In January, every college team’s record is the same.
The Christmas break offered a time for rest and reflection before the chaotic spring semester. In between celebrations with family and friends or vacation players have to find time to train, to play wall ball, do footwork, watch film, get a run in, and to prepare for the gauntlet ahead. Awakening from this hibernation, college programs begin a new season with new possibilities for reaching their championship goals.
Once practice starts there isn’t time to play catchup.
By the first week of January some teams have already started practices as many teams will have scrimmages right away and will play their first game of the season on February 1st. Wins during the season will not happen without the proper preseason preparations.
Coaches have been planning for months and have the practice plans ready to go. Players need to have the same intensity in January as they would in a playoff game in May, but that’s not an easy thing to do as the grind of the preseason takes its toll.
They must get comfortable being uncomfortable as they face the challenges of the weather, battling against their teammates, coaches watching their every move, sticks breaking because of the cold, being sore from a grueling morning lift, getting to class on time, getting assignments and papers done on time, and all while trying to crack the gameday lineup. Not to mention the extra work players must do on their own to rise above their opponents. They have to overcome their personal struggles so that they can help the team rise above its own battles once the season begins.
I remember the long days of 7 am lift followed by a 2 hour practice in the snow as half the team sprinted to the locker room once it ended to shower and then sprint across campus to class with a film session waiting for you later that night. You would barely make it through the day only to do it all again tomorrow.
Whether the practices are on a frozen snow covered field, chilly indoor facility, in a gym, surrounded by palm trees, or in the shadow of mountains, each team has to find a way to prepare for their rapidly approaching first game. Offensive sets, defensive slide packages, transition situations, faceoff wing play, man-up, man-down, and the all-important clear all have to be put in place and be second nature for the players in just a few weeks time.
Every year the lacrosse community jokes about how it’s a “spring sport” despite starting in the winter months as teams play in freezing temperatures and in snowstorms. The teams trudge on regardless, but how different would the results of these games be if they were played in warmer weather?
When I was playing at Canisius, practicing in January was a struggle in chilly Buffalo, NY. We would get on a bus to practice at an indoor facility 30 minutes away or try and run drills in the school’s gym as much as we could, but practicing on our own field was often a rarity.
Our field, the Demske, could sometimes be covered with a foot of snow up until the week of our first home game. The facilities crew did what they could to plow the field, but shoveling, breaking up ice, and trying to clear at least a half of the field would sometimes be our warmup. Our coaches would even get there early to shovel when it snowed the night before. On a February road trip, I remember being jealous of the fully cleared fields at Denver thanks to big tractors with plows on them and their heated turf.
Whatever our practice situation was on any given day, we did everything we could to push each other and prepare for the season. We became closer through it all.
The teams that go through winter practice adversity will come out tougher from it. When teams like Jacksonville, Tampa, Mercer, or other southern teams that get to practice in warm weather travel north to play they will be at a disadvantage. They aren’t used to playing with numb fingers or toes and the cold winds freezing your face. The teams that practice in the cold every day won’t even bat an eye because they are in their element.
The players will wear sweatsuits, double long sleeves, double socks, latex gloves, extra leggings, and whatever they need to compete at their best this preseason. Or some of the crazier ones might tough it out wearing just a t-shirt and shorts.
No matter how much they prepare, every team is going in blind to their first game. How will the clear look against another team? Will the freshman attackman be able to handle the pressure? Will the #1 defenseman be able to guard the other team’s 5th year transfer? After 60 minutes these questions will be answered.
There’s no knowing what a team’s record will be at the end of the 2020 season and if conference championships and more await them, but putting in the work in the preseason long before those big moments will set them up for the success they’re all dreaming of.
College lacrosse is almost back. Good luck to all the coaches and players on their journey.