Summer is over and the new school year has begun. As always, there is a slew of fresh new faces on campuses across the country, many of them lacrosse players. Soon these players will find out that making the jump to college is not as easy as it may have seemed at first glance.
Being the star on a high school lacrosse team is awesome. One can use their athletic abilities or natural talent to simply out-class opponents. There are plenty of other talented opponents, but there is also the occasional easy match-up. These instances allow a player to have fun with their skills and show their peers why they will be playing at the next level. However, high school dominance does not always translate into instant success at the next level.
Stepping on to a collegiate field the first time is an exciting, nerve-wracking, and proud moment for any freshman. These players have separated themselves from the thousands of other players that college coaches saw and earned the right to play at the next level. There is always a little bit of confidence as freshmen strap on their pads, often wearing the same gear that they stared in during their high school years. The freshmen toss the ball around, usually being the first ones on the field as the upperclassmen talk amongst themselves. While the seniors, juniors, and sophomores, slowly get dressed, the freshmen are waiting for their moment to impress. Each of those players believes that they were brought in to play right away, eager to earn their spot on day one.
Then the practice begins, and the freshmen get their first taste of what college lacrosse is really like. Well, it’s mostly running and passing. Lots and lots of running and passing. This is probably not what freshmen envisioned, but that does not mean it is easy by any stretch. Tired from all of the running? Better not let that show. Never had to use the off-hand much in high school? That’s going to hurt when a freshie drops a pass right in front of the coach. The simple things that players take for granted are often the first stumbling block. However, these struggles are nothing compared to the ones freshmen face when they compete against other players. The same players who could dominate games with their physicality and athleticism struggle to keep up with the pace of the game. Every other player on the field seems to be bigger, faster, and capable of running for days on end. After day one, some freshmen can feel a little shell-shocked by how intense the game is at the next level. The first experience of collegiate lacrosse can feel like it is a different game.
I still remember my “welcome to college lacrosse” moment. After a fall-ball of flying under the radar, and a winter of running until I thought I would pass-out, the first scrimmage of the season had arrived. While getting ready I peered at the depth chart to see that I was starting. I was a little shocked but excited at the prospect of starting as a freshman, and I knew I had to impress in this game. As the teams went to line up, I remember having to look almost straight up at this behemoth of a defender. The letters ‘RPI’ on his sweatshirt were about even with my eyes when we shook hands. I was wondering how people even got that big when the shrill sound of the referee’s whistle broke my train of thought. Before I had much time to react, the ball was out of the fogo’s stick and into mine. My moment had finally arrived, and it was taken from me, along with the ball, within seconds. It was a hard slap-check to the arm, followed by a push that sent me about five yards that forced the ball to the turf. I think the ref was just being merciful when he called it a push from behind because it was almost square in my chest. It didn’t matter though, I got the message. I was going to be beaten and chased around the field the whole afternoon. After two hours, I felt more like a rodeo clown than a lacrosse player. A year prior I had felt like I had the game figured out, and now I was just trying to make it through a game.
Eventually, I, like all freshmen, figured it out. Once the shock wears off, it becomes easy to adapt to the next level. I learned what things that worked in high school didn’t work in college; I also learned a handful of simple tricks that made a massive difference in games. There certainly is a lot to adjust to when first starting, but freshmen are only freshmen until the play a game or two. Then they are just college lacrosse players like everyone else on the field. Even now with the many rule changes freshmen have to learn when making the jump, like the shot-clock and clearing rules, there will always be stand-out first-years who make their team much better.
Nevertheless, it is always fun to suit up for the first practice as an upperclassman, waiting to see the freshmen go through the same shocking experience you did.