Why we play: Michael Mullen, Lacrosse

Sophomore Michael Mullen, a member of the Vassar men’s lacrosse team, is the writer of this week’s “Why we play.” Last season, Mullen started all 16 games for the Brewers and scored 24 goals. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

My lacrosse career began when I was five years old on the only grass-fielded sports complex in my town. At the time I hardly knew what lacrosse was, and my only desire to play stemmed from the fact that my sister (who is three years older than me) had started playing a few years prior. Luckily for me, my town recreational league was known for lacrosse—home of Salisbury University, 12-time Division III National Champions. Every kid started playing at quite a young age in Salisbury, but not as young as I did. For the first two years of my lacrosse career, I played in the U-9 division, consistently the youngest kid on the team. At first I was nervous and intimidated playing against competition older than I. They weren’t that much older, but at the time, two years seemed like a tremendous age gap. I soon came to realize, though, that I was one of the more skilled players on the field even from an early age. I enjoyed being one of the more competitive people on the field, and it fueled me to continue playing.

At the age of 10, I was asked to join a club team, one that played both in the spring and summer. It was my first glimpse at summer lacrosse. I had always been able to dominate competition to this point, but for the first time in my life I realized I was far from the best. In fact, I was unaware of just how ordinary I was. I played with the team for two more years before my family decided to move to Pennsylvania. I do not remember being overly upset about moving; however, I knew one thing: I did not want to play lacrosse anymore. I had become frustrated that I was not one of the best. I wanted to be dominant. After weeks of trying, my mom convinced me to at least continue with lacrosse for a little longer. We had decided that I was going to switch my position from midfield to attack. This transition was my attempt at a clean slate. I was going to give it one last shot.

I showed up to my first day of tryouts in my all- blue gear. The blue equipment was superstitious: blue socks, blue pinny, blue shorts and a black-and-blue helmet. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Every other player except me was wearing red. I do not remember much from that tryout, but it resulted in me making the best team for my age. Once again I was not the best, and once more, again, I was far from perfect.

I did not quit, although at times I wanted to. I did not start on this team until I was in eighth grade, two years after I had originally joined it. In eighth grade we were fortunate enough to make it to a championship consisting of all the teams in the region. We were matched up against Wilmington, from Delaware. They had incredible players, and I could not have been more nervous. As it progressed, the game was tied with just minutes left. A teammate of mine dodged from X, beat his man and threw the ball to me cutting across the crease. I received the ball, and with the flick of my wrists, I scored the game-winning goal. The game ended 4-3. In that moment, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had never experienced before. In that instance, I knew that lacrosse was what I wanted to be doing. Three years prior I wanted to quit the sport forever, and if it hadn’t been for my mom, I would have. But now, there was no stopping me.

When I entered high school, I was fortunate enough to make varsity as a ninth grader. Like every level prior to this, I did not start. I did not get much playing time, except for in throw-away games. But, even if only known to myself, I knew I could play with this quality of competition. I entered my sophomore year as determined as I had ever been before. Through grit and determination, I concluded the season with 80 goals, which ranked third in the entire state. I received first team all-conference honors. Yet, it still was not good enough; I wanted more. I was happy, but I was not satisfied. It might sound clichéd, but it was a driving force for my betterment in the sport.

Going into my junior year, I strived to lead the state in goals. I came back better than I had the year prior, and I knew I could play with just about anyone. I had a stellar year, and my overall skill set had improved greatly, but I still finished third in the state in goals, totaling 86. I had beaten my previous year’s marker, but as had been the case with all of my previous accomplishments, it simply wasn’t enough. Every year I came back I was better, and I intended to ensure this was the case once more.

In my senior year, I led the state in goals with 104 and was a first team all-league and a first team all-state selection. Surprisingly, though, that was not my most memorable achievement of that year. My team was able to win the district for the first time in the school’s history. Additionally, we were able to qualify to compete in the state playoffs for the first time ever. After seven years of determination and constant toiling, we had finally done what no team before us had.

Prior to my senior season, I knew that I want- ed to play lacrosse at the collegiate level. I had consistently been in the leaderboards in the state; however, I received very little college interest. No one seemed to want me; I felt as though I had so much to give, yet no one even glanced twice at my play. I received two offers: one from Cabrini University, which has an excellent Division III lacrosse program with mediocre academics, and Vassar College, with a lacrosse program on the rise and prestigious academics. To me, it was very much so a common-sense choice. Vassar College was going to be my home for the next four years. Coach Graham and Coach McCreery gave me an opportunity very few others did, and I was going to make the most of it.

I didn’t know what to expect of collegiate lacrosse when I first walked on campus, but it sure lived up to my expectations. There were some moments on the field last year, my first year, that I wouldn’t give up for the world. I love every single guy on the team as though he is my brother, and coming to Vassar is all the more worthwhile because of that bond.

I play because I want to prove people wrong. I play because I love the game. I play because I love getting better. I play because of the friendships. Ultimately, I play because I want to be the best.

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