South Burlington Ends Woodstock’s Lacrosse Season
South Burlington High attackman Malik Hines is sandwiched by Woodstock defenders Will Gault (19) and Conner Fegard on Tuesday during the teams' Vermont Division I semifinal. The host Rebels prevailed, 10-5. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock High's Haven Lantz, left, and Oliver Kaija celebrate one of the latter's two goals Tuesday during the Wasps' 10-5 loss at South Burlington in the Vermont Division I semifinals. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
South Burlington, Vt. — Year after year, the Woodstock Union High boys lacrosse team tilts at the windmills that are their Vermont Division I opponents, and year after year, the Wasps come up a little bit short. It happened again Tuesday, when Woodstock fell, 10-5, to South Burlington in the semifinals.
Coach Brandon Little’s squad lost at the same stage two years ago and in the quarterfinals last spring. But the fifth-year bench boss said there’s no thought of dropping down to Division II, where Woodstock would likely be an annual title contender.
“I have a meeting every year and ask the guys which is more important to them, playing the best teams in the state or playing for championships in Division II,” he said. “There’s never any hesitation on their part. They’re so proud to be in Division I and they wear that honor around school.”
Said midfielder Oliver Kaija: “I think it’s awesome that we’re the last Division I team at Woodstock. You don’t want to pad your stats against (weak) teams. You want to go up against the best.”
Second-seeded South Burlington (13-4) will face top-seeded Champlain Valley (15-1) in the finals in an attempt to win its second state championship in three years. With an enrollment of roughly 1,000 students, the Rebels have about twice as big a talent pool as Woodstock to pick from, and their lineup reflected the disparity, said Wasps defender Will Gault.
“Most teams have one or two really talented kids, but they had four or five,” Gault said. “I think we were a little overwhelmed and we never really had the right mindset for being in the semis.”
Third-seeded Woodstock trailed 2-0 and 3-1 during the first quarter, but was within 6-4 at halftime. The Wasps (13-4) had received seven saves from goaltender Ben Orr, won 10 of 11 faceoffs and successfully cleared their own end on all seven attempts. That was as good as it got for the visitors, however, who surrendered both the third quarter’s two goals and another pair during the final stanza.
“We did all the work at every position, but just couldn’t finish our goal scoring,” Little said. “We had 10 or 12 good scoring opportunities that ended up being saved or shot wide.”
Haven Lantz scored to cut Woodstock’s deficit to 2-1 and Kaija muscled his way through several collisions after a faceoff victory to pull his team within 4-2. Kaija scored again six minutes before halftime and teammate Nemo Wood tallied two minutes later, halving what had been a 6-2 deficit.
“We picked things up in the middle and started to come back but then we died down again,” Gault said. “Our mentality just wasn’t all the way there.”
Woodstock’s lone second-half goal came early in the fourth quarter off the stick of Jonas Kantola, who converted a Lantz feed. The Wasps won the ground ball battle, 29-16, but were outshot, 33-31.
“We really overachieved this year,” said Kaija, whose team opened the season with a 17-5 loss to Middlebury and dropped two of its first three contests. “We had a totally new attack and we have five freshmen on varsity. It’s tough going up against the big schools, but we were a couple of pipes and some big saves on their part from going to (the title game).
“In years past, we had (playoff) matchups where winning wasn’t realistic, but this year was different.”
Little, a former Woodstock player, said that although the town’s youth program does a fine job churning out talent, more athletes need to make lacrosse their primary sport if the Wasps are to claim their first state title since 2003.
“We can’t rely on just two or three players, because the other schools we’re trying to get past have five or six,” he said. “We need to have more depth at the top level.”
“I’m proud of our guys, though. After that first game, we had a real long way to go, but everyone worked and matured and became more fit and learned the system and became better players.”
Notes: Woodstock will lose five seniors to graduation, including Kaija and Orr. … South Burlington junior attackman Cam Nolting has committed to Harvard. … The press box at the Rebels stadium is named for 1999 graduate Mark Evnin, a Marine scout and sniper killed in Iraq on April, 2003.
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.