After the news came down that NY schools would not reopen, I was a bit confused when my friend Ellice Switzer expressed—through social media—her deep disappointment that the Ithaca High girl’s lacrosse team would not have an opportunity to try to win their third consecutive sectional title. The team’s eight seniors had been working hard to make that happen, and the word on the street was that they had their sights set on the state championship.
I was confused because I knew that Ellice was a lacrosse mom, but I was pretty sure her daughter was not a varsity player, so I called her. “My daughter is a Modified player,” Ellice offered, “but I am a member of the Youth Lacrosse Steering Committee, and I help run the youth program, and I have watched all of the girls come up through the program.”
Now I get it. It’s like they’re all her kids, in a sense.
“I can’t say I know all these players well,” Switzer (who also has a son in 10th grade) told me, “but they have all been such great role models for the younger players. We were all really looking forward to watching them shine this year.” She added, “To his credit, (head coach) B.J. maintains a really strong connection with them to help them deal with it.”
Echoing the sense of loss that has swept over so many players and their families—in so many different spring sports—Ellice said, “We miss seeing the high school games, and now some of the summer tournaments have been cancelled. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. It seems our whole lives are structured around the sport.”
I also caught up with head coach B.J. Bliss, and I asked him how difficult it has been to manage this uncertainty in stages. At first, it appeared schools might reopen in April, then it was pushed to mid-May, then it was lights out. Bliss (between online classes with his South Hill Elementary students) said, “We were fortunate to have a week of practice before the shutdown in March. It was nice to have that time together as a team, and then we switched over to virtual team challenges, using Zoom and Google Hangouts. We also did virtual team challenges, focusing on workouts and stick work and such.”
As the situation unfolded, Bliss said, “We started to realize that this crisis was bigger than Ithaca High lacrosse, and again, that made us more grateful for that week we did get to spend together on the field as a team. We saw that Section 8 and Section 11 cancelled their seasons, and while we held out hope, we saw the writing on the wall.”
When the news came, the coach said, “I reached out to our eight seniors and I told them that there can never be a plaque or a trophy big enough to commemorate how much all twenty-one of our players mean to this program. We could agonize over all the ‘what-ifs,’ and all the hopes and dreams we had, and while a state championship would have been the icing on the cake, it’s not the most important thing.” When asked to clarify, Bliss said, “It’s the other stuff, the bus rides after a big win—for that matter, after a big loss—watching how hard they have worked and the high level of dedication they bring. Their work in the weight room, the extra sprints, the fact that they were always asking for harder workouts, doing whatever it takes to take the next step. Mostly, the biggest reward is being able to watch them develop into such remarkable young women, and that cannot be taken away.”
The jury is still out on whether any summer tournaments will still take place this year, but five of the seniors have already committed to play in college. Two more will play club lacrosse at the collegiate level and another will play volleyball, so it’s not like their playing days have come to an end.
Regarding the missed opportunities for exposure, Bliss hopes his players remember that their hard work and success have paved the way for the younger players. “College coaches,” Bliss stated, “are well aware of our program’s pedigree.”