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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Women’s lacrosse wins NESCAC title, turns attention to NCAA competition

<p>Hope Shue ’25 is the top scorer in the NESCAC.</p>

Hope Shue ’25 is the top scorer in the NESCAC.

A lot can happen in 732 days. Two senior classes have graduated from Middlebury. Two new classes have joined it. But in all of those days, Middlebury Women’s Lacrosse has not lost a single game.

An element of inevitability was in the air as the Panthers took to the turf at Peter Kohn Field this past Sunday — a field they have turned into a fortress over the past few years. Coming into Sunday’s final, the team had won 46 games, a brace of national championships and a NESCAC title since their last defeat. 

They added a second NESCAC championship on Sunday, securing an 11–5 win over Wesleyan University. 

Despite the persistent rain on Sunday afternoon, the Panthers played with the same ferocity that they have displayed all season. After falling 4–1 early in the contest, Middlebury leveled the score by the end of the third quarter. A decisive goal from Hope Shue ’25 pushed the Panthers ahead early in the final quarter. Middlebury never looked back from there, putting six unanswered goals past the Cardinals’ defense. 

Maggie Coughlin ’24.5 — who scored twice during the exhilarating game — noted that Shue’s goal was a turning point in the game.

“As soon as Hope scored that goal to put us up 6–5, I knew we were going to win,” Coughlin said. “We felt so connected, we started to see holes in the Wesleyan defense and everything started to flow.”

Observers have praised Middlebury’s free-flowing offense this year, with Shue and Caroline Adams ’26 and all winning NESCAC Player of the Week Awards. The team averages a staggering 16.06 goals per game, and Shue and Susan Rowley ’24 top the NESCAC leaderboard for goals scored. Chloe Newman ’24, a defender and one of the team’s captains, said she was impressed, but not surprised, by her teammates’ scoring feats.

“Everyone on the team has such a big role,” Newman said. “We go against the attack in every practice, so we know how strong they can be and they proved that again on Sunday.”

While the Panthers’ attack has enjoyed the spotlight, the defense quietly put together one of their most dominant seasons in recent memory. The team has conceded just 109 goals, 20 fewer than any other team in the NESCAC. In their playoff run, the Panthers were particularly stingy, allowing just 15 goals per game in three games against nationally-ranked opponents.

“Our defense is always so good, and they really did a phenomenal job against Wesleyan,” Coughlin said. “On attack, we decided we needed to give them a break and start scoring some goals.”

Middlebury’s defensive tenacity was recognized on Monday, as the NESCAC selected Newman as their player of the week. While the award singled her out for her six turnovers and six ground balls collected over the course of the weekend, Newman said the award equally recognized the work of all her teammates.

“I think the Player of the Week award is a testament to how well the entire defense played more than anything else,” Newman said. “The entire team worked so hard in practice this week, and to see it all pay off made it a really great weekend.”

Shue was named NESCAC Offensive Player of the Year on Tuesday, May 7.

The team now turns its attention to the national tournament, where it will host the winner of Endicott College vs. St. John Fisher University. The Panthers are the tournament’s reigning champions and the second winningest team in Division III history. They will look to add the program’s fourth consecutive title later this May, building momentum after not competing in 2020 or 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The team’s rich history gave the Panthers a boost this past weekend, as the class of 2004 returned to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of its national title and meet the team that is well-poised to claim it again.

“The alumni connection was especially important this year,” Coughlin said. “We always talk about standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, and having the alumni here made that message extra powerful.”

20 years after Middlebury’s famous perfect season in 2004, the Panthers are hoping to repeat history by winning both the NESCAC and national championship without a single loss. They are now just five games away from this hope becoming a reality.

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Charles Crounse

Charles Crounse '24 (he/him) is the senior sports editor for the Campus. He has previously worked as a writer and staff editor for the section. Charles is pursuing a major in environmental policy and a minor in French, and in his free time he enjoys biking, hiking, and exploring Vermont. He is also a member of the club soccer team on campus.