I felt the thrill of victory, in the face of grand opposition, as a coach. March 14, 2004, single handedly, capped the greatest weekend of my entire life. Anyone who has never experienced the true, first hand “thrill of victory” is missing out on one of the single most euphoric experiences life has to offer.
Our lacrosse team is named Nemesis in representation of our fight against opposition for our team to even exist. Our local school thinks we should not have a lacrosse team in our town because “not enough other schools play it”. They are quite vile in their denial of our team. We have, through hard work and determination, created an independent team to enter into our state lacrosse league: IHSLA. This weekend was the first time our team has ever taken the field in competition… and we took the field.
The five-hour drive down to Louisville, Kentucky for the Louisville Icebreaker lacrosse tournament had everyone’s stomachs in knots. It was a careful mix of fear, excitement, anxiety, and sheer desire to finally get on a real field. In our hometown we play on a hilly, unkempt, unlined waste of grass that was a leftover hand-me-down from our parks department. We have never had a fully lined field, a properly refereed game, or even nice flat land to play on. This was about to be a real treat.
Our first arrival in Louisville of course ended up with a few wrong turns and wasting about thirty minutes trying to find Tom Sawyer (seriously) Park. As head coach this increased my anxiety as if I’m not high strung enough as it is. Upon arrival at the field we were cold and confused but quickly found our way around to a schedule and field one where our opening game would be played against a first year Lex Dunbar team… and severely lost. A score of nine to two made me happy simply because we didn’t get shutout. Then we saw an anomaly in the scorebook. The second half of the game Lex Dunbar only scored twice and so did we. Could we be a second-half team?
After a short wait we moved to field three for our game against Orland Park, the only team that drove farther than us to get there. This team had about as much experience as we did and our confidence, or cockiness, was increased when we saw they played in t-shirts instead of jerseys. After intense hour, and nearly loss of my voice, we tied 3-3. No overtimes at this tournament. Now they tell me.
That night we lounged in our hotel, ate some steak for supper, and passed out with a whole new day awaiting us. We woke up early with excitement and got to the field just in time for our third game: the coldest and wettest so far. With a mist in the air we took field three again this time against first year team Huron. The entire game was neck and neck and played excellent by both teams but the shots just weren’t taking the net. This is when we saw it. This is when we saw for the first time we were a team that had the heart and the cohesion that other teams can’t comprehend. Huron coaches were cussing, making their players do push-ups in time-outs, and causing an overall sense of confusion with their bench. My team was psyched just to be at a game. Every time-out was hustle and huddle. Every substitution was run and gun. Every breath a player took was only to encourage and help their team. The game ended in an abrupt 1-1 tie but we easily outplayed them.
Then we came to the final game four versus fifth year, Kentucky State runner-up Ballard. Every parent and coach commented on how physical and aggressive Ballard was. I told my team the same I always do: focus on the basics, play hard, be a team, and love the sport. We were getting destroyed 3-0. We were only being beaten in score though. After a great face-off a quick goal was scored for Nemesis putting us at 3-1. Then another immediate and then, amazingly… another: 3-3. Our defense was pumped. Our bench was roaring. Our midfield was sprinting. Our attackers were shooting. We were a team possessed. Hit after hit Ballard took the field only because they kept falling to it. Even our goalie took a guy down. Ballard player number 39 decided he had enough and even started a fight with my captain getting himself ejected. We were horse and losing our minds and Ballard didn’t know what was happening. They were even crying. This huge, monster of a team was taking to tears and their coach was yelling at each and every one of them. With 10:43 left we had the lead by one and I couldn’t remember a time I wanted a clock to run down so fast in all my life. With a minute left the score was 6-5, we were down a man, and Ballard rushed our goal. Only to be denied. We won. It felt like Russia and the U.S. in the 1980 Winter Olympics. We were against a fifth year team, Ballard, who was a vicious, physical team. You would have thought by our reaction we had just discovered the cure for cancer. We simply lost our minds. We played like a team. We were the Nemesis.
As head coach I felt a blend of extreme emotions that is unparalleled thus far in my life. The intense thrill of victory is something that simply cannot be translated into text but must be experienced. This, coupled with the awesome adversity we have overcome, made this first and single win so distinctly sweet. The history of LaPorte Nemesis Lacrosse has started writing their first pages. This date sets in stone as the defining moment when we took the field and proclaimed it ours. This date is the beginning of a legacy.