The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Wesleyan teammates, best friends take aim at national title


MIDDLETOWN — Cole Turpin remembers the first time he saw Harry Stanton. They were opponents in a fifth-grade rec league soccer game.

“I was amazed this kid was moving so fast,” Turpin said Monday as best friends from New Canaan prepared for the biggest lacrosse game of their lives. “Harry had like all the goals for the other team. They smoked us.”

Turpin, who Stanton identified early on in middle school as a prankster, couldn’t resist sharing a little more of the Wesleyan AllAmerica­n attackman’s biography.

“For the first four years after he could talk, he barely spoke to anyone except for his family and this one kid, Brett House.”

“I don’t know,” Stanton said. “For some reason I only talked to Brett.”

House, a senior at Quinnipiac, remains a good friend of both and attends as many Wesleyan lacrosse games as possible. The next game?

Well, the next game will be the last one for Wesleyan’s graduating seniors. The next one will be for the Division III national championsh­ip Sunday against Salisbury at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

“We’re literally playing to the last possible day of our lacrosse careers,” Turpin, a midfielder, said. “We’ve given everything to this sport, every day we’ve dedicated something, sacrificed something. It is really cool that the sport is giving something back to us for this final hurrah.”

And Stanton?

“He’s a talkative guy now,” Turpin said. “He has got a lot to say.”

Stanton has never been to Gillette Stadium. Turpin has been once. From deep in Fairfield County, both are Giants fans. Yet after a stunning 19-18 victory over No. 1 and previously unbeaten RIT on Sunday in the national semifinals, they also take delight in knowing the 1974 Wesleyan lacrosse captain, aka the Patriots coach, has an abiding interest in the program.

“There are murmurs Bill Belichick may give us a speech,” Stanton said. “It would be a cool experience for all of us. We got some glimpses of him following us throughout the year.”

Stanton said Tucker Ingraham, a 2017 Wesleyan graduate, is a Patriots scouting assistant and occasional­ly the boss will chat him up about Cardinals lacrosse.

“I’m told he follows us on-line and he’s going to be at the game,” Stanton said. “That’s really cool.”

“You never know with Bill Belichick,” Turpin said, “but it would be so cool if we got to see

him or talk to him.”

Turpin attended New Canaan West Elementary School. Stanton went to East. They would meet up again at Saxe Middle School and this time it stuck. They connected on the lacrosse field. During high school, New Canaan would win the FCIAC in 2012 and 2013 before Darien won it in 2014.

Stanton’s older brother, Sam, was a lacrosse captain at Wesleyan. Harry, familiar with coach John Raba’s culture, was ready to commit.

“I go to Cole, ‘Dude, we could really go to school together,’ ” Stanton said. “Coach Raba kept asking, ‘What about that Turpin guy? Can we get him, too?’ ”

Turpin and Stanton visited Sam as juniors. Turpin went back for an overnight. NESCAC academics, strong lacrosse program, a chance to play with a best friend. The pull was too much to resist.

“Senior year, it was fun, we’d be rockin’ the Wesleyan lacrosse sweatshirt­s at high school,” Stanton said. “I think some of our other friends were jealous that we got to stay together.’’

There would be wins at Wesleyan, lots of wins, 20 in a row in 2017. Yet that streak came crashing down in a 22-9 Final Four loss at RIT. This year the trip to Rochester would be different.

“It was like Rocky vs. the Russian (Ivan Drago),” Turpin said.

Yes, the Cardinals had suffered an early season loss to Coast Guard. Yes, they

lost to Tufts twice, including the NESCAC championsh­ip, but there is an undeniable resilience to this team. They would beat Tufts in the NCAA quarterfin­als. Against RIT, Wesleyan took a 17-9 lead early in the fourth quarter and hung on for its first national championsh­ip appearance.

“We have managed the highs and lows,” Stanton said. “We had a great run last year but I think we were a little shell-shocked when we went up to RIT and, all of sudden, were down 9-3. Our experience of last year really helped. There was no fear this year.”

Stanton, Wesleyan’s alltime leading goal scorer, scored six times against RIT. Turpin was next with three goals.

“Harry is the clutchest player I’ve ever played with,

ever seen,” Turpin said. “He makes plays that amaze me.”

“Cole is the quickest guy on the field,” Stanton said. “He knows how to use his sharp angles. From a mental standpoint, he goes 100 percent all the time. He has taken such a leap this year. It’s awesome to watch him play with this much confidence.”

They are confident. They are not tall.

Stanton is 5-7. And Turpin?

“Let’s give him 5-8,” Stanton said.

“More like 5-9,” Turpin said.

Without a tape measure, we were not going to settle this argument.

“I will say I think Harry’s height is what made him such a good athlete,” Turpin said.

“I didn’t have any anger aspects to being short,” Stanton said, “but maybe I play like that sometimes. I couldn’t control how tall I was, but I could control how strong I was.”

Stanton, who is graduating with a psychology degree, will work at AIG. Turpin, who is graduating with a degree in economics, will work at IBM.

“We’ll both be in New York,” Stanton said, “We’ll still see each other a lot.”

Wesleyan graduation, it turns out, is Sunday. The same day as the national championsh­ip. The school, Turpin said, is trying to set up a small ceremony for friends and family of the lacrosse players. Could be next Monday. Could be as soon as Wednesday.

“Yeah, we’re missing our graduation,” Turpin said.

“But I don’t mind. You get the short ceremony instead of four hours.”

“It’s crazy that it’s about to end,” Stanton said. “I was shy when I was young and Cole helped me get out of my comfort zone and by the seventh grade I was pulling the same pranks he was.

“We’ve fed off each other’s energy. We’re not the biggest guys out there, but we play with a lot of heart. We’re roommates, so we talk about the game. It’s been fun enjoying this journey together. I think we’re ready to move on in life now.”

But first two buds from New Canaan will play one last time. And they’ll play for it all.

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