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lacrosse story Hugo Casey

Rekindling the Love: A Lacrosse Story

My name is Hugo Casey, and I played lacrosse at Northern Arizona in the MCLA, helping take the program to heights it had never seen before. That might sound simple, but it was anything but.

This is my lacrosse story.

Rekindling the Love: A Lacrosse Story

Recruitment & Aurora

I grew up dreaming of being recruited to play NCAA lacrosse. It was tough to get noticed out of Arizona, but I did – Aurora University, a small Division III school in Illinois, discovered me, and I jumped at the chance. In the fall of 2011, I enrolled at Aurora.

I was extremely excited to become a collegiate athlete and live out this opportunity to play at the next level. But I didn’t have a normal student-athlete experience.

Three days before the fall semester began, and before I had left for Illinois, the head coach that recruited my class left for another school. With no relationship with the newly-named coach, I already felt things were like off.

Then, early in my freshman year, tragedy struck. My roommate succumbed to his struggles and overdosed on Xanax, passing away at the hospital.

It was very difficult for me to process these emotions as an 18-year-old kid. I tried to lead a normal life – go to classes, socialize, and play lacrosse – but those things didn’t feel right.

No more than a few weeks later, I received a knock at my dorm door in the middle of the night from an RA, who told me I needed to call my family immediately. I learned that because of an accident, I had lost members of my family.

Those three short months shook me to my core, and I left Aurora a different person.

I returned in the fall of 2012 and was optimistic. I took satisfaction in overcoming those struggles and having the courage to come back. I have fond memories from Aurora, like scoring my first collegiate goal, playing at the Arlotta Family Lacrosse Stadium at Notre Dame, and reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. I was surrounded by great players and strong leadership.

lacrosse story Hugo Casey
Hugo Casey (34) among his Aurora men’s lacrosse teammates.

I loved lacrosse when I first arrived at the university, and it was the only sport I took seriously, but that story changed. Those feelings faded through my time there, and after two completed years, I decided it was no longer for me, and I closed that door on my life.

Leaving the Sport

I transferred to Grand Canyon University to be closer to my family and friends, and I played lacrosse for the school’s MCLA DI program. I figured it would be a great opportunity to keep lacrosse in my life while also having my support system. The team was very welcoming, the school was beautiful, and the facilities were unmatched. The talent on the team was exciting, and the practices and lifts were intense and even rivaled the NCAA level.

Although my situation was filled with nothing but opportunity externally, my motivation and love for the sport dissipated internationally. With my heart no longer being invested, I again closed that door, figuring this time it was for the last time.

I wasn’t playing lacrosse, I wasn’t attending school, so I joined the workforce. For the next year, I bounced from job to job, feeling lost. I gained a position at a local gym as a fitness consultant and thoroughly enjoyed it. I earned a good living and met great people. As months passed, I was happy with the work I was doing – my life revolved around the gym, and I had incredible mentorship.

Although things felt on the rise, I started to feel a void: I was missing lacrosse. I reminisced all the good times playing the sport.

The Door Opens

It had been almost two years since I called myself a student-athlete, and I was ready to get back on that field. There was absolutely no way of knowing that signing up for a men’s league would effectively alter the course of my life, but it did.

After one of my games, Northern Arizona men’s lacrosse head coach Nick Adler approached me. He asked about my experienced in college. He invited me to visit the university, to be part of the team, and reassured me that my experience would be much better at NAU. He even offered to house me if I couldn’t find a home up north.

I visited the campus in the summer of 2016 and met with Coach Adler and team president Dustin Kowell. Flagstaff was gorgeous: high in elevation, located by the San Francisco Peaks, and surrounded by beautiful pine forests. I enjoyed my visit, and I appreciated the gesture, but I wasn’t overly open to the idea of starting over, again.

I was intrigued, but I had fear of the past. Still, I knew I was damn fortunate to have this door to lacrosse open itself to me one more time.

I’d like to say I took the time to research the lacrosse program, researched NAU, and planned a move up there, but that’s not how this story goes. I simply took a leap of faith. I quit my job, I packed my car up days before the semester began, and I moved my entire life out to Flagstaff. I moved in with Coach Adler and his family.

Redemption

I knew from our first team meeting that I had made the right decision. The positivity and comradery I felt in that room told me as much. By the time our first fall ball concluded, I had never felt so comfortable on a team.

In our 2017 season, we went 13-2, defeating San Diego, 13-12, in the SLC Playoffs but lost in the final to Concordia Irvine. In 2018, we repeated the success with a 10-2 mark but fell short in the playoffs to Cal State San Marcos.

Our 2019 campaign was special. It was a culmination of the coaches and players who had come before us and paved the way for the success we had. With only 19 players on the roster and a new head coach, William Lawlor, we achieved the SLC championship and made the first National Tournament appearance in program history.

As a senior, it was a perfect send off and truly one of the best experiences of my lacrosse career. My teammates are some of the best individuals I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and I will carry those friendships with me for the rest of my life. I left with pride knowing that in the three season I played, we put NAU on the map and made history.

My experience in the NCAA was unique, and it taught me perseverance and resilience, but that wasn’t where I was meant to be. Taking a leap of faith led to redemption and exceptional memories at Northern Arizona. I was fortunate enough to find a home with NAU, and it reignited a love for the sport that I had lost.

This is my lacrosse story.

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