Heading into the 2019-20 Oregon men’s lacrosse season, the players were looking forward to the chance to prove themselves Division 1-worthy.
Until that point, the team played for the Men’s College Lacrosse Association as a Division 1 club team. But, due to strong recruiting in recent years and stellar play within the past decade, the team entered 2020 with a chance to receive D1 exposure.
“Each one of us had goals to reach and expectations to fulfill for the team to be on the road towards a D1 program,” Nathan Dougherty, a senior midfielder and attacker, said. “During our preseason chalk talk, we had a drawing board to jot down what we wanted our team to represent. One of those concepts that stood out to me was, ‘be the bigger man.’ Not just on the field, but off as well.”
Little did the players know that this concept would apply to the adversity they’d face both on and off the field in the next year.
“If I had to give this last year of lacrosse a theme, I’d go with something along the lines of unpredictability,” Jack Thoren, an Oregon grad student and former lacrosse player, said. “We had and still have a bunch of things being thrown at us that are really hard to prepare for, and in some cases can’t do anything to prevent.”
Other players share how they would recap this past year.
“A good word to summarize this last year is perseverance,” Shaan Patidar, a midfielder, said. “We’ve been put through the wringer as a team physically and emotionally, but we won’t break.”
It started in October 2019, when the roster was made for the season. From there on until their first game in February 2020, the team practiced and held scrimmages five days a week.
“We were high in our preseason rankings — everyone was excited — and it was just an all-around talented team,” Patidar said. “We knew a D1 opportunity was on the line, and we weren’t going to back down.”
Oregon dominated Washington State 12-3 in their first game of the season. A week later, they were getting prepared for their first road games in San Diego and Los Angeles when they received news that their head coach, Charlie Jackson, had died.
“I remember I was grabbing food before our chalk talk and film session when one of my teammates told me,” Kevin Kanzaki, a former player, said. “It was one of the most depressing days and weeks of my life. Coach Charlie recruited me to Oregon, and without him, my dream of playing college ball would’ve never come true.”
“I was definitely in shock initially,” Thoren said. “Felt like I was in a fog until we had a team meeting that night and it all kinda hit everyone at once. We were leaving for San Diego the next day, and we knew he’d want us to go and compete in the game that he and we all love.”
Sure enough, the team followed through with their games in California under assistant coach Nick LaMay. The Ducks went on to win two of three with hard-fought wins against Arizona, and San Diego State, two proven D1 programs.
“We were going to play that season for Coach Charlie, no question,” Patidar said. “Every last one of us on that team had an extra kick of motivation to do whatever it took to win. It’s what he would’ve wanted to see.”
Just as the team was going to show the rest of the nation what they were capable of, COVID-19 shut down the program and most of the country.
“It’s sad because another league title was likely to happen,” Thoren said. “A trip to the quarters or semis at nationals was within reach.”
Despite the longevity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team was cleared to hold tryouts and practice both in the fall and winter quarters under new head coach Peter Harris. With about 20 new players and a third new coach in the last year-and-a-half, the team knew they had their work cut out for them.
“We started out this season right back where we started before COVID, but we’ve worked so hard that I think we’ll be prepared for whatever comes our way,” Dougherty said. “I think the whole idea of being the bigger man took a perspective on how we look at life and how we handle situations during stressful events.”
With games scheduled to be played in the spring, the team will have another chance to prove to their conference and the rest of Division 1 what the players already know.
“We know what we are capable of as a team so now it’s just time to prove it,” Patidar said. “This program has the potential and tools to hang around with any other NCAA school, I know it.”