Lacrosse programs react to NCAA granting eligibility relief

Marquette+women%27s+lacrosse+celebrates+during+their+17-6+win+over+Cincinnati+Feb.+14.

Photo by John Steppe

Marquette women's lacrosse celebrates during their 17-6 win over Cincinnati Feb. 14.

Photo by Maddy Andresen
Marquette men’s lacrosse huddles Feb. 15.

Eighteen Marquette men’s and women’s lacrosse players’ final seasons came to an unexpected end March 12.

One day following the NCAA’s decision to cancel March Madness, the Division I Council Coordination Committee announced March 13 that it will allow seniors in spring sports an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing the cancelation of winter and spring championships. 

According to the statement, details “will be finalized at a later time” because of conflicts with prior NCAA rules. There is not a decision on whether athletes in winter sports, such as basketball, will be granted the same opportunity.

Cancellations began March 12 when the NCAA decided to cancel all winter and spring championships. The NCAA’s ruling prompted the BIG EAST to do the same, which put an end to the 2019-20 Marquette Athletics season.

“Initially for all of us, it was heartbreaking. For our team, but especially with our seniors,” Marquette men’s lacrosse head coach Andrew Stimmel said. “Certainly given the severity of the situation, it just kind of happened and it was very abrupt. It was a whirlwind of emotions.”

For Marquette women’s lacrosse head coach Meredith Black, she said her initial reaction was a crushing feeling of disbelief.

“I didn’t have anyone to blame. I understood. There was definitely no questioning it,” Black said. “The only thing I questioned initially was, ‘Hey, could we postpone instead of cancel?’ I wish we used the word postponed but now … dive deeper and I don’t think even postponement would have been an option.”

After the initial shock of the decision, senior goalie Julianna Horning said reality set in a few days later.

“I don’t have to go to practice again this season. I’m not going to play in another game,” Horning said. “Our team this year was so special and we were looking forward to doing a lot of great things so to not see that through is really hard.”

Fellow senior attacker Megan Menzuber said it wasn’t the way the team wanted to end the season.

“I couldn’t process it or wrap my head around it. I felt like it wasn’t real,” Menzuber said. “It was a super special group and (it) isn’t fun that we got two months and all those games and potential wins and potential celebrations taken away from us.”

Although redshirt sophomore Jordan Schmid wasn’t in his final year, he felt terrible for the seniors.

“Seeing them having their careers potentially stripped away was hard for sure,” Schmid said.

Even though his players could see it was heading in the direction of cancellation, Stimmel and his staff held a three-hour meeting to deliver the news.

“(It) was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a head coach. It was a really tough situation (to) tell the guys that their season is over,” Stimmel said.

During the meeting, the staff and other players recognized the seniors. Then the seniors were given time to speak, too.

“I was just really proud of our guys that at that moment of so much heartbreak and disappointment that they were able to find it within themselves to honor our seniors and thank them for everything that they’ve done for our program,” Stimmel said.

Meanwhile, women’s lacrosse players heard the news when they arrived at a team dinner at Alehouse March 12. Menzuber said her and her teammates saw it coming.

“It was very very sad, but it was good that we were together,” Black said.

Both coaches said there’s no doubt the NCAA made the right decision to cancel the remainder of spring sports.

“At the end of the day, as important as sports are to our kids and athletics are to the NCAA, there are people’s lives at stake here with the severity of this virus,” Stimmel said. “There’s certainly no playbook for this for anybody that’s going through this right now.”

Despite the happiness Stimmel felt when learning about the extra year of eligibility, he said there’s still a lot of details to iron out on an individual level. Schmid called it a “logistical nightmare” for the NCAA due to the number of scholarships and roster sizes.

“The option to have that fifth year is great,” Stimmel said. “As simple as we would love for it to be to say, ‘Hey, everybody’s just going to come back and get an opportunity to do this again,’ it’s much more complex than that certainly for our student athletes and then for the NCAA and universities to figure out as well.”

Though Black has talked to most seniors already, she said none have made a final decision on whether to accept the relief period.

“It’s awesome for those girls to have another opportunity to play a full season and not just a half one,” Black said. “Once the emotional period is over … I do think (the seniors) want to make that decision in as little of an emotional state as possible and try to make the right decision for them.”

Horning said she hasn’t thought much about pursuing the extra year.

“It doesn’t alleviate any of the emotion that comes with not finishing out this season,” Horning said. “There was so much emotion this past week for me to make a rational decision from my personal circumstances. … I don’t think I’m emotionally at a point that I could make a good decision.”

Senior midfielder Peter Henkhaus said himself, as well as a few other seniors, are considering this option.

“If we were able to have another year it would give us that closure of having a full senior year and being able to play a full season,” Henkhaus said. “I was looking to take a job in Chicago and see how that worked out, but obviously there’s other things that have happened so I kind have to look at other options right now.”

This wasn’t initially in Menzuber’s future plans, she said.

“It obviously makes me have a really tough decision now,” Menzuber said. “I was currently on the job hunt for most likely getting a full-time job back in Minneapolis or Chicago. I was in the interview process with a lot of companies. Now I have to decide what I want to do.”

Both Marquette lacrosse teams saw their years come to a mid-season halt prior to conference play.

The men’s program finished 3-4 on the season and were on a three-game losing streak under Stimmel, who was in his first-year as head coach.

Meanwhile, the women’s program ended 6-4 overall and were looking to host High Point University March 14.

“The seniors are so special. They’re an amazing group and they’re good leaders,” Black said. “It is what it is. The only positive is that it’s happening to everybody. It’s not just our senior class. Every senior class across the country. We can all join together, band together during this time.”

The teams are also facing challenges on the recruiting end of things. The NCAA released via Twitter March 13 an immediate ban on in-person recruiting, which includes suspending official and unofficial campus visits from the prospective recruits. Stimmel said it’s a waiting game because him and his staff cannot interact in-person with potential recruits.

“We just have to be as creative in terms of understanding what we saw this past summer and what we saw this past fall. Just trying to be as organized as possible so when we do move into the next phase in the summer, we feel like we’re prepared,” Stimmel said. “Right now it’s kind of silly to think about that stuff knowing the severity of what we’re all dealing with.”

Shortly after the cancellations were announced, NCAA member schools created a campaign on Twitter. #UnitedAsOne is meant to “find a way to come together, to show unity and support within college athletes during a trying time for everyone in the country.”

“It’s pretty incredible just seeing the NCAA and other colleges reach out and say that we’re all in this together,” Menzuber said.

Since the campaign’s emergence, thousands of athletic departments across the country have released graphics with their school’s insignia paralleling the NCAA’s standard United As One graphic.

“The Golden Eagles stand with @MarquetteU, the @cityofmilwaukee and the rest of the @NCAA and @BIGEAST during this unprecedented time. Marquette is #UnitedAsOne,” the Marquette Athletics Twitter account posted March 19.

Schmid, who is president for Marquette’s Student Athlete Advisory Council, said the athletic department planned to host a talent show March 31, but is now working out details to hold it remotely on Instagram.

“Something to keep people engaged and still be able to compete on some sort of level. We’re trying to be as creative as we can,” Schmid said.

Schmid is also president of the BIG EAST’s SAAC. He is one of two representatives from Marquette along with women’s soccer junior defender Maddie Monticello. Schmid said the council will have a call next week to potentially hear answers from the league’s administration, like Commissioner Val Ackerman, on next steps.

“We’re trying to find things to do as a conference to mitigate and make everyone feel a little bit better,” Schmid said. “It’s hard for people to be like, ‘OK, this is a reality’ when reality just keeps changing.”

As hard as the news was, Stimmel said his team put it all in perspective.

“As much as this sport is important to us … there are just more important things in our midst right now,” Stimmel said.

This story was written by Zoe Comerford. She can be reached at isabel.comerford@marquette.edu or on Twitter @zoe_comerford.