Our last string of games was huge for our team, and not only for this year, but for our program as a whole. We took the team’s first ever trip out West, and flew as a team for the first time ever. We headed out to Boulder, CO to play games against Colorado, the University of New Hampshire and Nebraska.
Here’s a run down of the trip… as I can best remember it!
Two Thursdays ago, at 3:15 AM, we boarded a bus in Clemson to head to the Atlanta airport. Teammates took multiple approaches to attacking the awkward timing. The solutions to the early morning ranged from going to sleep extremely early, to not sleeping at all. My personal favorite solution came from everyone’s favorite freshman for the trip, Nick Rossi. Nick ended up not making the bus for the trip and was forced to switch to a later flight. More on what would become a very rough weekend for him to come later in this run down.
Anyhow, we got to Atlanta in record time and began what would prove to be an arduous check in process with the airline. In the end, we all were ready to go when the plane took off at 8 AM from Atlanta, headed to Denver international. Some of us fared better than others on the flight. Steezy (Freshman Midfielder Steve Smith) was pretty sick for the flight but would turn out to be fine as time went on. The joys of flying, right?
We landed in Denver and we headed out to Boulder on a bus around 9:30 local time. At this point I think I fell asleep on the bus ride, but I don’t really remember much. I was one that chose to not sleep before we left and that, coupled with the time change, really did a number on me.
We arrived in Boulder, checked in to our hotel and were told we had a helmet/gloves practice that afternoon. This wasn’t received very well at the time but would prove to be key for the weekend, reinforcing once and again that, yes, our coaches know exactly what they are doing!
We headed out to practice and all suited up for our typical warm up lap. About half way around we all promptly found out that the altitude would have a major effect on us and that Colorado had a serious home field advantage. A lot of us were sucking wind and struggling the entire practice. Nothing of note really occurred and we just touched on all the basics of our offensive and defensive sets.
That night we had a team dinner at the Dark Horse Bar and Grill in a private room. We all ate our full of some great food and enjoyed the early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament as a team, along with some of the parents who made the trek out to Colorado to watch us play. It’s always fun to spend time off the field as a team and I think everyone really enjoyed that night.
We woke up on Friday in time for a full pads practice in the early afternoon. Our keynote match up of the weekend against University of Colorado was that night, so it seemed a little odd to have that kind of practice right before such a big game. It ended up being another key coaching decision that I think everyone agrees paid off.
Freshman Nick Rossi finally showed up at the door of Joe Brandt, Mike Maher, and my room to stay with us after practice. Not only was he a day late to the party, but his luggage must have gotten run over because his helmet came out of the baggage claim looking like a pancake and his bag was ripped to shreds. Cascade’s can take a beating and they do a great job of protecting us but this one was absolutely destroyed.
No idea what managed to do that to a Pro-7 but it was a rough weekend for Mr. Rossi all around. I think after he missed the original flight, his next flight then got delayed overnight, his baggage ruined and he definitely did not have the most comfortable sleeping arrangement in Boulder Inn room 222.
That night we were ready to go against Colorado. It had that big game atmosphere to it that you can just feel. We were coming off a really hard loss against SUNY Buffalo, and they were coming off a tough trip out to Cali against Chapman and Loyola-Marymount. Their field is top notch, with a beautiful backdrop, and they had great music bumping all pre-game long. We even sported an alternate uniform combo, with white shorts, orange jersey and white helmet. It ended up looking pretty fresh.
We had sophomore Alex Branton starting in cage, while Boulder had their seasoned veteran junior goaltender Brad McNee starting in goal. Interestingly enough, Alex backed up Brad at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey during their high school career. Ridgewood has a storied tradition of excellence in their program, so to see two alumni at the same position face off was pretty special. Another Ridgewood alumni, Clemson sophomore attack man Matt Zacarolli, also contributed in the game for our offense on man up.
The game started and I can’t remember the exact trade off of goals but it was a battle back and forth until the end. It was a very defensive game, with both sides standing tall against potent offenses. I believe they had the lead at halftime by a couple goals, but we came out in the second half and fought right back. Senior captain Jon Kilbourne had two outside rips that were huge in the game. Senior Will Fochtman stepped up on the first line midfield by putting in a key doorstep goal for the first goal of the game for us. Unfortunately it wasn’t all positive, as we lost one of our best defensive players for the season, senior SSDM Will Theide to a broken hand.
The altitude really hit us hard and you could see some of our guys sucking wind on the sideline. If I remember correctly, I might have even seen senior captain Will Patch spread eagle wheezing on the sideline during a time out. We all dug deep for the fourth quarter and it ended up being tied at the end of regulation.
As a player, you both hate and love overtime. It’s that feeling of nervous excitement that you learn to deal with over your career. No one wants to be the guy to mess up but everyone wants to be the one to make a big play and end it. It was a pretty exciting end to a great game. I think Colorado had two possessions in OT. While they were on their second possession, the Buff’s shot the ball and Alex made the save. Alex looked up and found junior midfielder Ryan Conlon streaking up field for a fast break. I was on the midfield line on the sideline and the pass might have been 2-3 inches over a Boulder midfielders stick. Conlon drove up field and found senior attack man Chris Buchele floating down the side. Chris caught it and shot a bounce shot past the Boulder goalie for the win.
We mobbed Buchele and Branton after the game. Alex ended up coming up huge with x saves on the day from a very talented Boulder team. The defense stood strong and played extremely well against the deliberate Colorado offense. The offense was patient and played well. Colorado has had a rough start to their season but going into Boulder as a team that plays at basically sea level and getting a win is a huge accomplishment. It was a great day all around for Clemson Lacrosse.
The next night we had a game against our third PCLL opponent of the year, New Hampshire. At that point our only two loses came from PCLL teams, Boston College and SUNY Buffalo, so we were wary of our opponent. We wore our all white uniform, with our Nike Volt socks to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The sock choice for St. Patty’s Day was Coach Buff’s choice, and it looked pretty good.
From the first whistle we could tell they really wanted the win and we’re going to attempt to be extremely physical to try to intimidate us. It was an interesting tactic, and one that ended up not working very well. Their attempt to intimidate us kept them in the penalty box and our offense in control, so we were happy with it. We built a steady lead in a very low scoring game, and ended up coming out on top with a 5-2 win. Sophomore goalie Demetrius Murray had a huge night in goal with x saves, and our two senior attack man had multiple point days. We moved to 2-0 while wearing the Volt socks and 1-2 against the PCLL.
After the game, a group of parents presented our coach, Buff Grubb, with a Buffalo hat to commemorate the weekend. The picture is included below. Mrs. Patch’s use of alliteration in the presentation was incredible; at my count she used at least 6 words in a row beginning with the letter “b”. It was something along the lines of “Buff’s boys beat the Buff’s in Boulder”. She’s a very animated lady and an integral part of our program, so a big thanks goes out to Mrs. Patch for everything she has done for us. It was a celebration of our first trip out West to play, and what would become an undefeated weekend. It was a huge step for our program and one that I’m very happy to be a part of.
We had Nebraska the next day and we pulled a lot of our big players for the game, letting some of the younger guys step up against an opponent we were pretty comfortable with. Mike Maher controlled the faceoff x, going ….., and our attack unit exploded on the day. Sophomores Nick Murphey and Matt Zacarolli combined for 15 points, while the third attack man, Will Harris, had 5 goals. Goalies Andrew Sphere and Zach Upton posted solid showings while splitting time. I recorded my first goal in college, which was pretty cool. I think I might have shot it from the restraining box but it was a solid bouncer so it went in. Probably not the advised look but I’m a defenseman so I’ll take it where I can get it.
We ended up winning by a comfortable margin and we all headed out for our respective spring break.
30 or so of us traveled back to Atlanta on what would turn out to be a pretty turbulent flight. I was not a big fan of the turbulence. My teammates and the assistant coaches found it hilarious that I had such an irrational distaste for airplanes, so I’m sure they found it amusing. I was terrified but luckily sophomores Daniel Connor and Alex Branton were there to distract me with amusing impressions of their significant others and discussion about who would win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Some of the guys headed home, others to Panama City, Florida, and a group of the older players stayed in Colorado to snowboard with famed alumni Jeff Lund (Class of 2011). Myself, Connor Haile and Mike Maher headed to Key West, Florida for some well-deserved vacation. Matt Zacarolli ended up bringing home a new pet turtle from Panama City Beach, FL and it’s currently residing at our house. Looks like Nomar is the new Clemson Lacrosse Pet. The details of how Matt found Nomar are currently unknown but he’s a welcome addition to the house.
I just want to say a big thanks to those Red Hot Buffs for hosting us. I’m a big fan of the “Club Ball” series and advise anyone interested in serious MCLA ball to check it out. Boulder was certainly an interesting place to visit, as anyone who has been there can attest to. It’s a much different culture than our home in Clemson, South Carolina. It was truly an experience I’ll never forget to play out there. I even pre-ordered a Red Hot Buffs shirt to support their program and as a memento for the trip. Best of luck to you guys with your season, hopefully we’ll get the chance to play again sometime.
We have a big weekend ahead of us with a rare Thursday home game against Missouri and then we travel to Columbia, SC Friday night for our big rivalry game against University of South Carolina. We’re excited to play in what is always a good game against our in-state rivals. Last year we won in double overtime, so I’m sure they’re out for revenge. We’re looking to send another class of seniors out without ever losing to USC (barring a match up in the SELC tournament, a likely possibility). Also another divisional title would be nice. I hear it’s quite the hostile environment to play in and I look forward to that experience. I guess CocksLax_Report will probably be on the sideline too, so a couple of Laxallstars representatives will be there.
That’s a lot of writing but hopefully you enjoyed the run down of the trip. I’ll be sure to let you guys know how this weekend goes. Until then follow us on twitter @ClemsonLacrosse and as Will Patch likes to reiterate, hit the wall.