For MAU boys lacrosse coach Paul Reif, starting his team’s season with tough opponents has become a tradition that he wants to keep. The tests — often coming from larger New York schools — gives Reif the chance to see his team in action against a quality of opponent that is tough, if not impossible, to schedule in Vermont.
Last year, that start left the Patriots in a bind with the win-loss record. This year, that start has the Patriots at 4-2 and coach Reif excited about the rest of the year.
Coming off yesterday’s 11-9 win over BBA, Reif touched on the team’s start, which includes wins over BBA, the defending D-II Vermont champions, and South Glens Falls, and how it has set his Patriots up with the heart of the MVL schedule upcoming.
“It meant a lot,” Reif said. “It meant a lot because this is a great, competitive team. BBA might have a Division II next to their name, but they are easily a Division I caliber team, one of the best in the state. Forget about the size of the school, that team is phenomenal.”
And while the win was great for the feel-good factor of beating a rival, the win also has the Patriots at a rosy 4-2, good for a three-way tie at the top of the VPA D-I rankings with Middlebury and South Burlington.
“We had a really tough schedule, we did it for the second year in a row [starting tough] early,” Reif said. “We come out of it 4-2 this far, and we are just excited because we are doing the proper things. We were by no means stellar to begin the year, a lot of unforced errors, and we fixed that today.”
Those errors were apparent in the loss to CBA, which I attended. The most apparent takeaway from the loss was a lack of control on ground balls. That changed drastically for the better against BBA.
While the Bulldogs were able to hit some goals pretty quickly — BBA moves so fast at times — when it came down to good, old-fashioned man-to-man defense, the Patriots answered the bell. Full credit goes to Nick Altland, Ben Prandini and Devin Briggs (who started) and Jackson Thibodeau (the goalie) for stepping up against BBA. While the end got sketchy (Reif audibly yelled “penalties are killing us!” in the fourth quarter), the Patriots never allowed BBA to tie the game up, let alone get a lead.
“I think our defense is improving every day,” Reif said. “At the beginning of the season, that’s what we knew we had to work on. Facing the CBA’s and Queensbury’s, it’s tough sledding at first. I’m proud of the guys.”
As the team goes forward, that defensive effort will be needed on a game-in, game-out basis. Luckily for the Patriots, Thibodeau is establishing himself as the cream of the crop for goaltenders in the state, and the senior leadership of Altland and Prandini give the Patriots an experienced, skilled core to work with.
The Patriots will know quickly if the start will mean something to the season. The next four games for MAU are against two Massachusetts schools (Monument Mountain, Mt. Greylock), the home match against BBA next Tuesday, and an away game at Rutland on May 12.