July 17, 2019

Hun Grad Versfeld Stepped Up for Amherst Men’s Lax, Starring at Goalie as Mammoths Made NCAA D-III Final

SAVING THE SEASON: Gib Versfeld makes a save in action this spring for the Amherst College men’s lacrosse team. Sophomore Versfeld, a former Hun School standout, helped Amherst reach the NCAA Division III title game, taking over in the cage midway through the season after the team’s starting goalie Chad Simons was sidelined by injury. Versfeld ended up with a 10.79 goals against average and a 52.7 save percentage this spring, making 15 appearances with eight starts. (Photo provided courtesy of Amherst College)

By Bill Alden

For Gib Versfeld, attending the NCAA men’s lacrosse championship weekend was a family tradition over the last decade.

This spring, however, Versfeld found himself on the field at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the climax of the lacrosse season, starting at goalie for the Amherst College men’s squad as it played Cabrini in the NCAA Division III championship game.

“It is something I have always dreamt of, it is literally 30 minutes from my house,” said Versfeld, a former Hun School standout who hails from Langhorne, Pa.

“To see it from the other side as a player is something I always knew I was going to get to. Getting to that point was the culmination of years of dreaming and work. I had a ton of family and friends there.”

Early in the 2019 campaign, it didn’t look like Versfeld was going to be getting that chance as he settled into a backup role in his sophomore campaign for the Mammoths.

“I started this year fighting for the starting job; it was an open job and we were splitting splitting halves in the first three games,” said the 6’4, 210-pound Versfeld.

“After that, there was a junior goalie [Chad Simons] who was above me and he won it but it was very much still competitive.”

When Simons suffered a season-ending injury in early April midway through the season, Versfeld stepped up and was ready for the challenge, drawing on lessons he gained from his debut campaign when he made 12 appearances with two starts.

“I learned a lot freshman year, getting to the point where I could just really enjoy the process,” said Versfeld, noting that his skills were sharpened before that by playing for a Hun program that won the state Prep A title and Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) crown.

“Even if I wasn’t playing, I could contribute. So this year I just wanted to approach it like look I can play at this top level, I just have to be ready for my next opportunity. When it did finally come, it was just getting back in the swing of things. I have been getting ready for this moment for a while and it is something I knew I could handle. It is a matter of just stepping up and being that next guy up.”

In making the most of his opportunity, Versfeld had to speak up more on the field.

“For me individually, it is ‘be that leader and vocal presence on defense,’” said Versfeld.

“If someone didn’t slide properly or if they need to clear differently and I don’t say anything or help correct them, it is not going to change. I was becoming comfortable with my defense so we can change and do better.”

After a disappointing 11-8 loss to Williams College in NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) semis, Versfeld and his teammates knew they had to do better heading into the NCAA tournament.

“They are really, really tough,” said Versfeld, reflecting on the loss to Williams during which he made 18 saves.

“After we lost to them, it was ‘OK what do we need to change?’ We realized that we had to play both fast and slow but also trust ourselves that we can make plays. We were playing too tense in the Williams game.”

Versfeld loosened up in the NCAA tourney, getting into a zone, starting by making nine saves in a 21-9 win over Elizabethtown in a second round contest.

“What happened in the playoffs is goalies can get into this flow state where everything slows down,” said Versfeld. “It was free flowing kind of lacrosse, I guess you could say I was instinctively moving around. It felt great and it felt natural.”

After defeating Elizabethtown, Amherst had to run a gauntlet of conference foes, topping Wesleyan 16-13 in the third round and then edging Tufts 13-11 in the quarterfinals to earn the program’s first-ever NCAA Final 4 appearance.

“We basically had a whole other NESCAC tournament. We beat Wesleyan to get to Tufts in the Elite 8; that is as far as our program has ever made it before,” said Versfeld, who made 12 saves against Wesleyan and then had 19 stops in the win over the Jumbos.

“Tufts is a top D-III team. We spent all week getting ready for them, just knowing that we had to play our game. We definitely did that.”

The Mammoths had one more NESCAC clash as they faced archrival Williams in the semis and came away with a 12-8 win over the Ephs to book their trip to Philadelphia.

“It was unbelievable. We had to stop them and change up things defensively and how we were going to let them shoot,” said Versfeld, who recorded eight saves in the win.

“We decided that we were going to let them shoot from some areas and not others so I could get more comfortable and we could have more success offensively.”

In the championship game against Cabrini, Amherst looked comfortable in the early going, jumping off to a 6-3 lead in the second quarter but couldn’t hold the fort as the Cavaliers rallied for a 16-12 victory and the national title.

“They might have responded to the bigger game a little better than we had, I don’t think we relaxed as much,” lamented Versfeld, who had nine saves in the defeat. “Ultimately at the end they pulled away. I think they played their game a little better than we played ours.”

Looking back on the season, Versfeld was proud of how Amherst came up big down the stretch as it finished with an 18-4 record.

“We had a couple of seniors who really decided to drive this team to be successful so they pushed us individually to do extra stuff after practice, watching film, working out or training,” said Versfeld, who ended up with a 10.79 goals against average and a 52.7 save percentage this spring, making 15 appearances with eight starts.

“When the season started we all got together and talked and said what are our goals for the year and on top was the national championship. So this whole time, it has been in the back of our mind. We knew if we just kept building, we would get there.”

As he works in New York City this summer and trains for the upcoming season, Versfeld has his eyes on achieving that goal in 2020.

“Individually it is just to be ready to attack everyday, to build on the success at the end of the year and not take any opportunity for granted,” said Versfeld.

“I want be ready when it is my time to go and take this team to the next step because the championship is back in Philadelphia next year and I want to write a different ending.”