A personal narrative: Kent State men’s lacrosse takes on Elite Eight

Buzzelli (center) as a long stick midfielder against Cleveland State in the conference semifinals April 29. 

Nick Buzzelli

Editor’s note: Nick Buzzelli is both a paid sports reporter for The Kent Stater, and a member of Kent State’s lacrosse club. This is a first-person narrative into the team’s march toward the Elite Eight.

The night before our first game in late February, we held a meeting in one of the Recreation and Wellness Center’s classrooms to discuss defensive slide packages, offensive sets and team goals that we wanted to accomplish during our two month-long spring season.

Some were as simple as: “Have fun” and “Be a positive representation of Kent State.”

Others seemed a little more difficult, especially considering our past .500 record against certain teams. They included: “Beat Bowling Green,” “Sweep Akron for the first time” and “Win the Midwest North Conference Championship.”

In the realm of club lacrosse, where success can be abundant one year and nonexistent the next, we didn’t quite know what to expect. But once the season began and the wins started piling up, the confidence needed to win a championship at this level was there.

And, before we knew it, we had an 11-1 regular season and the right to host playoffs for the first time in program history.

The weather, though, wasn’t cooperative the day we hosted the conference semifinals and championship at Dix Stadium.

First, the rain rolled in, unleashing a steady downpour. Then, the thunder and lightning soon followed.

We don’t normally have locker room access prior to a game and instead have to put on our equipment underneath the stadium’s south end zone bleachers. It’s one of the drawbacks of being a club sport; that, along with paying the university to use its facilities.

However, on this day, we were able to gain access to the visiting team’s locker room. The only stipulation, though, was that we had to provide shelter for Cleveland State — the team we were set to play in the semifinals — because of the prevailing storm.

So, both teams piled in the room and sat on coolers, the trainer’s table and whatever other objects were available, swapping game stories simply to pass the time.

“Were any of you guys a part of the team two years ago when we beat you, 18-9?” a Cleveland State attack-man asked.

“That was back when we were good,” another Vikings player chimed in.

Eventually, when boredom started to set in and conversation dried up, tic-tac-toe on the coach’s chalkboard became the activity of choice, with each team sending its best player to the board in hopes of gaining a small victory, one that could spark momentum heading into the real game.

“You could just play tic-tac-toe instead of lacrosse to see who moves on,” one of the officials taking shelter in the locker room said. “I’ll referee it.”

It was a novel idea. But, at the same time, no could tell if the referee was being serious or playing it off as a joke, especially considering the outcome of a college club lacrosse scrimmage was decided by a classic game of rock, paper, scissors under similar circumstances in October.

Yet, both team captains couldn’t accept a semifinal game being won or lost by who did or didn’t put an ‘X’ or an ‘O’ in the proper spot.

So, after a nearly two-hour weather delay, the rain came to a halt and the game was cleared to begin, one that saw us cruise to a 12-3 victory behind our stout defense.

As the No. 1 seed, we were able to relax and watch the other semifinal game — Bowling Green against Penn State Altoona — meticulously scouting our next opponent, which turned out to be the Lions, via an 8-7 overtime win.

The championship game against Penn State Altoona got chippy at times, partly due to the conditions and partly because of what was at stake.

But we built up a five-goal lead at the end of the first quarter, and knew we had the conference title locked up.

When it was all over, after the 9-5 final score was made official and 26 sticks and helmets flew into the air, we rushed to ring the bronze victory bell that sits in Dix Stadium’s south end zone to signify that we accomplished what we had intended to do all along.

For me, I was just happy to be there, regardless of the outcome.

Two years ago, when I first decided to try lacrosse as an undergraduate at Robert Morris University, I never expected to stick with the game.

What I initially perceived as an athletic experiment to see if I had what it took to play a physically and mentally demanding sport, turned into an obsession that is constantly evolving with every new stage of my life.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to balance lacrosse and graduate school. I was conducting academic research for my thesis by day, while trying to learn the ins and outs of lacrosse with whatever free time I had. But I challenged myself in more ways than one. And isn’t that what college is all about?

Nick Buzzelli is a sports reporter, contact him at [email protected].