When news broke of a shortened college lacrosse season, every coach in the country entered uncharted territory.
Forced to figure out how to celebrate seniors, how to provide closure to returning players, and what does this mean for recruiting, coaches were left with more questions than answers. In our profession we are built for change, for adversity, and for being leaders in times where others feel hopeless.
Coaches, as they always do, were quick to act and find creative solutions to these new and unforeseen challenges. We reached out to coaches across the industry to see how they have handled the pandemic.
Nearly every coach we reached out to is using Zoom to keep in touch with their players, but some are definitely taking virtual meet-ups to the next level. Patrick Johnston, the head men’s coach at Keiser University (FL), has integrated the use of guest speakers to help keep things fresh and continue his team’s development.
As a team we have a weekly Zoom meeting every Wednesday,” Johnson filled us in. “The Zoom meeting has been great, the men are excited to see each other and we started having guest speakers to talk with them each week.
“So far we’ve had a former professional hockey player, an FBI agent, and a local entrepreneur and business owner. One of the best things to come out of this is that our incoming freshmen are joining our weekly meeting so they are already getting connected with our lacrosse family.
At Lawrence Tech University (MI), the men’s team is using Zoom as a virtual classroom to examine film. They are enjoying the meetings so much that they plan on continuing them even once things normalize.
We have Zoom film sessions in small groups at the conclusion of our year end reviews and evaluations,” Lawrence Tech head coach Paul Nemzek explained. “Offense, defense, transition, special teams, etc. will each meet via Zoom in small groups throughout the spring and summer. These Zoom meetings will also continue after we are allowed to resume meeting in person.
In addition to using Zoom to keep in touch with current players, coaches have had to adjust their recruiting philosophies.
Not being able to attend spring high school games, and with summer lacrosse in jeopardy, coaches have utilized this time to develop deeper relationships with potential players and have relied more on film than ever.
Mike Schanhals, head men’s coach at Hope College (MI), stated:
“Obviously, I have not been able to attend any high school games, nor have we been able to host visits. Those are the two most significant changes at this time. I am curious to see if we will get to see some lacrosse sometime this summer. I have had the chance to talk to more recruits as they have been more able to engage by phone.”
Amanda Ascher, the head women’s coach at Concordia University (MI), mentioned that she is doing more recruiting of juniors through film.
“The time we have has allowed us to increase our conversations with recruits,” Ascher noted. “Instead of in person tours we utilize virtual tours, instead of emails and phone calls we spend more time with potential recruits on social media.”
Here's a look at the @CUAAWLAX Class of 2020!
— Concordia Cardinals (@CUAACardinals) April 7, 2020
Coach Nemzek and staff haven’t allowed the quarantine to slow their recruiting down, and instead have made the most of this situation.
Virtual tours and meetings are nice, and we have used them, but they do not compare to the human element,” Nemzek reflected. “That said, we have continued to recruit very well during this time solidifying our 2020s and already receiving verbal commitments from 2021s. Our philosophy, methods, and contact have remained strong and will continue to be a priority for us going forward.
While nearly every program in the country was unable to have a senior day, the Keiser Seahawks lucked out. With their location in Florida they had a heavy home schedule to start their season, and had their senior day as planned on March 7th. The Heidelberg Women’s Lacrosse team on the other hand found out their season was done while they were walking out for warm-ups on March 12th.
“We will always be thankful that we had the ability to get our last game in against Anderson,” Heidelberg head coach Ryan Kuhn explained. “We had heard prior to taking the field that our season was over, and after the initial shock subsided, the ladies made a point to send the seniors off in proper fashion.”
“While it wasn’t a traditional Senior Day, we did have the opportunity to play together one more time and finish on a high note while celebrating a pretty remarkable group of young ladies.
(Photo Courtesy of Keiser University Athletics)
Other coaches had to be much more creative in celebrating their seniors, relying heavily on twitter to do so publicly. Even though many of these seniors won’t return for an additional year, and will instead start their careers and graduate programs, I believe I speak for everyone when I say coaches have done a commendable job making sure every senior felt appreciated during these interesting times.
When speaking about celebrating his only senior, Coach Nemzek was sure to mention,
“We all look forward to getting together and celebrating Matt (Corse) in person this summer or whenever all of this ends”.
Jason Levesque, the first year women’s head coach at St. Bonaventure, was experiencing unprecedented success leading the team to a 5-2 record and an exciting start in the program’s short history when the season ended abruptly.
However, there is a silver lining for coach Levesque:
We made incredible progress this season and I’m so proud of how the team handled adversity along the way. Three of our four seniors are returning next year to finish what we started.
There’s no denying that this pandemic created a very challenging situation for student athletes and coaches across the country. It’s unprecedented and a hardship we can only hope to never endure again. While coaches were faced with some pretty daunting challenges, we’ve come to see just how resilient programs are, and how technology has allowed us to get through this situation and stay connected.
Yes, it was heartbreaking to see our seasons come to a close. Find excitement in having no doubt that teams will come back stronger and more prepared than ever.
We expect 2021 to be a year for the ages.
Thank you to the coaches who contributed to this article:
Ryan Kuhn, Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach, Heidelberg University, (NCAA D3)
Mike Schanhals, Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach, Hope College, (NCAA D3)
Patrick Johnston, Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach, Keiser University, (NAIA)
Paul Nemzek, Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach, Lawrence Tech University (NAIA)
Amanda Ascher, Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach, Concordia University (NAIA)
Jason Levesque, Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach, St. Bonaventure University (NCAA D1)
Special thanks to Coach Ryan Kuhn for helping to organize the interviews and craft this article.