Vermont is Still The Defensive Capital of The North

Appearing in three of the past four America East title games (2016, 2018, 2019), the Vermont Catamounts have been one of the stronger mid-majors in college lacrosse, and certainly one of the strongest teams within their conference, in recent years.

They held a 3-1 record and looked to be a contender for the America East title once again during the shortened 2020 season. Their three victories came against Quinnipiac, Merrimack, and Dartmouth. They lone loss was to Holy Cross.

Since Chris Feifs’ inaugural season in Burlington (2017), the Catamounts have certainly had excellent pieces on both ends of the field. But this program’s identity has been and remains on defense. Vermont ranked 14th in scoring defense in 2017, seventh in 2018, 10th in 2019, and fourth during the shortened 2020 season. They also have also had the luxury of having one of nation’s premier goalies, Nick Washuta, in between the pipes each of those four seasons.

Losing Washuta to graduation is the biggest loss for this program, and the decision as to who will be the starter in cage for Vermont will be one of the biggest in the conference coming into the season. But the loss of Washuta, as massive as it is, will likely not be as big as some think it will. Yes, for the Catamounts sake it would be nice to be able to have him return for a fifth season, but this defense is still one of the most talented in the conference.

At close defense, Vermont started two true freshmen and a sophomore all four games last season. Jackson Canfield (13GB/10CT) was the leader of the group and one of the best freshmen at his position in the country. The Lake Mary, Fla., native led the team in both caused turnovers and ground balls, and showed how much of an impact player he can be at the college level. His success last season only showed how high of a ceiling he has and what he can continue to bring to the table on the back end for this program in the future. Tim Manning (3G) and Will Jones (5GB/5CT) also has good showings as a freshman and sophomore. This entire unit should be even better this spring after showing what they can do as a unit during the four games they got in last season.

Senior Ryan Cornell looks the most likely to get that starting nod in cage. He started and played in the first half of the Catamounts’ season-opener against Holy Cross, where he made 10 saves. He also played the entire second half against Quinnipiac and Dartmouth. Cornell made six and five saves in those two contests. Junior Matt Shaffer could also be in the mix for the starting job. He saw action in three games during the 2019 season but did not appear at all in 2020.

Sophomore LSM Nick Alviti (8GB/4CT) and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Spencer Decker (5GB/3CT) look to lead the way on the front line of this Catamount defense again this coming season.

Defense wasn’t the only area where Vermont fielded a heavy amount of freshman and sophomores on the first line. Things also looked very much the same on the offensive end of the field and at the faceoff dot last season for Feifs’ squad.

On the offensive end, the Catamounts will loose two big pieces with the graduation of midfielder Rob Hudson and attackman Ben French. But they will return a heap of guys that put on very strong showings as young players last season. Midfielder Thomas McConvey (7G/8A) followed up a strong freshman campaign and led the team in points and assists last season as a sophomore. Junior David Closterman (6G/3A) and senior Liam Limages (6G/1A) are their top two returners at the attack spot. In theory, either three of those guys could take the keys to this offense and run with it in 2021, filling that role that we have seen from a guy such as Ian MacKay just a few seasons ago.

In addition to the full-time starters they return, attackman Brock Haley, who started one game last season, and midfielders Connor Boyle and JJ Levandowski should provide more production this season. All three were top-10 point-getters for the Catamounts as freshmen during their 2020 campaign.

Tommy Burke served as the Catamounts’ primary faceoffman as a freshman last season and went 28-for-56 (46%). He will look to improve on that this spring. Charlie Egan, who was also a freshman last season, served as their backup last season. He went 13-for-30 (43%) last season.

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