For the first time in almost a year, college lacrosse players and fans got the chance to enjoy the game they love once again with the NCAA Division I lacrosse season underway.
No. 4 Maryland and No. 19 Navy started their seasons Feb. 20 with victories against Michigan and Mount St. Mary’s, respectively. Johns Hopkins’ season also got underway Feb. 20, but the Blue Jays fell to Ohio State. No. 12 Loyola (1-1), Towson (2-2) and Mount St. Mary’s (1-2) have all played more than once. UMBC hasn’t played its first game yet.
For these programs, it has been a long road leading up to this point after the 2020 season abruptly ended last March.
“There’s been a lot of different challenges, as you can assume,” Towson head coach Shawn Nadelen said on Glenn Clark Radio. “[We are] just doing our best to stay on top of our players, managing how their school [and] their mental health is and making sure they are staying on track athletically.”
Colleges held a majority of their classes online during the fall 2020 semester and allowed a significantly smaller percentage of students than usual on campus. As such, local lacrosse programs did not meet as a full team for months. With this new obstacle in mind, UMBC head coach Ryan Moran described the importance of communication while attempting to keep players engaged virtually during the offseason.
“I think that’s the one fundamental aspect of any athletic team is that you are going to need to have an elite level of communication,” Moran said, “and certainly the environment we have been thrust into over the last year has made this unique.”
Due to these circumstances, coaches had to shift their focus from on-field teaching to helping their student-athletes manage their lives off the field. Loyola head coach Charley Toomey said the Greyhounds’ time away from campus “was less about film, it was less about X’s and O’s.”
In a time when players were scattered across the nation, many programs didn’t get the usual preparation for a season including fall practice, preseason training and scrimmages.
“We are dealing with significantly less preparation than we’ve ever had,” Johns Hopkins coach Peter Milliman said. “It’s really hard to feel … that you are confident about what you have, whether it’s enough and whether you are going to be good where you need to be good.”
Some teams were lucky enough to get a scrimmage in before the start of the 2021 season. UMBC and Navy held a scrimmage Feb. 13, and Navy head coach Joe Amplo said the impact that scrimmage had in preparing for the season was significant.
“Just to have that opportunity to get out there and make mistakes and [experience the emotion] of getting out on the field against an opponent again was really important,” Amplo said.
Regardless of whether teams were able to get a scrimmage in, preparation for the 2021 season was unlike any other. Milliman, a first-year coach at Hopkins, didn’t get to meet in person with his full team until Jan. 20. As such, coaches have to temper expectations early in the season.
“It’s the nature of what we are dealing with right now,” Milliman said, “and you just have to handle it however you can and realize that you can’t change everything and you can’t cover every topic all at once.”
The lack of preparation showed early on, with Towson, Navy, Johns Hopkins and Loyola all committing plenty of turnovers in their first games back this season (21, 19, 19 and 17, respectively).
But the turnover frenzy that has been occurring during the first two weeks of the season was expected, especially with freshmen having not played a meaningful lacrosse game in almost two years.
“As coaches we are going to be OK with living with a few mistakes knowing that these guys are just getting their game legs and everything back into form,” Toomey said.
Despite all the challenges and all the unprecedented circumstances the pandemic has thrown at these lacrosse teams, these coaches have recognized the strength their players have shown in dealing with unusual preparations for the season.
“Honestly, it gives me much more belief in this generation of young people,” Amplo said. “They’ve handled so much adversity and so many things that no one in the world ever predicted.”
The local college lacrosse season continues this weekend. Maryland plays its next game on Friday, Feb. 26, while Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Mount St. Mary’s, Towson and UMBC all play on Saturday, Feb 27.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athletics, Brian McWalters, Towson Athletics