Woodstock Lacrosse Advances to D-I Semifinal in OT
Having tossed his stick away in celebration, Woodstock High's Haven Lantz marches toward the Wasps' student section Friday after scoring in overtime to defeat Colchester, 7-6. Teammates Oliver Kaija, left, and Jonas Kantola are the first wave of what soon became a jubilant dog pile atop the junior attackman. The victory advanced Woodstock to a Vermont Division I semifinal contest, Tuesday at South Burlington. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock High midfielder Oliver Kaija releases a pass ahead of Colchester's Grant Cummings on Friday during the teams' Vermont Division I quarterfinal clash. The host Wasps won, 7-6, in overtime and advanced to play at South Burlington on Tuesday. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — Memo to the Woodstock Union High boys lacrosse team: next time one of your own scores a winning goal in overtime, try not to pile atop him so violently that he might think twice about doing so again.
Friday, the (un)lucky fellow was attackman Haven Lantz, whose close-range goal 37 seconds into extra time sealed a 7-6 defeat of visiting Colchester and advanced his squad to a Tuesday semifinal at South Burlington in the Vermont Division I playoffs. Third-seeded Woodstock (13-3) was scheduled to play the second-seeded Rebels (14-2) during the regular season, but the contest was erased by inclement weather.
“Nemo (Wood) knocked me over and then everyone else came along for the ride,” said Lantz, who was slow arising from the sod after disappearing under an avalanche of white jerseys. “I had Will Gault, the biggest guy on the team, on top of me and I was kind of dying down there on the bottom.”
Colchester (7-7) didn’t enter with a sparkling record, but it gave Woodstock all it could handle. The sixth-seeded Lakers opened the game’s scoring before ties of 2-2 at halftime and 3-3 in the third quarter followed.
The Wasps led, 6-4, early in the fourth quarter but surrendered two goals within 32 seconds and fell into a 6-6 deadlock with 6 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in regulation time.
“Today was mediocre, but we dialed it up when we had to,” Wasps coach Brandon Little told his team after the contest. “We’re in the final four, baby!”
Added assistant Marc Gattie: “That was a gut check and I think we have more in the tank.”
Colchester had scored 10 or more goals during each of its last five games and 17 or more in three of those clashes, so holding the Lakers to six tallies spoke to Woodstock’s defensive grit. Goaltender Ben Orr made nine saves, five during the fourth quarter, and the long-pole trio directly in front of him, Gault, Conner Fegard and Nick Donaldson, was both heady and difficult to dodge.
“We were able to run with their kids in our individual matchups,” Little said, noting that Colchester tried repeatedly to throw the Wasps off-balance by starting their attack with a midfielder behind the net. “They wanted to take advantage of our short-stick midfielders, but on this team, you have to be able to play defense if you want to get on the field.”
The Wasps struggled offensively, however, despite two goals each from Wood and Connor McCarthy and single strikes by Oliver Kaija and Braden McCarthy. Consistently getting the ball inside was a problem and too many shots from the periphery sailed wide or directly into the stick of goaltender Barry Bergeron. Still, Woodstock is difficult to defend, because unlike in recent seasons, it doesn’t rely on one or two stars to find the net.
Kaija, a powerful, senior midfielder, is Woodstock’s best player, but the team doesn’t rely on him for scoring the way it did with since-graduated standouts like Andrew Kimbell and Nick and Hunter Schmell. The Wasps reached the division semifinals three years ago, losing to Champlain Valley, before being eliminated in the 2013 quarterfinals with what Little had suggested was a team capable of winning the program’s first state title since 2003.
Friday, the smiling coach declined to issue any forecasts for his current roster.
“My prediction days are over,” he said. “We enjoy being the underdog, the smallest school in Division I, and we just want to build and get better.”
One area in which Woodstock may need improvement during the next few days is the health of Orr, a senior who can take over a game when he’s hot.
The netminder seemed off at times Friday, allowing a couple of relatively soft goals, limping around his crease and crouching in what appeared to be significant discomfort during breaks in play. Little, however, brushed off a question about his goaltender’s readiness.
“Benny’s seen a lot of shots and he may have a few bumps and bruises, that’s all,” the coach said. “He played well between the pipes today, but in our clearing game, even though he’s so athletic, we’d like to keep him in the crease and focused and centered on stopping shots.”
Lantz’s deciding shot came when he slipped into a seam in the Colchester defense while teammate Jonas Kantola had the ball on the side of the field and to the right of the net. Lantz took a Kantola pass and absorbed a check as he turned to release the ball, seeing his effort deflect off the outside of Bergeron’s leg, inside the near post and barely across the goal line.
“There was a little mayhem and he was fading away as he took the shot, but he got just enough on it to get it by the goaltender,” Little said.
A few minutes later, after crawling out from under his whooping teammates, Lantz said the Wasps are looking forward to a crack at South Burlington and, should they win, perhaps top-seeded Champlain Valley (15-1), a team on a 12-game winning streak since losing to the Rebels by a goal in late April.
“We have to start developing kids in lacrosse really early in this town to be able to compete with the big, Division I schools,” he said. “We’re jacked up to go as hard as we can the rest of the way.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.