Vermont Opens 2017 Season at SoCon’s Furman and Mercer

A new chapter in Vermont men’s lacrosse history begins on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 2) as the Catamounts open their first season guided by head coach Chris Feifs. UVM starts the campaign with a pair of Southern Conference foes, meeting Furman at Paladin Stadium on Thursday at 5 p.m. before taking on Mercer in a Saturday (Feb. 4) tilt scheduled for noon at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia.

Live stats for both games will be available free of charge, while the Furman game will also be streamed live and for free on YouTube.

Furman: Video | Live Stats
Mercer: Live Stats
CatamounTV Season Preview

The Paladins were picked sixth in the Southern Conference preseason poll and are coming off of a 2016 season in which the team finished 2-11 (2-5 SoCon). Furman’s program is still in its infancy, having begun competition in the 2014 season.

Offensively, the team is led by senior David Williamson, whose 15 goals and 10 assists combined for a team-high 25 points last season. Senior Hil Blaze scooped 40 ground balls to pace the group, while classmate Conner Kipke caused 16 turnovers. Junior goalie Reilly McDermott made 11 starts a year ago, averaging 9.33 saves per game which ranked fifth in the SoCon.

A veteran of the lacrosse coaching world, Richie Meade is entering his fourth season guiding the Paladins after taking the reins at the program’s inception. As head coach, he spent 17 seasons at Navy (1994-2011), guiding the Midshipmen to a national runner-up finish in 2004. He is a double graduate of North Carolina, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1976 and following with a master’s in 1979.

Like Furman, men’s lacrosse is also relatively new at Mercer, which had its first year of varsity competition in 2011. Following last year’s 5-8 run (3-4 SoCon), the Bears were slotted fifth in the league’s preseason poll.

Sophomore Lucas Wittenberg tallied 12 goals and 12 assists last season, leading all returnees with 24 points. Wittenberg’s classmate, Will Beecham, saw the majority of time on faceoffs and registered 48 ground balls throughout his appearances in all 13 games. Also with a strong presence in the midfield is junior Patrick deHueck, who logged 15 caused turnovers a year ago. Mercer enters the season needing to fill the gap left by goalie Mike Nugent, who made 12 starts last season as his collegiate career came to a close.

The 2017 season is head coach Kyle Hannan’s fifth at Mercer after 12 seasons at Division III Goucher College in Baltimore. Under his guidance, the Bears reached the SoCon Tournament as the No. 2 seed in their first year in the league (2015). Hannan graduated from Salisbury University in 1986.

While this weekend marks UVM’s first action against both Furman and Mercer, the Southern Conference is not uncharted territory for the Catamounts. Against current members of the league, UVM boasts an all-time record of 6-4.

UVM’s last game against a SoCon foe came in 2016 when a fourth quarter rally pushed Jacksonville past the Catamounts 17-16 down in Florida. The Green and Gold’s most recent win in the league came two seasons ago, when then-sophomore Cam Milligan used his first goal as a Catamount to top Air Force 11-10 in triple overtime on March 7, 2015.

The America East Conference on January 24 announced its preseason coaches poll, predicting Vermont to finish third and return to the conference tournament after collecting 27 points. Albany was the unanimous first-place pick with 36 points, while Hartford (28) and Stony Brook (23) were slotted on either side of the Catamounts. Rounding out the poll at five through seven were UMBC (15), UMass Lowell (11) and Binghamton (7).

A final look back at 2016 reveals a successful campaign for the Green and Gold, who reached the America East Championship Game for the first time in program history and captured nine wins for the first time since 2006. The squad was well-decorated as Ian MacKay was named America East Offensive Player of the Year, while three other Catamounts (Jack Knight, Dawes Milchling, Cam Milligan) secured various All-Conference laurels.

Seniors Ben Cox, Cam Milligan, and Ian MacKay along with junior James Leary and redshirt junior Hayden Jenkins will captain the Catamounts this season.

The seventh head coach in program history, Chris Feifs arrives in Burlington following a seven-year run at North Carolina as defensive coordinator and faceoff coach. During his time in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels captured the 2016 NCAA National Championship and were ACC regular season co-champions on two occasions. In 2013, UNC claimed the conference title.

He also spent two seasons in an assistant coaching capacity at VMI and played his collegiate lacrosse at Maryland, becoming the first scholarship athlete from North Carolina to play lacrosse for the Terrapins.

Jake Bernhardt and Chris Miller have also come to the Green Mountain State as assistant coaches under Feifs, while Brian Kavanagh has joined the Catamounts as a volunteer assistant. Bernhardt plays professionally for the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse and scored 14 goals last season en route to an appearance in the MLL Championship Game. Miller was most recently associate head coach at Washington College (Maryland) and, from 2008-10, worked with Feifs as an assistant at VMI.

A 2014 graduate of Princeton and former goalie with the Tigers, Kavanagh made eight appearances from 2012-14 and was part of a 2012 team that reached the Ivy League Championship, ultimately punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The Catamounts will return north following the Mercer game and begin preparations to host New England rival Holy Cross on Saturday, Feb. 18. Opening faceoff in that game is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Virtue Field.