By: Justin Lafleur
As part of Saturday’s Alumni Day when Dartmouth men’s lacrosse hosts Princeton, the Big Green’s 2003 Ivy League Championship team will be among the alumni returning to campus. Take a look back to a truly special season that ended in a championship and the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The 2003 Dartmouth men’s lacrosse season, which featured an Ivy League Championship and the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, may appear like it came out of nowhere.
But that wasn’t the case. Something had been building in Hanover.
“By the numbers, you would wonder why suddenly, the script flipped,” said Scott Roslyn, a senior in 2003. “But it felt like things were building in those preceding years.”
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
All the building blocks in the years prior led to a strong foundation for success in 2003.
“We got contributions from every class,” said Tom Daniels, who was a junior on that team. “We had great leadership in the senior and junior classes, and the sophomore and freshmen classes were so talented. When you’re getting contributions from all four classes, it creates this very tight relationship. That was what enabled us to win two or three very close games that put us over the edge.
“It wasn’t like that team was dominant relative to my freshman or sophomore years,” Daniels continued. “The team chemistry was a big part of the success.”
The 2003 championship came in head coach Rick Sowell’s fifth season at Dartmouth, and it marked the first year with all his recruits.
“We came into the program under Coach Sowell’s vision for the team,” said Daniels. “We had gone through the program, including the discipline and hard work that he brought. He brought this competitive, refuse-to-lose type mentality.”
In 2002, Sowell’s fourth season at Dartmouth, the Big Green finished 6-7 and 0-6 in the Ivy League, but were competitive in practically every game.
The team was happy to be progressing, but wanted more.
Roslyn recounts a conversation he had with Coach Sowell the summer before his senior year.
“I said I believe and hope that we can do something very different this year and the goal was for us to win the Ivy League,” said Roslyn. “We were tired of losing and we’d do whatever it took. I asked him to push us and challenge us to be our best to reach that goal.”
Goaltender Andrew Goldstein, a sophomore in 2003, remembers a comparison Sowell made.
“There was a college basketball team that year that exceeded expectations and he said we could be like them,” said Goldstein. “We were just squeaking out games we didn’t think we could and by the end of the season, we had won way more than we had in the past and suddenly, we’re in the running to win the Ivy League.”
Foundation Being Built
How was the foundation for 2003 built?
“We were going to be a team that prided itself on practicing hard,” said Sowell. “Conditioning was extremely important to me; how you played in the fourth quarter was one measurement you could use. We wanted to out scrap and out hustle our opponents. I wanted the physical part of the game to be our strength.”
In recruiting, Sowell focused on bringing in the best athletes.
“He sold this turnaround,” said Daniels. “He sold recruiting athletes first and guys who want to win. Coach Sowell came to my football game, not my lacrosse game, and he recruited me from summer camps my junior year. He then watched me play football and said he wanted to recruit me.
“That was the type of player he was looking for, multi-sport athletes… guys who could compete at different levels, and had a competitive, hard-working culture,” Daniels continued. “He figured he could make you a better lacrosse player once you got to Dartmouth.”
Strong athletes, combined with the right mentality, was a winning formula.
“I know I pushed the guys beyond what they were comfortable with, and I’m sure at the time, a lot of them were looking at me like I was crazy,” said Sowell. “But then we went on to have success and they looked back and said, ‘That was great.'”
Sowell also wanted to make sure his teams were fundamentally sound.
“I like to say that before you can worry about beating your opponent, you need to make sure you’re not beating yourself,” he said. “So taking care of the ball, along with groundball play, was important.”
Sowell tried to simplify the game.
“We’re going to play hard, we’re going to be fundamentally sound and we’re going to out scrap you,” he said. “And hopefully, our talent will allow us to ultimately come out and win more than we lose.”
That certainly happened in 2003.
In fact, the Big Green won eight more games than they lost, finishing the season 11-3.
Momentum Keeps Building
The Big Green began their season with a 10-7 win at Colgate and continued with nonleague victories over Quinnipiac, Vermont and Lehigh before their first loss at UMBC on Mar. 19. Dartmouth rebounded with wins over Sacred Heart and Hartford to enter Ivy League play 6-1.
That set the stage for the league opener at Penn.
“Penn was quite a bit better than us I’d argue, and we beat them (7-5),” said Daniels. “I think that was a realization that things were different. We had always been able to beat Brown and Harvard. Beating Penn was a pretty big deal, and it gave us some confidence.”
However, Dartmouth followed that performance with a 13-5 home loss to Cornell.
“That gave everybody pause,” said Daniels. “We knew we were good, because we beat Penn, but then we’re right back to not doing all that well against Cornell.”
The following game, the Big Green defeated Yale on the road, 9-8. Roslyn scored four goals, including the game-winner with four seconds remaining in regulation.
“When you’re in the moment, you don’t appreciate it as much as when you think about it over time [20 years later],” said Goldstein. “If we don’t win that game, we don’t win the Ivy League and we don’t go to the tournament.
“It was that close to being just a decent season.”
After a victory over Brown came almost undoubtedly the biggest win in the history of Dartmouth men’s lacrosse, and one of the greatest upsets in college lacrosse history.
It was a win that saw Goldstein play a major role.
Down Goes No. 2 Princeton
If the wins over Penn, Yale and Brown weren’t enough to convince the lacrosse world that the Big Green were for real, everyone was on board after Dartmouth went into Princeton and beat the second nationally-ranked Tigers, 13-6.
Goldstein made 17 saves in goal to spearhead the defense.
“Their coach said Andrew played one of the best games he had ever seen a goalie play. That’s coming from a legendary coach, Bill Tierney,” said Roslyn.
“For him to say that was pretty incredible.”
Goldstein admitted that like most games, it was a blur.
“You go out there and just play,” he said. “I remember feeling good, having the game of my life and so many guys having the game of their lives. I remember guys like Justin Weinstein having so many groundballs, winning possessions, and Tom Daniels getting by his guy every time and scoring. I remember Ryan Danehy from the point ripping it and overwhelming them.”
By the end of the game, Goldstein was actually replaced (since the score was lopsided).
“When the game ended, everyone rushed the goalie, which bizarrely was not me,” he said. “I was on the sidelines running towards the goalie with everyone else, which was phenomenal.”
Incredibly, Princeton had lost just one Ivy League game the previous seven seasons and won four national championships in that span (1996, 1997, 1998 and 2001).
“It wasn’t just that Dartmouth couldn’t beat Princeton,” said Daniels. “Nobody in the Ivy League could beat Princeton and nobody in the country could beat Princeton. Going into Princeton my freshman year (2001), we lost 19-2. Bill Tierney had an absolute machine going at Princeton.”
Two years later at Princeton, there was a 24-goal turnaround.
In 2003, the Big Green built a 6-2 halftime lead and wouldn’t look back.
“They tried to make a run in the third quarter, but we withstood that,” said Sowell. “And then in that fourth quarter, we exploded. I think we saw the light at the end of the tunnel like hey, we got this.”
Dartmouth did have this, a huge win, but its work wasn’t complete.
Finishing the Job and Moving onto NCAAs
The Big Green needed to beat Harvard at home to win the Ivy League.
It brought up an interesting parallel.
“Coach Sowell got the team together and he played the 1980 documentary of the Miracle on Ice,” said Daniels. “The parallel was you had a coach in Herb Brooks who was really intense on his team in a very similar way as Coach Sowell.”
The 1980 Olympic team beat Russia in the game that’s remembered as the “Miracle on Ice,” but had to beat Finland to secure gold.
“Everyone said we beat Princeton, but if we don’t beat Harvard, which was our last game, it’s all for naught,” said Daniels. “Whether Coach Sowell realized he was doing it or not, that was one of those things you always remember. We all watched that documentary and ended up beating Harvard, 5-4. It was a close game, as they almost always are, but that was pretty cool.”
That game was played in front of 2,100 raucous fans at Scully-Fahey Field. Sophomore Ben Grinnell and freshman Brad Heritage each scored twice. The Crimson pulled within 5-4 with 1:23 remaining, but it wasn’t enough. The Big Green defense stood tall, as it did all game, including a last-second stand as the Dartmouth faithful rushed the field when the clock hit zero.
The Big Green drew Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. A Roslyn goal gave Dartmouth an 11-10 lead with 4:23 remaining, but the Orange scored the game’s final three goals to win, 13-11.
“We gave Syracuse a heck of a run,” said Sowell. “Talk about hanging in there and close games. That was another one we thought we had.”
One of the most memorable moments from the game was Goldstein scoring a coast-to-coast goal with 4:37 remaining in the second quarter to even the score at five.
Remember, he was a goaltender.
A lot of people remember Goldstein’s goal. Goldstein chooses to remember the entirety of the day, the experience and what it meant.
“I remember Dartmouth putting together these busses of students that were sent out to Syracuse to support us,” he said. “I’m not going to say the stadium was full, but there were a lot of people in there, a lot of people rooting for Syracuse.
“Dartmouth brought a lot of fans and every time we made a positive play, you could hear that place go wild from our side.”
Pride is a word the Big Green felt from that day, and season. Disappointment in the end result, but pride in what they had accomplished.
“We got back on that bus and said wow, what a season and what a chance to be here and to experience that,” said Roslyn.
“There were so many lessons we could take from what we did that season,” Roslyn continued. “Sometimes, you gain lessons through failures and certainly, we had that. But we also experienced the other side of it as well.”
A Source of Pride In Multiple Ways
Not long after the season, Goldstein came out to his teammates as gay.
“That was a very big deal for me personally and certainly at the time when there really weren’t out gay athletes,” he said. “I think about that team and that moment in my life in a very special place. As time has gone by, looking back, that was an incredibly special moment. I love the guys on that team, I love the moments we put together and the bus rides that are just ridiculous going from Hanover to very far places, spring break and all the weird things that most teams don’t experience.
“It means a lot to have been part of that team and to have accomplished what we did,” Goldstein continued.
It’s a memory Goldstein isn’t taking for granted.
“A sports team is a weird combination of personalities, strengths and motivations,” he said. “That team had that magic, and it started in the preseason. There aren’t a lot of teams like Dartmouth that get to be out there when it’s negative degrees, it’s dark at night and you’re freezing, but you’re doing it together.
“It bonded us.”
That bond is as evident as ever 20 years later, with so many members of that team returning to campus this weekend as part of Alumni Day on Saturday, when the 2023 Big Green host Princeton at 1 p.m.
“I’m looking at all the people coming back realizing it was probably an even tighter team than we even realized in the moment,” said Daniels.
That camaraderie will stick most with the Big Green for the next 20 years… and beyond.