2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 19 Vermont (Men)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Thomas McConvey produced 37 goals and 16 assists in 2021.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 19 VERMONT

2021 Record: 9-5 (7-2 America East)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 18
Coach: Chris Feifs (6th year)

As midnight approached Sept. 1, Mark Millon knew to expect a flood of calls and texts. His son, McCabe, was the most coveted college lacrosse recruit in the class of 2023 — a rising high school junior who undoubtedly would field offers from every elite NCAA Division I program in the country.

What Millon did not expect as the clock struck 12, however, was a call from Vermont. But like the high-volume offense he oversaw last spring, Catamounts assistant Jake Bernhardt did not hesitate. Shoot your shot, right?

Next came the handwritten letter. Eloquent descriptions of sunsets on Lake Champlain and views of the Adirondack Mountains. Visions of a generational talent putting a mid-major lacrosse team over the top. Then another call.

The full-court press left an impression on the Millon family, which includes two National Lacrosse Hall of Fame players in Mark Millon and his wife, Erin Brown Millon. And while McCabe Millon ultimately chose Duke, the Catamounts made it clear they belonged in the same conversation.

Coming off a breakthrough season in which it won its first America East championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s 44-year history, Vermont took its momentum for a spin last summer. In addition to targeting higher-profile recruits, sixth-year head coach Chris Feifs added Duke, Penn State, UMass and Brown to the schedule.

“We feel like there really isn’t a ceiling on this school,” said Feifs, who won an NCAA championship as the defensive coordinator at North Carolina before taking over at Vermont. “We still have our biggest milestones ahead of us.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

Denver coach Bill Tierney agrees.

“Vermont reminds me a lot of us,” Tierney said. “Kids nobody has heard about until they’re juniors and seniors, and then everybody has heard about them.”

Feifs and his staff flew out to Denver after the 2018 season, when Vermont finished 12-4 but lost to Albany in the America East championship game. They shadowed the Pioneers, took copious notes and peppered Tierney and his staff with questions over dinner.

The parallels between their programs were compelling. Denver and Vermont are both mid-sized research universities with beautiful scenery, excellent hockey teams, recruiting pipelines to Canada and a geographically diverse mix of lacrosse prospects who rarely make the big board. The Catamounts’ 52-man roster includes players from 21 states and provinces.

Feifs was Maryland’s first recruit out of North Carolina. Bernhardt is a Florida native who was the first of three brothers to star at Maryland. They lean on their experiences when talking to recruits. With Feifs, Bernhardt and defensive coordinator Brian Kavanagh — the former Princeton goalie from Long Island — Vermont’s staff has remained intact for the last five years.

“The nontraditional storyline that Jake and myself navigated through college is one we really try to play on here at Vermont,” Feifs said. “A lot of kids from nontraditional areas have a chip on their shoulders. The lack of visibility and respect they get affects their attitude and work ethic. They just want an opportunity. It’s not about social media hype or rankings. We play on that in recruiting.”

The Catamounts can’t escape the hype forever, though. Vermont turned heads when it outshot Syracuse 52-32 in a 17-13 regular season loss, then used a six-goal run to pull away from Albany in a 15-10 America East championship game victory.

People recognize All-American midfielder Thomas McConvey (37 goals, 16 assists) not just for his 6-foot-4 frame, but also as one of the best players in the country. All-American faceoff specialist Tommy Burke (69.8 percent), meanwhile, fueled a Catamounts offense that ranked second in Division I in time of possession.

The starting attack of Michael McCormack, David Closterman and Liam Limoges returns intact after combining for 135 points last year.

First-team all-conference defenseman Will Jones, a fourth-year starter who originally committed to Holy Cross, anchors an underrated Vermont defense in front of graduate goalie Ryan Cornell.

“These guys want to win a national championship,” Feifs said. “They didn’t come here just to win the league. They came here to play in the final four and play on ESPN.”

The blue chips are watching.






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TOP RETURNERS

Tommy Burke, FO, Jr.

An honorable mention All-American and the America East championship MVP, Burke turned in one of the finest seasons in Vermont history. He ranked third nationally in faceoff win percentage (69.8 percent) while setting school records faceoff wins (240) and ground balls (125).

Thomas McConvey, M, Sr.

“He could have played at any school in the country,” Feifs said of the Toronto native and top scorer for the Ontario Junior Lacrosse Association’s Mimico Mountaineers. “He’s arguably the top player in the country.” Forgive the hyperbole. McConvey just keeps producing. He has registered at least one point in every career game.

Michael McCormack, A, Gr.

The Middlebury transfer scored 33 goals and doled out 11 assists in his first season at the Division I level. “He’s built like an NFL linebacker,” Feifs said of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Massachusetts native. “I don’t know how he didn’t end up at a Division I program [out of high school].”

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Jonas Hunter, A/M, So.

One of the top scorers in Oregon as an attackman at Lake Oswego, Hunter earned a spot on Vermont’s second midfield line as a freshman and appeared in 12 games. He scored a goal in the Catamounts’ NCAA tournament loss to Maryland and opened eyes with his play during the offseason. “He had the best fall of anyone,” Feifs said.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Catamounts:

“Chris has done a phenomenal job. He’s got a great coaching staff and they were pretty close a year ago. … They’re a talented team with a clear identity.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

66.9%

He didn’t get nearly as much attention as Mikey Sisselberger, but Tommy Burke had a phenomenal season. You probably wouldn’t have guessed that Vermont quietly had the second-best opponent-adjusted faceoff win rate in the country. Burke ended last year as the ninth-rated FOGO, according to the faceoff Elo model. The Catamounts will be looking to him to maintain that level this year. — Zack Capozzi

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