The 2012 season is here and we wanted to work closely with college programs to bring a part of the excitement to you. Throughout the 2012 season we will highlight lacrosse programs on our space for all of our readers to follow. Player blogs serve as a unique outlet for programs to showcase their season as it develops, plus highlight everything they have to offer a student-athlete. In contrast, families and fans get a glimpse into the program’s athletic and academic regimen.
Jr. – #22 – Midfield
When I was first asked to write this blog series a few months ago, Lacrosse Playground’s instructions were pretty straightforward: “highlight everything [the Lehigh lacrosse program] has to offer a student-athlete.” Little did I know, though, that in the course of doing so, I would undertake that stated objective for myself on a personal level. In eleven entries thus far, I’ve done more than my fair share of “reflecting” on what my college lacrosse experience has been like. In this current (and hopefully not final) entry, though, I feel as though I’m finally able to conclude as to what playing lacrosse at Lehigh has really been all about since day one. In prior entries, I talked about #ringchasing, about winning a Patriot League Championship, about facing adversity and coming together as a team to achieve a goal. In this twelfth entry, having now accomplished those feats, I’m afforded the chance to consider what’s tied the whole journey together from the start: the notion of family.
Late on the eve of the Patriot League semifinals, our team’s luxurious Easton Coach pulled into La Quinta Inn in Verona, New York. Coach Ese had pizzas waiting in the lobby for the group…epitomizing his “quality control” position to the 40 or so hungry and tired players coming off that long bus ride from Bethlehem. After “stacking our gains” (as our team likes to refer to eating), guys went their separate ways and retired to their rooms for the night. Ryan Buttenbaum and I got a great night’s sleep, but unfortunately Matt “Baby Schmee” Smith couldn’t figure out how to close his room’s blinds until the sun had risen on Friday morning. By the time that sunrise had come, though, everyone was wide-awake and full of energy, eagerly awaiting our rematch with the Army Cadets.
Mike Noone led us onto the field Friday night…a fitting choice considering the extent to which he’s become a physical and emotional leader for us this season. At the hands of the prolific “Italian Connection” of David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni, we jumped out to a quick start against Army and never looked back. Kyle Stiefel added a goal in the mix as well, but his biggest contribution that night definitely came off the field, when he supplied Farkas eye black for all of our players before the game. Guys got “Farked up” and resultantly took the field with a little more swag than usual…exactly the vibe Dr. Stiefel had ordered.
After celebrating Friday’s strong performance, everyone on the squad refocused pretty quickly. All the marbles were still on the table at the conclusion of the semis, and the Colgate Raiders remained standing between us and our ultimate objective. Having earned the right to compete in the Patriot League Championship and facing the opportunity to, in one game, accomplish a yearlong mission presented special circumstances that none of us had ever experienced before. Furthermore, when we took Colgate’s field for practice on Saturday, it was hard not to acknowledge just how blatantly appropriate that opportunity had turned out to be. Not only did we have a chance to win a championship…we had a chance to “right the wrong”, a chance to avenge our overtime loss to Colgate earlier in the season on the same field where we had to witness that bitter failure.
All of our parents met us for dinner shortly following that Saturday practice at a local restaurant in Verona. I know I’ve touched on it at earlier points in time, but I really can’t fully express the appreciation and gratitude that deservedly go out to our families for the unwavering support they’ve shown our team this season. During last weekend alone, they appeared to have more numbers and were louder than both Army and Colgate’s fan sections, largely due to Bruce Molnar and Joey DiMaria’s spirited vocal leadership. The tailgates they assemble after every game are second to none. The fact that they travel to all of our games alone deserves recognition and praise in itself. So, to all the parents that might be reading this specific post now, I speak for the entire team in sincerely thanking you for everything you guys do for us.
Coach Ese rounded us up after dinner had concluded, and the players headed back to the hotel to rendezvous with an awaiting coaching staff. In the meeting that followed, we went over detailed scouting reports on Colgate and watched film from their semifinal game against Bucknell. Eliminating their transition opportunities and winning the ground ball battle were the primary areas of focus going into the rematch, and Coach Cassese insisted that accomplishing these tasks would lead to the accomplishment of our ultimate goal.
When the details of our game plan had been covered at length, the attention of the meeting shifted to a more personal level. Coach Cassese had us arrange our chairs into a circular formation, which was by design an exact replica of how we sat during the players-only meeting called after our early-season loss to Villanova. In retrospect and acknowledgement of that pivotal gathering, each player in the room spoke out in the circle about what the looming championship game meant to him personally, and what specifically he would do to help the team accomplish the goal at hand. It was a truly moving conversation. Guys talked about wanting to establish a legacy, about wanting to win for each other, for the program, for the school…and, most of all, about wanting to show all the naysayers out there how far Lehigh lacrosse has come. Tashan Mitchell even described the ring-fitting process to us, having already experienced it this fall as a member of the school’s championship-winning football team. In the end, there was both a spoken and unspoken agreement among the group as to what was at stake and what needed to be done in order to accomplish all that we’d been striving for. Coach wrapped up the meeting and we went our separate ways for some much needed sleep.
Our coaching staff and a popular satirical twitter account known as “GS Elevator Gossip” have suggested to always “act like you’ve been there before” in any given situation. While none of us had ever played in a championship game before, we tried our best to follow that advice on Sunday. Brian Hess led us out onto the field for the warm up and the rest of the squad rallied around him just as we did during our game there in the regular season. Thankfully, this time around that didn’t turn out to be a big “no no”. From that point on, energy, enthusiasm, and a pure will to win were all as pervasive among my teammates as ever.
In the most emotional, hard-fought, and critical game that I’ve ever been a part of, we managed to overcome a tough Colgate opponent to win the 2012 Patriot League Championship. As I mentioned in an interview after the game, there really aren’t any words that can fully encapsulate the essence of that feeling. I suppose that if I had to try, I’d begin by noting how it was nothing short of a complete team effort that enabled us to win. From the goaltending of Matty Poillon, to the combined effort of our defensive unit, to the 16-goal production put forth by our offense, to the enthusiasm of the guys on the sideline and in the stands…winning the championship was accomplished by each and every single player, coach, and even family member that represented Lehigh lacrosse that afternoon. In retrospect, that’s what the essence of this entire season has been about most of all: the collective and concerted effort of a group striving to accomplish one fundamental goal. With that goal accomplished, it’s become clear that #ringchasing was never even necessarily about earning any hardware…it was about earning a tangible, lasting reminder of this Lehigh lacrosse family, a family forever solidified as champions.
Beyond inspiring this type of reflection, achieving a given goal has an even greater effect in inspiring the realization of new goals. As Patriot League Champions, there’s only one rational goal to consider going forward: winning a national title. Exactly a week after our Colgate game, our team gathered in the Gander Room to experience the NCAA Tournament Selection Show together. We all watched as we were selected to host the University of Maryland in the first round of the upcoming tournament. The privilege of hosting an NCAA Tournament game at our own Banko Field is special in its own right, but by no means any source of complacency. The privilege of playing lacrosse together still at this point in May is also special in its own right, but again by no means any source of complacency. A new opponent, a new opportunity, and a plethora of new naysayers are on the horizon. As has been the case since the days of my recruitment to Lehigh, though, the more that people predict us to lose, the more motivated (and more likely) we are to win. Bring on the Terps, bring on the NCAA Tournament, bring on the doubt…bring on whatever and I’m confident that it will only make this Lehigh lacrosse family stronger in the end.