By Collin Atwood
The 2020 men’s lacrosse season came to an unexpected end because of the coronavirus outbreak, ruining the men’s run for 13 straight NEWMAC championships and subsequent NCAA tournament berths. After a year without games, the student-athletes are ready to continue the chase in 2021.
The chase for 13 all starts with a successful offseason. From March of last year to this past fall, the team was not allowed to have any practices. Keith Bugbee, who is entering his 38th season as the Pride’s head coach, and his team were forced to be creative in their offseason to ensure the team stayed in shape and didn’t lose its chemistry.
Over the spring and summer, upperclassmen on the team organized “accountability groups” which allowed the team to stay in touch and compete against each other from a distance. Each group had a leader who would send pictures and videos to other groups, challenging them in fitness and conditioning workouts.
“It was the best possible scenario under the circumstances and when they came back in the fall I think they felt as connected as they could be,” Bugbee said.
Bugbee felt it was important to reach out to the team every few weeks over the offseason, but he didn’t want them to only hear from him. Every time they talked, Bugbee brought in Springfield College alumni to speak with the group.
“When we weren’t having competitions we focused on building our culture and learning from past alumni,” said Joe Hawley, a graduate student majoring in secondary education.
Ohio State men’s lacrosse head coach, Nick Myers and Penn State men’s lacrosse assistant coach, Pete Toner were some of the alumni to speak to the team.
“They all did a great job,” Bugbee said.
Once in-person practices began in the fall, the team had to start off in smaller pods and work their way to a full team practice which didn’t come until the last week of fall ball. The team had to return to small pods when spring practice began for most of February into March.
With the season just around the corner, Bugbee and his team are eager to be back on Stagg Field. The key to having a successful year is for everyone to stay healthy.
“The most important thing is to make sure we’re playing games. We’re controlling the things we can control,” Hawley said.
Above all, everyone is just grateful to be back in action. Lacking competition for a long time, having the chance to play is all they can ask for.
“Myself and all of the players – we’re just happy to be playing. I just want these guys to compete for something,” Bugbee said.
Players to watch
Returning for his fifth season is attacker Joe Hawley. In his four seasons, with a shortened senior season, Hawley has recorded 68 goals and 62 assists. He will be a key player for the Pride this season as they look to reach the NCAA tournament for the 13th straight year.
Another attacker who is essential for this team’s success is Zac Shuette, a junior majoring in health science. In his first year, he scored 23 goals and started off extremely strong as a sophomore – in the first four games he had nine goals and six assists.
Bugbee expects great things from midfielders Patrick Watson and Kevin Tierney. Watson is a senior majoring in sports management and Tierney is a sophomore in the applied exercise science program.
In Tierney’s freshman year he netted five goals and recorded six ground balls in just four games. Watson has recorded 16 goals, 18 assists, and 34 ground balls.
A Strength for the Pride is that they have their entire starting defense returning including their senior goalkeeper Dan Biesty. In last year’s game against Union, Biesty had a personal-best 14 saves.
“The defense is really solid. I mean those guys have been playing together for a while now,” Bugbee said.
The Pride will only be suiting up for five games this season and every game will be a conference
matchup. Springfield College is set to host two of those games on Stagg Field and the rest will be on the road.
The two home matchups will be against Coast Guard and Clark University.
In the 2019 regular season, Springfield held on to beat Coast Guard, 9-8, in what was a rematch of the 2018 NEWMAC Championship game. The Pride later defeated the Bears again in the 2019 championship.
Springfield was outscored 6 to 1 in the fourth quarter of an April 2019 game against Clark that led to a tight 14-12 loss on the road.
Springfield College has played Coast Guard in the league championship several times now and it has always been competitive.
“It was a game, definitely. We battled right to the last whistle,” Bugbee said.
Their three away games will be against Wheaton, Emerson and Babson. In 2019 Springfield beat Wheaton and Emerson by 16 and took a 9-5 loss to Babson.
Although everyone is hoping to make it back to the tournament, nobody expects it to be easy.
“Our league has really improved a lot,” Bugbee said.
The first game of the season will be against Coast Guard on Saturday, March 27 at Stagg Field.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics