March 8, 2010

Mondays with Matt: D-II Teams Unite in Cause

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Lock Haven rallied around Kate Smyth, whose boyfriend's suicide stunned the team and university, to advance to the 2010 NCAA Division II championship game. Players wore sweat bands with Mark Rosenblatt's initials through the season.

© Brendan Bush

Suicide can be a dirty word in our society. People don’t accept it because they don’t understand it – the mental and emotional anguish that could drive someone to take his or her own life, only to pass that burden on to those he or she has left behind.

And they wonder, “What could we have done?”

When members of the West Chester and Lock Haven women’s lacrosse teams were confronted with that question, they answered with another question: “What can we do?”

The answer: Lax4Life. Teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference last year dedicated a series of conference games to the cause of adolescent suicide awareness, with t-shirt sales benefiting the Allyson Rose Green Memorial Foundation.

Allyson Green, the younger sister of former West Chester University goalkeeper Mary Beth Green, died Sept. 15, 2006 after six days in a coma from cardiac arrest caused by suicide. She was a sophomore at West Chester Henderson (Pa.) High School, where she played field hockey and lacrosse. She was 15.

Green’s parents started the foundation to encourage and support research and programs designed to prevent adolescent suicide. Their focus is on better awareness in secondary schools.

“It’s tragic for those left behind,” said WCU head coach Ginny Martino. “In Allyson’s case, it was just such a shock because this was a very successful student athlete in high school… No one saw the signs.”

The following spring, the Rams wore black jersey bands emblazoned with Allyson’s number 38 in bright green. Emotions carried them to the 2007 NCAA Division II championship game, where they lost to C.W. Post. They avenged that loss the following year, beating the Pioneers for the title in Houston, Texas.

Mary Beth Green, then a senior, made nine saves to cap an emotional career.

“It was definitely a driving force for Mary Beth,” Martino said. “For her to finally succeed and win a national championship her senior year was really satisfying.”

As members of the Lock Haven women’s lacrosse team would find out in 2009, suicide is not just a teen phenomenon. The Eagles had already selected Lax4Life as their charity of choice and were scheduled to play Bloomsburg as part of the fundraiser when the suicide of Mark Rosenblatt, the boyfriend of then-freshman midfielder Kate Smyth, gripped their campus with grief. Rosenblatt, 22, died April 6, 2009.

Five days later, Lock Haven met Bloombsburg in the teams’ Lax4Life game. Players wore armbands with “MR” on them.

“They were destroyed,” said Eagles head coach Kristen Selvage. “We asked them, ‘Do you want to take the week off?’ They said, ‘No coach, we want to play.’ I actually watched some sort of electricity I’ve never seen them play with. Something clicked for them that I had been waiting for.”

Lock Haven scored the first goal off a vigorous fast break. Three lightning fast feeds set up a Samantha King goal 38 seconds into the game.

Click.

United in their anguish, the Eagles went on to win, 19-11. The two teams posed together afterward for a photograph in their Lax4Life t-shirts. Bloomsburg’s captains gave Selvage a sympathy card for her team saying, “Sorry for your loss.”

Mercyhurst, one of Lock Haven’s chief rivals, did the same thing.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Selvage said. “I’m so glad my student-athletes got to learn the positive from all the negative.”

The Eagles would go on to have a season of historic proportions, catching the PSAC by surprise and storming to the NCAA championship game in Salem, Va., where they lost to Adelphi. With a handful of freshmen starting, Selvage figured a .500 season could be in the fold.

But then Bloomsburg happened.

“That’s where they connected,” she said.

Selvage seized the newfound momentum and hit the road recruiting. At midsummer’s peak of the recruiting season, news of another suicide hit even closer to home – that of her 23-year-old sister-in-law Emily.

“Emily was one of the most adventurous, feistiest young women -- fantastic sense of humor, literally drop-dead gorgeous and could make anybody laugh and blush in the same breath,” Selvage said. “She hid her depression well.”

“It’s hard to talk about,” she added, “but at the same time, if we do start having more conversations about suicide, maybe that makes it a more approachable topic.”

This year, Lax4Life has gone nationwide. At Selvage’s urging and through the efforts of former Gannon and current Grand Valley State women’s lacrosse coach Alicia Groveston, PSAC coaches extended the fundraising invitation to all NCAA Division II programs.

Thirty-six teams, roughly two-thirds of the entire NCAA Division II membership, have signed to play 46 games and sell t-shirts as fundraisers for Allyson's Fund. As of Friday, organizers had sold 1,120 shirts to participating teams. At $15 per shirt, the initiative has already raised nearly $17,000 this year.

“Many other teams will be accepting donations, selling yellow ribbons, organizing goal-a-thons and coordinating with student life organizations to plan events with speakers on suicide prevention,” Groveston wrote in an e-mail.

The first Lax4Life game will be Wednesday, when Lock Haven, ranked No. 2 in the IWLCA Division II poll, visits Queens (N.C.).

Take Five

1. With its 11-10 upset Sunday of Syracuse, Virginia became the first team to bump the Orange from the ranks of unbeaten and the No. 1 ranking in the USILA Division I poll.

My take: I’ll defer to Wahoos head coach Dom Starsia. “We don’t want to be the kings of March,” he said. “We want to be the kings of May.” Same can be said for those teams that were on the losing ends of heartbreakers, including LM preseason No. 1 Duke. Will these Blue Devils figure it out in time to make a run, or was it pure hype?

2. The Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic continued in its trajectory as a top early-season draw with an announced attendance of 19,472 at M&T Bank Stadium in sunny and warm (for a change) Baltimore.

My take: The drama that ensued, including overtime wins by Maryland over Duke and Princeton over Johns Hopkins, will only help the folks at Inside Lacrosse as they gear up for their next triple-header. The Big City Classic will open up the nation’s newest NFL stadium, New Meadowlands Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J. on April 10. For the second straight year, Delaware-Hofstra, Virginia-North Carolina and Princeton-Syracuse headline the event.

3. The Tewaaraton Trophy race is on. The foundation released its “watch list” of nominees last week.

My take: I wonder who has less of a chance of winning the award, presented annually to the top male and female player in college lacrosse: those who are injured and out for the season (see: Barney Ehrmann and Tim Paul) or the token Division II and Division III players who get weeded out faster than Cheech and Chong.

My votes (no, they don’t actually let us vote) based on early-season performance go to Notre Dame’s Scott Rodgers (what will it take for a goalie to win?) and Northwestern’s Katrina Dowd.

4. US Lacrosse on Monday announced 24 finalists on the 2010 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame ballot.

My take: Former Princeton goalie Scott Bacigalupo might be the most decorated of the players, while recently retired NYIT men’s lacrosse coach Jack Kaley headlines the coaches nominated.

But I might be pulling most for Julie Dayton, a two-time All-American at Longwood who along with longtime Lancers head coach Janet Grubbs was inducted into the inaugural Richmond Chapter Hall of Fame on Saturday. People there talked about how Dayton, a diminutive defender, would mark 6-footers with no fear. “Yes, I am standing,” she joked as she took the podium for her induction speech. I didn’t realize how rich a history the Longwood program had until seeing firsthand how hundreds of Richmond lacrosse enthusiasts supported Dayton and Grubbs in their local hall of fame induction. Also inducted were Anne Freund, Tim O’Shea, Wardlaw Thompson and John Titus -- all legends in their own right.

5. The Canadian Lacrosse Association on Monday announced its final 23-man roster that will defend its gold medal at the 2010 FIL World Championships in Manchester, England.

My take: U.S. team head coach Mike Pressler has emphasized all along that Team USA, for the first time in its storied international lacrosse history, is the underdog. I didn’t really believe it until seeing this roster. Look at that attack unit: Garrett Billings, John Grant, Zack Greer, Kevin Huntley and Merrick Thomson. If anything, the Canadians lack only a true feeder.


comments powered by Disqus