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So nobody's been seriously hurt during the renovation of Briggs Cage? Guess again. The Harvard men's lacrosse team should be first in line for workmen's compensation.
After Tuesday night's 9-7 loss at Boston College, their fourth straight, the laxmen have already suffered irreversible damage in their still-young season.
"The playoffs are out," Crimson coach Bob Scalise said matter-of-factly after the game. "We're already 0-4 and B.C. was the weakest team on our schedule."
Oh-and-four? The men's lacrosse team? The same laxmen who went to the NCAA playoffs last year with an 11-3 record? The same guys who were ranked 11th in the nation and first in New England in the preseason polls? Oh-and-four?
Injuries during the spring vacation trip to Brendan Meagher (torn ligaments in his knee) and 'Norm Forbush (separated shoulder)--two of the top three returning scorers from last year's squad--have had large bearing on the team's demise. As far as Scalise is concerned, the two are virtually irreplaceable. Meagher is out for the year after scoring a team-leading 30 goals in his freshman season. He was also the team's top face-off man. Attackman Forbush, the team's assist (32) and overall scoring leader last year, should be back in a week or so. I he void created by the two players' absence is indisputable.
But the big crunch for this year's lacrosse team was the lack of pre-season practice time. That's what Scalise points to when he talks about the troubles of a team with ten freshmen and an unsettled line-up, a team whose biggest problem against Boston College was shooting the ball, a skill that takes time to polish after your stick's been collecting dust in the closet since last summer.
"Today we really had trouble shooting the ball," Scalise said after Tuesday's game. "We had trouble getting off shots that were both hard and accurate."
The obvious question is: where has all the shooting time gone? The answers are many.
For starters, the Ivy League, in all its infinite wisdom, eliminated the five-week supervised fall lacrosse practice of past years. Whether or not all the schools adhered to the ruling (rumors of holes in the nets at Cornell continue to persist) is uncertain. But Harvard did, with Scalise busy with women's soccer, and a surplus of laxmen wandering around Soldiers Field, searching for a place to swing their sticks. The vacant tennis courts behind Palmer Dixon were finally settled on, but a tennis court does not a lax field make, with space enough for only a few players to practice at once.
With the athlete-as-student and student-as-athlete still on its mind, the Ivy League also KO'ed the winter box-lacrosse league, which was usually slated for November and December. Bye-bye competitive experience.
Next comes February and the beginning of regular pre-season lacrosse practice. The only problem was, with Briggs Cage, "Winter Home of the Harvard Athlete," taking a leave of absence for renovation, and the temperatures outside less than inviting, there was no suitable place to play.
The ITT was offered as an alternative, but with the condition added that the team could have the facility only three nights a week--a far cry from last year's six. And eventually, the team was kicked out of the ITT as well.
Finally, we reach outdoors and regular practice. But the team was without a lined field until the Wednesday before its first game. Suffice it to say that regular practice was quite irregular.
"We're not as sharp as we usually are right now," Scalise said. "We haven't had time to work with people like we used to."
"It's not like the guys haven't wanted to. All through the year they came to me and said. 'Coach, where can we shoot?' But what could I tell them? And if you play in a summer league and then you don't pick up a stick until the next spring, your shooting's going to be off."
The team's sudden plague of injuries (Jaime Wylie's badly sprained ankle and the shoulder Mike Davis separated against B.C. can be added to the list) could certainly be blamed on missed practice time as well--time lost in getting into the top competitive shape needed to go out and knock heads with teams like Johns Hopkins and Cornell. Evidence last season's injury record, after a full dose of preseason preparation.
"Last year not one kid missed any games because of an injury," Scalise says. No players injured seriously enough to miss games through last season's 14-game schedule. And four players felled in four games so far this year. It's hard to overlook such a disparity.
Of course, next season, with a sparkling new Briggs Cage available for indoor practice (I'll believe it when I see it), and with Meagher back to full strength, the team could be back on the national rankings scene, and back to the NCAA playoffs. It's this year's team, and especially this year's seniors, who have to suffer because of actions taken by Harvard and by the Ivy League for the "supposed" benefit of the athlete.
"It's a tough year for all the changes to take place," Scalise says.
If the team continues to lose, it can only get tougher.
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