On March 10, 2020, the Castleton men’s lacrosse team walked onto the field to face off against SUNY Potsdam not knowing it would be the last time they stepped on the field for a year.
Exactly one year later, March 10, 2021, head coach Bo McDougall’s team stepped back onto the field again, a moment people doubted would happen with the coronavirus pandemic still the main issue in our society.
“It’s awesome. In our world of college sports, it was the first victory that teams are back competing again,” McDougall said.
McDougall enters his 10th season at the helm of the Castleton men’s lacrosse team and is excited to continue to develop his team.
“The biggest challenge is time and experience. We brought in a big freshmen class last year and we knew last year was going to be a learning year. The idea was to have the freshmen play a lot of games so by their sophomore year they would be seasoned veterans,” McDougall said.
COVID had different plans and the team only got to play four games in the 2020 season, so McDougall had to adapt and is treating this season as an extension of last season for his young team.
This past fall, McDougall took to what he referred to as an ‘unorthodox’ approach to how he handled out-of-season practice with his players.
“Castleton was remote learning for the fall, a lot of our players chose to stay home and not come back to campus. So, we did our fall practices on the weekends in hope that our guys could commute to practice from their homes,” McDougall said.
But with the Vermont travel restrictions only Vermont resident players were able to attend practice, which brought the number of players at practice to about 12 by the end of the fall.
“The fall was more about being together again. Let’s enjoy these two hours
together and play some lacrosse and see how it goes,” McDougall said.
When the spring came around and more guys were on campus, the players were happy to just be around each other again. But when the first game came around, McDougall said that mentality changed.
“The first we competed, that all changed. Guys wanted to win, and guys were out there for a purpose. We haven’t had that success on the scoreboard yet, but once we started playing games, the mentality shifted to, we are doing this for a reason, let’s go try to win,” McDougall said.
The team is off to a rough 0-4 start, but McDougall feels it has grown through the pandemic.
“As a team, there’s more joy, guys are a little happier about playing because of the fact that they got a season taken away from them,” McDougall added.
Personally, McDougall says he has come to love his job more.
“(The pandemic) made me revalue the connections I have as a coach. I do not think I ever lost sight of that, but I think I value my job more and I love my job more being on campus and being able to interact with the guys on a daily basis,” he said.
The women’s lacrosse team is in a different situation, with a new head coach, Jamie Blake.
“There’s a lot, especially being hired seven days before the start of the season. But I feel like I can relate to what a lot of the freshmen are going through,” Blake said about being hired.
Blake comes to Castleton with a lot of coaching experience, most recently as head coach at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont.
“The goal is to lay a foundation for the future, to reinforce that I am staying here and what we are building is real and lasting,” Blake said.
The women’s lacrosse team has not had the stability Blake alluded to. She is the team’s fourth coach in four years.
To create that foundation for the program Blake is focusing on one word that encapsulates what the team is striving for. That word is ‘Ubuntu.’
It comes from an African language, Zulu, and translates in English to “I am because you are, you are because we are,” she said.
“The word is all about creating a community that we all have each other’s backs and we are all there for each other,” Blake explained.
Blake is an avid reader and came across the word multiple times, first in James Kerr’s book “Legacy,” which talks about the New Zealand All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team that in 200 years has above an 80 percent win percentage in matches.
Along with the one team word, each player has also chosen a word that represents their goals that they have set out for themselves.
Blake planting the beginning seeds of her vision for the team has created positive reactions from players.
“The amount of smiling, laughing, and trust that has been built has been visible to others. I get calls from Wes (Landon) that the energy at workouts has been really good these past couple weeks,” Blake said proudly.
Culture is a main priority for Blake and her team and fostering a feeling of excitement at just being on the field again.
“It has been a lot of fun getting out there, having some awesome bus rides, be able to have some senses of normalcy, and my goal is to
always to play as close as we can to our best selves,” Blake said.
But when asked about how she is handling this nontraditional season with no conference championship of NCAA playoffs, Blake answered in a way that put both culture and winning at the same level.
“Not being on the field for 20 months was difficult. I certainly want to win, but when you focus on the results you forget about the process,” Blake said.
Blake used the Jacob Riis quote about continuously
pounding a stone to convey her message to her team. The quote focuses on not the final blow that cracks the stone but all the blows before that, that led to the eventually crack.
“We have a pretty big stone that we are hammering away at (as a team), when it comes to changing culture and changing culture will render us more wins,” Blake explained.
The men’s team is set to take on Eastern Connecticut State on Wednesday April 7 while the women’s team is set to take on Southern Maine on Saturday April 10. You can catch both games streaming at castletonsports.com.