Major League Lacrosse struggled in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit: the Southern Men’s Club Lacrosse Team was no different.
Unlike Major League Lacrosse, which ended up having to sell the league and merge with its competitor, Premier League Lacrosse, the Men’s Club Lacrosse Team showed no signs of leaving Southern anytime soon. The players themselves being the guiding force for keeping the club active.
“When I got here, a lot of the pre-COVID club members had all graduated. Clubs were in a weird spot because they had two or three club-experienced players who were freshmen before COVID and knew how things work. And then they had about 95 percent of their roster who had no idea what was going on,” says the team adviser Mirza Javed.
However, when mask mandates were lifted, many club sports teams, which were struggling to find members, saw a rise in participation.
“Men’s lax now has a roster of 35 to 40 guys. Meanwhile, last year, they were struggling to get 20 on the field. With any lacrosse team, you need a big roster,” says Javed. “There was a bit of a struggle, but I’m very proud of where the team has come since then.”
Javed says, primarily, last year was about roster building with most of the team being comprised of freshmen and sophomores. This year has been about fleshing out the team.
Javed says how crucial it was that there was no turnover of guys between this year and last.
Club sports, unlike varsity sports, don’t require a student to sacrifice a lot of time to participate or play. Playing sports at a college level can be daunting for some students, but club sports provide a different avenue for people who want to continue to play the sports they played during high school, or to start a sport that they’ve grown fond of.
Tory Knaff, a freshman exploratory major, who served in the U.S. military overseas in Germany and then state-side in Hawaii, says he played lacrosse in high school and was pleased to see that he could get back into the game he loved here.
“I’m new to the team, being a freshman, but I see a lot of potential. It brings back a lot of old memories. I haven’t played lacrosse in a long time, and seeing these young guys work their tails off, gives me hope for this team,” says Knaff.
Being a student-athlete at Southern is a big commitment. Waking up to practice early in the morning multiple times a week, and playing multiple games a week may not be feasible for every college student.
Sophomore transfer student Thomas O’Neill says, after playing for the men’s NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) lacrosse program at Saint Joseph’s University, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to manage playing lacrosse while also balancing the work of being a nursing major.
“I still wanted to play but I wasn’t sure at what level. Trying to be a nursing major and playing lacrosse was a lot of mental stress,” says O’Neill.
After reconnecting with a high school lacrosse teammate, club team captain and junior Pablo deVos-Deak, says he was eager to play for the club team at SCSU.
“I have a bunch of friends on the team so it was a good way to start finding new people on campus,” says O’Neill. “Pablo is someone I knew from high school so I reached out to him and I met most of the team through summer ball.”
Practicing, planning, and preparing for a club sport is much less intensive than a NCAA Division II sport, but can be just as rewarding. According to transfer student and Fundraising Chair, Richard Salg, junior business administration major, while the club is not an NCAA-recognized sports team at SCSU, there is still a strong sense of comradery and brotherhood among them.
Salg, was a part of the group of students who helped build the roster during last year’s season. He compares the teams dedication to building a roster and a close-knit team to the Apollo space mission.
“If you want to compare this team to something, it’s like the Apollo space mission. It’s about getting the rocket off the launch pad. At first, they couldn’t, and then they got it into orbit, and they’re like ‘OK we got it into orbit, let’s get it to the moon,’ and that’s where we kind of are,” says Salg.
“Anything we achieve this season is a product of how good the players are, how hard the e-Board have been working, and guidance from our coaches. I don’t have enough good things to say about these guys.”
Salg also talked about how the team is more than just a team to him.
“We have become a family. I would say a team but I feel a family is more than a team,” says Salg.
This family bond was echoed by club captain deVos-Deak.
“People join club sports to be a part of a team, but there are also fraternities—at least for us, there’s about five people in Tau Kappa Epsilon that are also on the men’s lacrosse team—and people overlap in honors college as well,” says deVos-Deak. “Since there’s a lot overlapping outside of the sport, and inside the sport, it helps build a sense of community. We all know when we are on the field we are giving 100 percent.”
deVos-Deak has been on the team since he was a freshman. He was a part of the initial group of freshmen who have helped build the club since its return back in the Fall 2020 semester.
“I came in with other freshman at the time and it was four or five of us with about another five or 10 guys who were already on the team,” says deVos-Deak.
deVos-Deak reaffirmed Javed’s statement about how last spring the team was focused on roster-building, and this upcoming season will be more about competing.
“It was our first season back in about two years and we really tried to do everything possible. We had guys going to club fairs, walking around with sticks,” says deVos-Deak. “Obviously, we want to be successful on the field, but part of being successful on the field is actually having enough people to be on the field.”
deVos-Deak credits the e-Board of the club with helping to flesh out the roster, and their dutiful focus on the recruiting aspect of the team.
“We are going to succeed and grow by being the team that takes anyone that wants to play and turning them into a player,” says deVos-Deak.
deVos-Deak hopes to get the team to a professional level of play despite not being NCAA.
“Going forward, the league we play in, the MCLA, talked about how they wanted it to feel more like a professional sport. Obviously, we are not NCAA, but there are levels to this that make it feel like a varsity sport without making it seem like a second job,” says deVos-Deak.
Since last year, Javed says many of the players have been taking personal responsibility when it comes to practice outside of the season.
“I had guys texting me the first weekend before this semester started talking about ‘what should I be doing?’ so they can hit the ground running as soon as they get here,” says Javed.
The maturity of the current lacrosse team stood out to Javed as a reason why they were able to succeed post-COVID.
“With men’s lax, I was very surprised to see the amount of maturity within my team—them being such a young team of freshmen and sophomores,” says Javed. “We have captains standing up and leading the team along with the e-Board, keeping track of the paperwork.”
By Bradley Robidoux