I’m sure I’ve written a few hundred thousand words about sports in almost 45 years of journalism and blogging. But I’m also sure these are the first I’ve written about lacrosse.
It’s always fun to watch my students in out-of-classroom contexts and I decided this week that I was long overdue to watch Wingate’s women’s lacrosse team play. So I turned out for the Bulldogs’ South Atlantic Conference semifinal game against Coker on Friday night at the Queens University Athletic Complex in Charlotte.
I saw the second-seeded Bulldogs take a rousing 15-14 comeback victory over the No. 3-seed Cobras, and I’ll write more about it momentarily.
The experience made me think about one of my favorite writers, the Southern novelist William Faulkner. OK, I’ll walk you through it.
One of my favorite bits of writing by Faulkner is a piece he penned for Sports Illustrated in January 1955 called “An Innocent at Rinkside.” The magazine sent the Mississippian, who had never seen an ice hockey game before, to a New York Rangers-Montreal Canadiens game at Madison Square Garden to get his impressions of the sport.
What he produced was one of the best examples of the “fish out of water” trope that I’ve ever read. So that’s my model for this effort. In his essay, Faulkner made the connection — just as he always did in his fiction — between man and his relationship to the natural world around him and, interestingly, speculated that many sports events in the future that had been exclusively staged outdoors would be played in domed stadiums (this was 10 years before the Astrodome opened in Houston.) I won’t be that profound or prescient.
But like Faulkner at the hockey game, I was fascinated by the energy and motion of events that I didn’t entirely understand taking place in front of me Friday night. It was literally the second time I’d seen lacrosse being played, having attended maybe one half of one of our men’s games a few years back.
It’s a fast and physical game, I found out. And the ball went into that little goal (6 feet high by 6 feet wide) more often than I expected. In this photo, I tried to get both the lacrosse goal and the soccer goal — which looks like the Grand Canyon by comparison — into the shot to provide some perspective.
And the game itself was a great introduction to the sport for a newcomer. The pertinent facts if you’re actually reading this for some lacrosse coverage:
2017 was the fourth season for the Wingate women’s lacrosse program, which has been coached from its beginning by Caline McHenry Olmstead, an All-American in her own playing career at Duke about a decade ago. (And she’s also a former student of mine, having acquitted herself well in a graduate course in PR, Media and Technology in Sport which I taught in our Master’s program in Sport Management. I don’t think I just committed a FERPA violation.)
The team finished 13-5 this season, the best record in program history.
And that last victory, in front of a loud crowd of 207, was hard-earned. Coker led for the great majority of the game, grabbing an early four-goal lead which held up for a 10-6 halftime advantage. Haley McCusker scored five of her game-high six goals in the first half for the Cobras.
But they could never shake the Bulldogs, who scored the last four goals of the game — the winner by freshman midfielder Casey Roux with 7:41 to play — and played solid defense at the finish to close out the victory.
Paulena Dempsey, a senior midfielder, led Wingate with four goals and Roux and freshman attack Joanna King added three each.
There are all sorts of other statistics in lacrosse, like ground balls, draw controls — I assume it’s like winning a hockey face-off —and free-position shots. I’ve got some catching up to do in this department, but it will have to wait till next season.
The Bulldogs couldn’t carry over that post-season magic for one more game, losing to top-seeded and No. 8 nationally-ranked Queens 16-0 in Saturday’s championship — the only time they were shut out in their best season ever.