Utah’s lacrosse players celebrated a long-awaited moment Friday afternoon, facing off with Vermont in the program’s first NCAA game.
Reality hit home 19 seconds later, as the Utes almost instantly trailed Vermont in a 21-6 defeat at Rice-Eccles Stadium. That’s the starting point for coach Brian Holman, who’s determined to build Utah into a nationally recognized program after moving from the club level.
The score didn't bother him as much as the way the Utes played. “I told the kids, the scoreboard is a non-factor in our lives right now,” said Holman. “I think if we played Vermont 10 times, we would not beat them. But I do believe if we played at our level that we're capable of, we would be much more competitive.”
The game summary? The Utes didn't earn a penny Friday.
“Stacking pennies” is more than a phrase in the program's growth. The collection is right there on the desk in Holman's Huntsman Center office, where a penny is added with every instance of what he considers progress.
The inaugural game didn't qualify, although Holman was anything but discouraged, as he stood in the end zone afterward. “It's a great learning experience, right? To have these guys go through that and look at their faces in that locker room, and they know they didn't play at their highest level, I'm good with that,” he said. “Because we'll keep going.”
Maybe they were misled by their competitive performance in a scrimmage against Marquette last weekend or unnerved by playing a televised game in a big venue, with Holman saying his players looked “a step slow … heavy-legged” at the start of the historic event. Either way, Utah played Vermont evenly during only a solid stretch before halftime.
The Utes showed good signs in that second quarter, when Vermont failed to score in the last 10 minutes and Utah's Josh Stout completed a hat trick by halftime as the Utes pulled within 10-4. Other highlights included the program's first NCAA goal, by graduate transfer Jimmy Perkins, and scores by Stout's brother Jake and another Alpine product, Aaron Fjeldsted.
Otherwise, everything went Vermont's way. Ben French scored four goals and Rob Hudson and David Closterman added three each for the Catamounts, who went 12-4 last season and were ranked as high as No. 12. Vermont is picked to finish third this year in the America East Conference. The Catamounts' season high was 17 goals against Sacred Heart in 2018; the school record for goals in a game is 23, achieved twice in the program's 42-year history.
Josh Stout didn't take much personal satisfaction in his goal-scoring effort, but he loved being part of history. He's among the handful of players who arrived on campus with Holman and his staff in the fall of 2016 and competed for two club seasons as the program evolved toward Friday's launch.
“This last week, it finally got real, and you're like, 'Oh, my gosh. We're here,' ” Stout said. “It's a cool feeling. … That's why this is a celebration for all of us. We've just continued to work hard, and this is the greatest feeling ever – playing Division I lacrosse in Utah, and it's just a great celebration for everyone on the team.”
The milestone also showed Utah has a long way to go, from this beginning stage. Vermont overwhelmed them, but the Utes walked away knowing they're capable of gradually lifting themselves closer to that level. As Stout said, “There's nothing they've done that we haven't seen before.”
The Utes just need to figure out how to play that way themselves, as they move along.