAC Quarterfinals last Saturday, April 29: Bowdoin.

The No. 24 Polar Bears went 6–9 overall in 2023, but that record was not indicative of the threat they posed to the Panthers.

“Everything changes in the playoffs, and anything can happen in this competitive league. Everyone is gunning for us,” Anna Spehr ’25 said.

Bowdoin had played tough against Middlebury in their prior meeting on March 8 (15–9) and had two tremendous offensive players, including Sophia Sudano, who has 43 goals. Nevertheless, Middlebury glided to a 16–6 victory behind a seven goal performance from Hope Shue ’25 and a 10 save performance from goalie Annie Enrietto ’23.

Shue’s plethora of goals in the opening game of the NESCAC tournament spoke to a repetitive story seen throughout the 2023 season. The sophomore had a huge year, scoring 46 goals and 59 points in 14 games, placing her third in goals and fourth in points in the entire NESCAC.

Shue was not the only Panther with a huge offensive season, as Captain Jane Earley ’23 led the league with 51 goals and 66 points through 15 games. Earley lived up to her 2022 NESCAC and IWCLA Player of the Year honors, where her 80 goals and 99 points set program records.

Yet, the offense was not the only story of the year for the Panthers, as Middlebury only let in a league best 6.07 goals per game. Enrietto led the effort with good goaltending; her 6.29 goals against average ranked her best in the NESCAC. Defender Erica Barr ’23 also played a critical role in the Panthers’ success. Barr ranked seventh in the NESCAC in ground balls (31), averaging 2.07 per game, and third in the NESCAC in caused turnovers (28), averaging 1.87 per game.

Earley, along with six other seniors, see these playoff games as especially meaningful since it is their last opportunity to play for Middlebury.

“What is so amazing about this group is all they have gone through with Covid-19 canceling two of their seasons,” Ciara Murphy ’25 said.

The younger players on the team look up to the experiences of the seniors.

“They understand how lucky they are to play lacrosse and have instilled that idea into the whole team,” Kelcey Dion ’25 said. “Our seniors have done such a great job setting a precedent for the younger players, and they just know what it takes to perform on the biggest of stages. They always hype us up and foster a team environment lacking any sort of hierarchy.”

The seniors and rest of the Panthers look to add a few more trophies to their resume before it is all over, as NESCAC tournament play continues for Middlebury this Saturday against Colby at home.

“We control our own fate,” Zari Garfield ’25 said.

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