I have never been on a losing lacrosse team which explains why I remember losses more than the expected wins.
Being the favorite to win the game is a double edged sword. You walk onto the field confident that today will be your day. But when the game starts every thing changes. You suddenly realize that the team you’re playing against has had this date circled for weeks. Every goal they score is bigger than the one before and you better be prepared to weather the storm otherwise an upset is in the making.
I never want to be the under dog. I never want Coach to say you guys have nothing to lose just go play. In my mind that means, our skills on paper aren’t good enough to beat the opposition. We don’t have the talent to just show up and play because our preparedness, our natural abilities, our schemes, just aren’t good enough. To me it means we haven’t worked hard enough as a team.
My worst memory of losing occurred senior year against Sewickley Academy, our biggest rival and easily the most storied rivalry in Pittsburgh high school lacrosse. In my four years of high school lacrosse, we never lost a home game to a Pittsburgh team. We lost only two road games to a Pittsburgh team. Of the four Pittsburgh championship title games we played in, we won 3 and lost 1. The only team from Pittsburgh that beat us was Sewickley Academy. Senior year we played them on the road. They scored the winning goal with 4 seconds left in the game.
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There are two things that make this loss my most Vietnam POW camp flashback.
1) They were upset in the semi final round of the playoffs. So we’d get no revenge.
2) I could have contributed one or two points to the cause and maybe we would have won in regulation or overtime.
In the first half I received a pass from future Dartmouth product Jimmy Mullen in an unsettled situation. Sewickley defenders had their eyes focused on him and I had slipped off into space maybe 10 yards away from the goal. Mullen slotted me a through pass which I caught and unleashed. Velocity-wise it’s not the hardest shot I’ve ever taken, it was the hardest shot I’ve ever taken if you know you what I mean. Ten yard over hand bounce shot, text book. Problem was I really had no idea where I was on the field. Like I said, I just caught it and banged it. I still have night mares about seeing the goalie get hit right in the hip. To paraphrase Coach Bombay, “A quarter of an inch the other way, Charlie.” I probably needed two inches to the left or five inches to the right and their goalie wouldn’t have saved it and I would have freaked out like Ovechkin.
But again, I caught it and banged it without looking, worried about contact. I can still hear kids on the sideline saying nice shot. Not burying that goal is a huge regret in my athletic career.
My biggest regret is a play that never happened. Forever haunted by the phrase, “you miss a 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In the second half we were clearing the ball and I was standing at Sewickley’s restraining line. Our pole over threw a middie, who would later win a title at Colorado State, and the ball landed right in my stick. I turned and squared up ready to trot the ball into the box to establish possession.
When I looked up I almost swallowed my mouthguard. Our clear and the ensuing over throw and spaced out their defense so much that I was looking at my defender and 20 yards of empty real estate. One spilt dodge was all it took to blow by their 3rd pole who was just as surprised to be covering me as I was.
Flash forward to last spring: When I coached last year if we lost a game I was a little more okay with losing the game if our best player(s) had their hand in the game. If we lost and our Villanova recruit took 8 shots and we lost by one that would be easier to swallow then if we lost by one and he took only two shots. The phrase big players make big plays in big games comes to mind. So in returning to senior year of high school, to a degree I understand why our assistant coach said what he said.
As I began my spilt dodge I watched the pole buy the bait and I felt like I was off to the races to either score or dump it to an attackman.
Prepare for explosion.
And then I heard it.
“Settle! Settle! Settle!” from the assistant coach.
I came out of the spilt dodge dejected watching the walls of my breakaway close. I moved the ball and we got into settled 6 v 6. We didn’t score on that play. I feel like there was an exasperated gasp from our sideline when I pulled out but it may just still be echoing in my own head.
When you have offensive teammates going to Bucknell, Dartmouth, Providence, Robert Morris, and Maryland and you’re just a middle of the road D3 recruit I can understand why Coach would want me to get them the ball. But that’s a play a could have made whether I had scored, or passed it off for an easy dump or at least drawn a foul. I could have done it and I’m still not sure if I am more upset with him for not believing in me or me for listening to him.
The biggest regret of my athletic career. Can you tell?
I was reminded of this memory Saturday night. UVA beat Hopkins by one. Chris Boland in the picture above had 6 goals and 2 assists in a losing effort. That’s insane. What more could he have done to help his team? But I promise he’s thinking of one or two moments in the game that he could have made a difference in the outcome of the game. That’s the kind of player I want to be more like. Never satisfied. Never good enough.
If you have to lose a game, do you want to be the player that contributes or the player that could have contributed but didn’t? A tough question. It’s like asking do you want to be a starter on a terrible team or a role player on a winning team? A tough question. It’s like asking if you had one shot to save your life what kind of shot would you take?
The answers say a lot about you as a player and as a person.
Questions we as a team have to ask ourselves this week. We are striving to become the first Pitt team to start a season 6-0. We are easily the best team Pitt has ever had. How are we going to respond when Virginia Tech and Michigan State come calling this weekend?