Men’s lacrosse excited to make return to Rotch Field

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Photo: Kayla Buck

Austin Franklin at media day in preparation for the 2022 season.

By Tyler Foy, Sports Editor

The artificial turf at Rotch Field hasn’t seen a men’s lacrosse game since February 2020, but the Lions will make their return this Saturday to start their 2022 season.

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all spring sports were shut down—including the men’s lacrosse team, which had played only five games before their season was canceled. Things were hopeful in 2021 when an abbreviated season of five games was on the cards. Even though the team ended up only playing two away games, Head Coach Matthew Colombini said the limited season had a positive effect on the team.

“It was beneficial that we got out and we were able to play a little bit,” Colombini said. “It was certainly very challenging on the guys to prepare and then not have the opportunity to show all the preparation they did. Both those games were important for the younger guys to get a feel for what it’s like.”

The team participated in restrictive practices in Spring 2021 due to COVID protocols, which isolated players on offense and defense. They were not able to scrimmage due to contact being minimal. Nevertheless, sophomore defenseman Shawn Zheng said he appreciated being able to practice at all.

“It was a pretty helpful transition,” he said. “I got the hang of how everything runs in the field, in the locker room, how you’re supposed to carry yourself, and a college team standard.”

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The team has been limited over the course of the past two years, but attacker Austin Franklin said he was ready to demonstrate the team’s growth since the start of the pandemic on the field.

“We’re excited to be able to play a full season and really show how much we’ve improved over the last couple years,” Franklin said. “Unfortunately, playing five games in 2020 and then two games last year with everything going on, I don’t think we’ve really been able to show our full potential.”

The team is full of returning players, including Franklin who is coming back to the team as a graduate student since players were awarded another year of eligibility. While working on his master’s degree in writing for film and television, he said the team atmosphere was the reason he chose to continue playing.

“We’ve got a lot of good camaraderie going on and getting down to the field every day and going to lift every day is a lot of fun,” Franklin said. “It’s hard to say no or to pass up on an opportunity to be around the guys that we’ve got on the team.”

With five juniors, six seniors, and two graduate students, the team’s 25-man roster is mostly full of upperclassmen. Colombini said the veteran players have been crucial to the team dynamic and development of the program.

“We have a great group of leaders,” Colombini said. “They certainly know what we expect and what it takes to be competitive. And they’ve done a great job helping the young guys out.”

Zheng said the leadership core of the team had helped him mature as a player.

“Once I stepped on campus I was introduced to all the older guys,” Zheng said “They have helped me a lot in terms of getting used to how everything is supposed to go campus life-wise. These older guys, they set a standard on how this team is supposed to carry themselves, how everybody acts, in class and on the field.”

The team started practicing in the last week of January, and has had to deal with inclement weather impeding its practices

“With those cold days that have been canceled, we all have the attitude that it doesn’t matter it’s out of our control—we find ways to get better,” Franklin said. “Whether that’s going to the gym and lifting, or watching more film, or finding ways to work around adversity, we’re still getting better as a program.”

Colombini said the team is in better shape compared to his previous five seasons of being at the helm for the Lions.

“We’re in a great place right now,” Colombini said. “From one to 25 on the roster, everyone is working extremely hard. This is, by far, the physically strongest team we’ve had. It’s the most skilled team we’ve had. More importantly, the guys genuinely enjoy being around each other.”

In their last full season, the Lions went 3-14. However, they are hopeful this season to reach the top of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.

“The goals are the same as they’ve been since I got here to make NEWMAC playoffs—we want to win the NEWMAC,” Colombini said. “We keep it pretty simple.”

The Lions’ first game of the season is Saturday, Feb. 19 at Rotch Field against Nichols College. To win the game, Colombini said there will be an extra focus on controlling emotions after the drought of competitive play.

“It’s going to be really important to manage for the first five to 10 minutes of the game,” he said. “All the energy, the emotion, and the excitement of not having hosted a home scrimmage at Rotch since February 2020.”