Middlebury depends on M. Hopkins Garrison Forest graduate makes Panthers' zone work


Middlebury lacrosse coach Missy Foote has a favorite anecdote about junior Missy Hopkins that has nothing to do with the game but everything to do with the Garrison Forest graduate's ability to excel on defense.

It happened last summer at Boston's Logan Airport. Hopkins had 10 minutes and quite a hike to make her connection for a flight to Europe. Foote was worried. Hopkins was not.

"I said to her, 'You are never going to make this flight,' " Foote said, "but she just looked at me and smiled. She was so calm and she did make it. That right there is why she's so good in a zone in lacrosse -- she's always calm under pressure."

At last year's NCAA Division III final, Hopkins played perhaps the best game of her career and earned all-tournament honors.

She made critical defensive plays and scored a goal to help her central Vermont team win its first national title in a huge upset over the College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State). The Panthers' 14-9 victory ended a six-year New Jersey run as Division III champ and ended its 102-game win streak.

A regional All-America pick, Hopkins plays a key role for a team that, at 7.02, has one of the lowest goals-against averages in Division III. The Panthers have allowed opponents to hit double figures only three times all season.

Hopkins is the rover in the Panthers' complex zone defense. She roams the middle of the zone, picking up the cutters as they move through. Her job is to deny them the ball.

"You have to be incredibly calm in chaos, and most people can't do that," Foote said. "It's a little bit like playing the goalie position, because if you make a mistake, it's a major mistake. It ends in a goal. You have to be the kind of person who doesn't take that to heart."

What Hopkins does take to heart is Foote's advice.

As a freshman playing field hockey for Foote, she made an appointment and showed up in Foote's office after every game -- with note pad and pen in hand.

That determination to improve was evident at Garrison Forest, too.

"She's always been one of the most coachable players," said Micul Ann Morse, who coached Hopkins in field hockey and lacrosse at Garrison. "Missy really thinks. She analyzes her play, and so if she makes a mistake, she's not going to make it twice."

Although Hopkins has the skill to play at the Division I level, she said she couldn't be happier where she is. Coming from a program that stressed the team over the individual, Hopkins found that same philosophy at Middlebury.

"That's one of the things that attracted me to Middlebury," Hopkins said. "When I stayed at Middlebury [on a recruiting trip], I got a sense of camaraderie that was different from other schools I visited."

Today, Hopkins will enjoy a homecoming as she and the No. 4 Panthers defend their national title in a rematch with New Jersey in the Division III semifinals at noon at UMBC Stadium. New Jersey enters unbeaten and ranked No. 1, but this time the Panthers are the defending champs.

"It's one of the great challenges we face," Hopkins said. "We're in a new position, so we're learning as we go. Last year, we had nothing to lose; this year, we have something to prove -- that last year wasn't a fluke and that we really are a good team."

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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