Men’s and women’s lacrosse teams enter season under differing circumstances
As Portland State’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams enter the 2020 season, they do so under differing circumstances.
For the women’s lacrosse team, coming off back-to-back trips to Nationals has them locked in on defending their conference title and returning to the national stage. Success for men’s lacrosse will be measured differently; the team currently does not have enough players for a full team and as a result will be meeting only for practices, without any official games scheduled.
For third-year women’s head coach Megan McGinnis, developing her players off the field is just as important as the team’s improvement in between the lines. “A big piece of it is being able to mentor these kids and see them really as a full family,” McGinnis said. “That’s really been my model, this whole player mentality of work hard on the field because that will reflect in school, work hard in school because that will reflect you as a person.”
With the team’s recent success in conference play, McGinnis is focused on keeping her players engaged and ensuring no opponent is overlooked. “If you’re winning all the time, it’s hard to keep that motivation,” McGinnis said. “We’re the ones with a target on our backs.”
First-year men’s head coach Sean Gunn faces a different challenge. “We’re just trying to keep the program going,” Gunn said. “We don’t have enough guys to play league games against other teams.”
Gunn said the team is looking into the possibility of combining rosters with the University of Portland, a school also struggling with player enrollment.
While the season outcome may be different for both the men’s and women’s teams, the goal for both squads remains the same. “I just want to see us get better, individually and also collectively,” Gunn said.
Dani La Fleche, a senior at PSU in her third year with the women’s team, shared Gunn’s perception of success. “We just want to get better as an individual team,” La Fleche said.
“Since we’ve gone to Nationals two years in a row now, the expectation coming in is: let’s do it again,” said Ellen Carpenter, a senior at PSU in her second year with women’s lacrosse.
Whether they have games on the schedule or not, players from both teams cited personal and collective growth as the primary objective.
“We measure success just like any other team would—getting better each day and improving from the beginning of the season to the middle of the season to the end,” said Tony Hay, a senior in his third year for the men’s team.
A desire to improve is just one of the things that keeps players showing up to practice each day.
“It definitely helps my mental health,” La Fleche said. “Once I am on the field, I tend to just focus only on lacrosse and don’t really think about all the issues that are going on in my life outside of lacrosse. It’s really just an outlet physically and mentally.”
“Part of it is our coach,” Carpenter said. “I respect her too much to skip out on practice.”
For a men’s team practicing without games, passion for the sport was the unanimous motivator.
“This year is definitely an interesting year,” Hay said. “It can definitely be challenging to find motivation to come out here every single night and play at a high level, but I think it just comes down to the love of the sport.”
“Guys are here because they want to be here and they love lacrosse,” Gunn said.
Love for the game is just as much a factor for the women’s team, but recent success and a growing roster has led to even more ambitious goals for the future.
“I always talk about making this a varsity Division I team. I think we can,” McGinnis said. “Going from DII to DI is our next big step.”
While the men’s team continues the process of rebuilding, the focus remains on keeping the program afloat and continuing to give players the opportunity to compete.
Perhaps the greatest commonality between these two teams is the community of inclusivity and support they’ve created. Both teams have players of all skill levels, some who are playing lacrosse for the first time.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to the most is seeing the improvement of some new players,” Carpenter said. “Something I love a lot about this team is that it doesn’t matter your skill level; you’re welcome here.”
The support these players show each other goes much deeper than the game.
“I love this team,” McGinnis said. “I went through loss last year and the thing that kind of kept me going every day was this team. I realized after that, these are my people. This is where I get my passion.”
This season may not have the same implications for both teams, but they share a similar outlook: personal improvement and community outweighing wins and losses.
“The better we get throughout the season, it doesn’t matter the outcome, but if we play better together as a team at the end, that’s what really matters,” Carpenter said.
“They don’t just do this to win,” McGinnis said. “These are their friends. This is the people they go to when they’re frustrated. They just see each other as family.”
Whether it’s a conference championship game to decide who’s heading to Nationals or a heated competition during practice on Stott field, what these teams share is an intense love for the game and a desire to continue being around it.
“I think that’s the great thing about this sport,” Hay said. “You don’t have to be playing for a high caliber school, you don’t even have to be playing for a program. You can go out with your friends, play summer leagues, play indoor leagues, as long as you’re out here with people you like and you’ve got a stick in your hands then the fun’s there.”