Normalcy was lacrosse: reflections on a pandemic-perturbed season

Sandro Luis Lorenzo/The Miscellany News

As I finished my last official fall training on Friday, I let out a deep breath. After a long seven weeks with 29 practices (13 more than Women’s Lacrosse is usually allotted), I needed some time to focus on school, my mental health and the world around me. Like everyone else, my past few weeks have been grueling, with assignments, Mercury in retrograde and, of course, the election. But I was also relieved that my team and I made it through our fall season unscathed by COVID-19. I was worried in the beginning––I hadn’t gathered in such a big group since last March, and was wary of a potential outbreak from a team affecting the rest of campus. Fortunately, the plans that the administration had in place were effective in keeping my team and the rest of campus healthy. I successfully survived the fall season, a little bruised and injured, with five negative tests, twice as many practices as I am used to, a new practice pinnie and my first coaching in six months.

Yet, now I sit here days out from my last training, bored, unsure what to do with myself and missing lacrosse. I thought I would’ve taken a nap, caught up on some Netflix, FaceTimed my friends, heck, maybe even done some homework despite having a Community Care day. But here I am, already wishing to be back on good ol’ Prentiss field, dreading our one warm-up lap, running 7s around the 8-meter arc, petting our assistant coach’s dog Cosy and huddling with the rest of my teammates. I find myself becoming increasingly grateful for this past fall season, for having the privilege to train together while staying safe. And with our official season still in question for the spring, these opportunities to play together will continue to be few and far between.

My team had just split for our four-day break after playing in Nashville during the first week of spring break when we heard our season had been canceled. It was a whirlwind of disbelief, surprise and sadness––everyone had only just started talking about this coronavirus thing seven days before. People on the team had been hearing about cancellations throughout the week from former high school teammates now at different colleges, but we hadn’t heard anything from Vassar or any of the other schools in the Liberty League. We were fully living in our own world in the middle of Tennessee––team chemistry on and off the field had never been higher, we were 4-0, won both of our games during the trip and had finally beaten rival Skidmore a week and a half before in an OT thriller. We were led by a fierce group of seniors, all naturals in leadership, talent, athleticism and hard work. This team was ready to show the Liberty League what we were made of, and we were ready to be damned if we didn’t make it to the Liberty League Final. But then, all of that came to a world-ending, confusing, unimaginable halt––we were done and never going to be able to get this team back.

Fast-forward to six months later––seniors have graduated, there are eight new first-years, only seven total upperclassmen on campus and we are due to start our fall ball season in some capacity in the next few weeks. Everyone has had a season ripped away from them (for returners, the spring, and for the first-years, their senior seasons of high school). A few of my teammates were able to safely participate in coaching or camps over the summer in their home communities, but myself and a few others were left to our own devices over the summer. I did wall ball, attempted to juggle, practiced my stances and did the lift regimen, but none of that compares to live shots, live plays and live coaching. During this time, none of us knew how practice would look––would it be hard to breathe while wearing a mask and a helmet? What kind of drills could we actually do? Would we have to have two different groups of practices? What would happen if someone tested positive? All these questions were heaped on top of the other uncertainties that had been weighing on all our minds for months. But as soon as our Head Coach Judy Finerghty sent the schedule of practices for the fall––five days a week, hour and 30 minutes, 30 practices––I reveled in the idea of just feeling busy again. Practicing five days a week was only one less than being in season, my four classes were starting, hours for work-study were being scheduled. The pandemic outside of the Vassar bubble seemed to be fading away in my mind. 

The first practices were weird––all masked and split into pods based on our houses, warming up in five different groups, no high fives allowed. Since defense involves physical contact, practices consisted of a lot of stickwork, footwork and uncontested shooting. Not the kinds of drills you would think of when someone said “fun practice,” especially for goalkeepers who haven’t seen real shots in six months, but I was slowly reminded of the habitualness of our seemingly former lives: the sweating, the shoutouts at the end of practice, the Deece dinners, the weekly laundry. Normalcy was turning the corner, and it all came from lacrosse.

We slowly transitioned to slightly bigger groups within practice, our accuracy in passing improved, shots didn’t hit the goalies as much, chemistry formed—it was shaping up to be like real fall ball, even with our masks on. And then we got the option to play contact with the campus moving into Phase 3. Our team decided to opt in––we would have to test every week, would be split into two groups at first, still would need to wear masks, and were made aware that if one person tested positive, the rest of us would also have to isolate. But the chance of contact! Real lacrosse! Other schools in DIII couldn’t even practice together, and we were going to be able to play defense, offense and high five! So, on Oct. 12, women’s lacrosse began their first of three weeks of contact practice. Defenders were happy to finally be in their natural element and put pressure on the sticks of attackers after weeks of shooting, attack could run full plays around the 8-meters, a proper face-off could start a round of play. 

We were able to have our first full on scrimmage on Oct. 21, Burgundy versus Gray, full contact with the whole team. After months of hearsay, rightful precautions and grief over the canceled season, walking onto the field that day felt like we were playing for the Liberty League Championship, just as we had hoped for last spring. Trash talk, spectators, flashy goals, hustle to save a ball from out of bounds, the scrimmage had it all––Burgundy pulled away 13-11. Our offense was flying, the defense needed some tightening up, but luckily we were able to have another chance at playing the next week. For our second to last time on the field for the fall, our team played another scrimmage, a 14-13 OT thriller with Gray flying high this time. The team looked even better than the week before––we were on our way to mid-season form, and if we had played Skidmore the next week, I would have felt ready. The environment around us hadn’t changed much from the week before, but during this second scrimmage we were allowed to take off our masks. There was an oddness in being with twenty other people maskless for the first time since Tennessee––I almost felt insecure, like my face was naked. But as I stood on the sideline with my goalie coach, she remarked, “Wow, it almost feels normal again.” 

Normal again. Not something I thought I would feel for maybe even another year. Yet, on Prentiss field around 5:30 p.m., in my own little bubble within the bubble, watching my teammates zing around a yellow lacrosse ball at one end, I forgot about COVID-19. About having to wear a mask all the time. About being worried about going home where my dad is an essential worker. About how I miss sitting in the Deece. About how I miss hugging my friends. 

Of course, all of this was only possible because of the preparation done by the school, the student body as well as employees committing to safety precautions and taking this pandemic seriously. So, as I sit here thinking about how I am going to keep myself occupied the next few weeks without annoying my roommate and friends too much, I am going to reflect on the privilege I had to play a sport I love, with restrictions and then without, the opportunity to stand next to my teammates six feet apart and then be able to high five them, and I’ll be grateful that I had a chance at normalcy, even if it was only for two hours last Wednesday. 

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