Lacrosse: A Love Story, Part 1 (8/30)
Thirty essays in thirty days, number eight
You know that ‘kid on Christmas’ feeling? When your stomach flutters with anticipation and peppermint-tinged jet fuel courses through your arteries, rendering you prone to liftoff at any moment? I am lucky enough to have a way to reliably produce that feeling at any moment: being around the sport of lacrosse.
Growing up I played just about every sport man has invented, but for most of my young life basketball had my heart. When I was five or six my parents took me for an interview at St. Francis, a private elementary school, so the administrators could determine whether I was worthy of their manicured lawns. It turned out I wasn’t. They suspected that I was mentally challenged after spending hours trying to ask whatever questions elementary school interviewers ask and being met with repeated responses of “Can I go play basketball?”
But at a certain point—for me, sophomore year of high school—it becomes impractical to play competitive basketball at a height of 5’4. I was no Muggsy Bogues. My NBA prospects had dwindled enough that the daily practices and teammates posturing for playing time extinguished any remnants of the flame that had once fueled my alleged developmental disability.
My friend Tyler had been trying to get me to play lacrosse since we were kids, but I didn’t entertain the idea until my retirement from basketball opened up my afternoons. One day, when he brought up for the fiftieth time how similar lacrosse is to basketball, I decided to drop in on a practice. It was one of those days that creates an existential bifurcation: there’s your life before that day, and your life after it.
I fell deeply, madly, hopelessly in love. Lacrosse was unlike any game I had ever seen. It was as if someone had combined the physicality of football, the structure of basketball, the fast-paced stickwork of hockey, and the beauty and fluidity of soccer into a transcendent gestalt. In reality, lacrosse preceded all four of these; it was a Native American sport that went back centuries. The Creator’s Game, they called it.
For all the struggling and grasping that defined my adolescence, lacrosse came naturally and quickly. Within two years of picking up a stick for the first time, I had made first-team all-city and was our team’s unanimous MVP. Our garage had holes all over its white walls from my constant throwing. Our DVR was bursting at the digital seams from my constant recording and watching of games. Our scissors and lighters were scattered all over the house from my constant tweaking of my stick. An air-headed Norwegian girl may have taken my virginity, but lacrosse was my first true love.
My choice of college quickly came to be determined by where I could play lacrosse. The summer before my senior year, at a recruiting showcase in Dallas, I ran into two coaches wearing black and yellow polo shirts. I asked if they were from Southwestern, the tiny liberal arts school north of Austin set to become the first NCAA lacrosse program in the state of Texas. They were. I introduced myself and told them I might be interested in being a part of what they were building. They promised to come watch my next game.
It was a good thing they hadn’t seen any of my first three games. I had played like shit. I was nervous, and playing on rubber turf cooked by 103 degree heat didn’t help. Fortunately for the sake of my recruitment—and unfortunately for the sake of my circulatory system—the showcase was eight games long. I had time to turn it around.
While warming up for the fourth game, I saw the coaches’ black and yellow polos off to the side of the field. The kid on Christmas feeling surged through me, sending my stomach into somersaults. I had been dreaming about getting to play in front of college coaches for months. My gloves were worn and frayed from the hours spent on our uneven high school field taking shot after shot, imagining myself in this exact scenario, playing for the chance to do so for four more years. In the NCAA. The warm-up was electric.
I don’t remember everything that happened in that game. It comes back as a series of flashes: juking a giant defender and scoring a goal on the run; a backdoor assist to a teammate cutting behind the net; a couple big defensive stops. What I do remember is that I was absolutely locked in, in the flow state of all flow states. That peppermint jet fuel had me feeling some kind of way.
After the final whistle the Southwestern coaches intercepted me before I made it to the sideline to grab my gear. “We would really love to have you come play for us, Alex. We’ll send you an email tonight and get you scheduled for a campus visit ASAP.”
I don’t remember anything about the rest of the games. After the tournament I had interest from a few different schools, but I had a feeling I already knew where I was going. The visit solidified it. I only applied to one school, and a few months later I received my acceptance letter in the mail. I was going to play college lacrosse for the Southwestern Pirates.
Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.