March 28, 2013

Middlebury on Wild, Wacky Spring Break

by Mark Macyk

Margaret Souther (15 goals, four assists) is part a talented Middlebury senior class.

Who needs Cancun when you can spend spring break with Tim Riggins, the Blue Man Group and a bunch of coaches dressed like Civil War generals?

The Middlebury women's lacrosse team left the cozy confines of Vermont on Saturday for Middletown, Conn., where they defeated Wesleyan. The Panthers are still on the road. They've gone 3-0 on spring break, taking down Wesleyan, No. 5 Gettysburg and Stevens along the way.

The wins are nice, but it's the ancillary benefits nights of spent in hotel rooms, days spent in unfamiliar surroundings, and 23 hours spent on a bus, that really pays off.

"We've been practicing and hanging out with the team, which is actually the most important part of spring break," said senior co-captain Margaret Souther. "Team bonding and stuff."

Historic Gettysburg, Pa., offered plenty of opportunities for that team bonding stuff. The Panthers arrived early in Gettysburg before its scheduled game against the fifth-ranked Bullets on Monday. But on a day when the weather was beautiful back home, a snowstorm blanketed Gettysburg's field. GC's coaches got on John Deere tractors and plowed it clean and the game was moved to Tuesday.

"A lot of spring break for us is just rolling with the punches and figuring out that things are going to change," said senior defender Neile Weeks, also a co-captain. "We just went with the flow. They were great to give us an indoor spot, then we got to do our photo shoot."

That would be the old time Civil War photos taken after a morning of indoor practice at Gettysburg. The team came away with two class pictures dressed in 19th century garb, one of upperclassmen, one of lower. The coaches, of course, got in full military regalia and had their photos taken as Civil War generals.

"It's really a great keepsake," said Weeks.

And then they played the game. There were plowed piles of snow dotting the sidelines, and the temperature was still decidedly not spring-like, but almost the entirety of Middlebury's starting lineup went sleeveless.

"We were just excited to play." Souther said. "The sun is out. Let's try to get a tan."

And after a slow start, the Panthers rolled to win 14-11, their best victory of the year. They hope plenty more are on the way.

Souther and Weeks are two of members of a senior class that has seen Middlebury go a little farther each year. Two years ago it was the NCAA quarterfinals. Last year it was the final four. This year they hope they'll push it further.

"It really fueled the fire," Weeks said. "We have a group that knows what it feels like to get that close and we're going for it again. We've instilled in our freshmen how great it is."

Middlebury's senior class is loaded. Souther has 15 goals and four assists, Michaela Colbert has 12 goals and three assists and Alice Pfeifer has six goals and eight assist. Weeks anchors the defense. But the senior that's made the biggest impact might be Ellen Halle, who currently leads the NESCAC with 6.5 points per game (21 goals, 14 assists). Halle was an All-American as a sophomore but was plagued by a knee injury for most of last season.

"She's really doing much better," Middlebury coach Missy Foote said. "She has a quick first step and is just smart. She's moving much better. The knees not bother her. She's not telling me if it's bothering her."

The offensive talent was a given, but Middlebury also needed to replace former IWLCA Goalie of the Year, Lily Nguyen. In making nine, often incredible, saves against Gettysburg, junior Alyssa Palomba has proved to be that rock the Panthers need.

"It's really great to see her grow," Souther said. "We were there when she was coming in as a timid freshman. Now she's vocal and confident and you can see it in her saves. Some of her saves were unreal today."

After the Gettysburg game, the Panthers piled back into the bus for a 209-mile drive to Hoboken, N.J., where they'd faceoff with Stevens in less than 24 hours. They were OK with that.

"Games are the best part for us," Weeks said. "This is what we've been practicing for. So the fact that we get to get on a bus and play another game, we're like, 'Let's go.'

Of course, they've also been working their way through "Friday Night Lights" on those bus trips, so there's that too. And after a trip spent watching the Dillon Panthers, the Middlebury Panthers defeated Stevens 16-5 on Wednesday.

On Thursday the plan was to hit up New York City, just across the Hudson River from Hoboken, and visit with some alums who live in NYC and to take in a show by the Blue Man Group.

Then they'll, finally, head back north. Not to Middlebury, of course. The Panthers were bound for Brunswick, Maine, to face No. 8, and fellow unbeaten, Bowdoin, on Saturday.

It's all preparation for another bus ride Middlebury will be all-too-happy to take come May: the seven and a half hour drive to Stevenson, where the NCAA Division III Championship will be played.

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