Vermont men's lacrosse holds off UMBC to claim back-to-back America East championships

Jacob Rousseau
Burlington Free Press

Three championship games, three consecutive years, three losses. 

Last season the University of Vermont men's lacrosse team overcame its championship demons and opened the door to the future. 

The 2022 outfit smashed a Catamount-sized hole in the America East door and vanquished all doubts in the program. An undefeated conference schedule cultivated in a back-and-forth, 13-11 title win over Maryland-Baltimore County as Vermont retained its crown in Saturday's league title tilt in front of 1,149 at Virtue Field.

"You can't skip steps and we've been knocking on the door for years now," sixth-year coach Chris Feifs said. "We were still learning who we were as a program and learning how to play to get over the hump. And in 2019 it really epitomized that apex and hump we needed to get over."

The UVM Catamounts celebrate after winning the Americca East Championship game vs the UMBC Retrievers on Saturday afternoon at UVM's Virtue FIeld.

But after 30 minutes of non-stop action between top-seeded Vermont (11-6) and No. 3 UMBC (6-7), the Retrievers led 7-6 at halftime. The Retrievers held margins in ground balls and faceoffs in the opening stanza, both of which Vermont dominated in the regular season.

A third quarter run, propelled by faceoff wins by Tommy Burke, who has the fourth-best win percentage in the country, gave Vermont the advantage and energy they needed. 

"It's like being a goalie, it is really a game of runs," Burke said of his third-quarter success in the individual matchups. "I'm happy that I was able to scrape out a win in the matchup today and I owe a lot of credit to my wings."

UVM's Tommy Burke gets a clear win at the faceoff dot in front of UMBC's Ricky Fedorchak during the Catamounts' America East Championship game vs the UMBC Retrievers at UVM's Virtue Field on Saturday afternoon.

Just three minutes into the third quarter and following Brock Haley's spinning shot that flew top right past Retriever goalie Jayson Tingue and knotted the game at 7, Burke asserted his dominance in the wing area.

The junior bested UMBC's Zach Dudley and started a break capped with Colin Sharkey's tally for an 8-7 UVM advantage.

"The ground balls were the biggest thing that was kind of giving them that lead and we knew we had to kind of get more gritty on the field," senior Thomas McConvey said. "That was the major key at halftime and that's pretty much all we talked about was we just have to be better." 

UVM's Michael McCormack scores a wrap-around goal after getting by UMBC's Talon Campbell during the Catamounts' America East Championship game vs the Retrievers at UVM's Virtue Field on Saturday afternoon.

Burke wasn't done yet though. 

The extra possession leader won the following faceoff, and scooped up by Tim Manning, who flipped to Charlie Pope.

At 6-foot, 240 pounds, Pope, a powerful attackman, thumped his way into the teeth of the UMBC defense for a bouncing shot that gave Vermont a 9-7 advantage with 11:07 remaining in the third quarter.

"We knew this was going to be a different game, these championship games are always one or two-goal games," McConvey said. "We knew it would be close and we just had to kind of weather the storm there early, but we were able to manage it to one goal at the half."

UVM's Nick Alviti clears the ball during the Catamounts' America East Championship game vs the UMBC Retrievers at UVM's Virtue Field on Saturday afternoon.

McConvey, the tournament's most outstanding player, finished with five goals and kept Vermont in the game early with three first-half tallies. The attacker's third goal tied the game at six with 1:09 left before the break and concluded a three-goal sequence in 46 seconds.

McConvey, also the league's newly minted offensive player of the year, popped in his fifth goal with 6:05 left in regulation for a 12-10 margin. McCormack scored unassisted 2:18 later to seal the crown.

The Catamounts readied themselves for this tournament four months ago with a difficult non-conference slate, setting up Saturday's coronation and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

"It's why we play that tough out-of-conference schedule in the beginning of the year," said goalie Ryan Cornell, who finished with 12 saves. "Unfortunately in those games we didn't come out on the plus side, but they prepared us for this moment. "We knew going into halftime down by a goal that we had what it takes to ultimately get this result."

UVM's goalie, Ryan Cornell makes the save during the Catamounts' America East Championship game vs the UMBC Retrievers at UVM's Virtue Field on Saturday afternoon.

Pope finished with two goals, while David Closterman, Griffin Fenech and Patrick Murphy each had one tally to balance out Catamounts' scorers.

Brian Tregoning paced UMBC with three goals and Tingue finished with 10 saves.        

The Catamounts will learn their opponent and regional site for the NCAA Tournament during Selection Sunday, which is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

"I feel like we progressed at the rate we were supposed to," Feifs said. "And we've had to learn some lessons along the way, but the group is really resilient and they come to Vermont because they are resilient." 

  Contact Jacob Rousseau at JRousseau@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter: @ByJacobRousseau