Can Vermont Repeat as America East Champions?

(Photo Courtesy of Vermont Athletics)

Since Chris Feifs’ arrival in Burlington ahead of the 2017 season, the Vermont Catamounts have done nothing but maintain their status as one of the powers in the America East, appearing in the conference title game during the second and third years of the Feifs era (2018, 2019), as well as in 2016.

The only thing this Vermont program was missing was a conference title and an NCAA Tournament appearance. That was until this past spring, when the Catamounts churned out their best season in program history, going 9-5 (7-2 America East), winning their first-ever America East title, and making their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament where they fell to No. 1 seed and eventual national title runner-up Maryland, 17-11.

In the eyes of many, the 2021 season marked the official arrival of Vermont as one of college lacrosse’s mid-major powers as they were able to finally break through and make it to the big dance. Coming off that historic season, the Catamounts enter new territory as the sport’s northernmost DI program now has a target on its back that has never existed before, and the question of whether they can repeat or not as conference champions will be looming all season.

While its always hard to predict how things will shake out in a particular conference, especially in one like the America East where the separation between the conference’s most elite teams has seemed to shrink over the past few seasons, it is pretty safe to assume that the same teams will make up the top of the conference, and Vermont is very much included in that mix of programs.

The Catamounts return high-quality talent on both ends of the field, but the team’s biggest return lies at the faceoff dot with junior Tommy Burke. The Palm Beach, Fla. native went 240-for-344 (.698%) last season and ended the year ranked third in DI in faceoff win percentage.

With the All-Conference junior presiding dot as the X-factor once again, this team not only has a chance to win the possession battle but also be a successful squad altogether.

Vermont also sees big-time playmakers returning on the offensive end of the field, where the Catamounts put up an average of 13.43 goals per game as the nation’s 16th-best offense (third in America East) last spring. This offense returns each of their top five point-getters from a season ago, including seniors Thomas McConvey and David Closterman.

McConvey led the Catamounts’ in both points (53) and goals (37) last while also dishing out 16 assists. Closterman was the team’s second-leading scorer last season with 46 points off (24G/22A). The two look to lead this offense once again as two of the Catamounts’ top five returners, alongside fifth-year returnees Liam Limoges (28G/17A) and Michael McCormack (33G/11A), and junior JJ Levandowski (20G/10A).

Outside of those aforementioned five, Vermont will see sophomore midfielder Griffin French (10G/5A), who started all but two games a season ago, and junior attackman Brock Haley (13G/5A), who was one of the Catamounts’ top reserve on offense in 2021, return along with plenty of others who could very well step up this spring and help keep this offense among the best in the conference.

With the talent this unit returns, as well as the possession advantage Burke gives them at the dot, this unit should be amongst the very best in the America East once again and have plenty of opportunities to prove it, as they did a year ago. Vermont was second amongst teams who played more than one game in time of possession last season, per Lacrosse Reference.

Even before the Feifs era, Vermont had solid offenses and that fact has remained through the first five seasons that Feifs has been in Burlington with Jake Bernhardt running the offense. Similar success has been seen on the other end of the field with Brian Kavanagh serving as defensive coordinator.

Vermont has ranked in the top-15 in scoring defense each year since 2017, with the exception of last season where they finished 23rd in that category, allowing an average of 10.57 goals per game. And while there was a slight dip a year ago, it wasn’t drastic and with this unit having a full season under their belt together, especially with Ryan Cornell in between the pipes, it wouldn’t be surprising if this Catamounts defense returned to being a top 10 or 15 defense in 2022.

The Catamounts close defense unit should look like it two seasons ago in 2020 with senior Will Jones (22GB/10CT) and Tim Manning (16GB/7CT) are the only two returning full-time starters from last season. Junior Jackson Canfield started the first two games of the season before sitting out the rest of the year with a knee injury. He should be back and in that starting lineup again this season. The trio made up the Catamounts’ starting close defense during the shortened 2020 season and found immense success.

Additionally, LSM Nick Alviti returns following a strong sophomore campaign in which he led the Catamounts in caused turnovers (15) and was second in ground balls (51). Two-way midfielder Stone Jacobs (5G/8A/12GB/4CT) also looks to be a strong part of the Vermont rope unit again in 2022 after a strong showing last spring.

In cage, Ryan Cornell returns for his fifth and final season of college lacrosse. The goalie stepped in between the pipes last season with some big shoes to fill following the graduation of Nick Washuta. Cornell took on the challenge and thrived, 152 saves with a .514% save percentage to anchor this Catamount defense. Those numbers could very well go up this spring with a year of starting experience under his belt now.

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