Fall Ball Has It All
By Brian Carcaterra
Coach Tony Seaman, who is now at Towson University, but was my first coach at Johns Hopkins told me "Carc, the two times you will feel most nervous in your lacrosse career will be your first practice and your first game on Homewood Field." He told me that prior to my first practice as a Johns Hopkins Blue Jay. I did not really believe him. Well, I did not take any more convincing once that first practice started. I remember moments of the practice so vividly. It was a beautiful night and a perfect night for a lacrosse practice under the lights. I remember taking a look around and seeing the nervousness in the freshmen, the eagerness in the sophomores, the readiness of the juniors and the intensity of the seniors. All of a sudden I realized what Coach Seaman was talking about as my gut tightened. The tension was at such a high level. The image that I will never forget was that of Coach Pietramala pacing up and down the sideline. I thought to myself, here is one of the greatest players of all-time, a man I have always admired and respected…nervous! That's when I started to really feel it! If the greatest is nervous and excited I better start mentally preparing for this war. Everything after that was a virtual blur. I just remember the way everyone worked so hard, fought and scrapped their way through the two hours. That was the beginning of fall ball for the 1996 season, and of my college lacrosse career. The two months that comprised that fall "season" were some of the most influential times of my college career. It was a time that I grew up, not only on the field but off the field as well. It was a time where I became a part of another family. It was also a time that I realized what it was going to take to become a force at this level.
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As a player there was nothing like the freshman fall campaign. The fall seasons over the next three years are nowhere near as stressful and are some of the best times in a college career. It's just so much different than the spring. For most teams the spring actually starts in January. These times are not the best, by any means. The members of the team are usually back from winter break before any of the other students, in half empty dorms or half vacant houses. The weather is frigid (in most places) and conditioning becomes the number one priority. The days are long and strenuous and the running seems like it has no end.
In contrast, fall ball starts at the tail end of the summer when school pretty much begins. Campuses are alive with student life and activities. Lacrosse is not the number one priority at any school during the fall so the practice times are always changing and usually short. The coaches are usually more relaxed and concentrate on building new relationships with the freshmen and strengthening old ones with the sophomores and upperclassmen. The implementing of team strategy becomes the focus along with the adaptation or rather the introduction to a new level of lacrosse. Things are a whole lot different in the spring. I can recall at the conclusion of my first fall season speaking with the legendary Hopkins attackmen and assistant coach (at the time) Joe Cowan, discussing what a great time I had during the fall. He had warned me "once we get back in January, your life is going to be a whole lot different than it is now, and your attitude toward lacrosse is going to change, temporarily of course, for the worse." He couldn't have been closer to the truth. I remember running sprints in our gymnasium in January longing for the days of September and October, when lacrosse was everything that it was supposed to be, and more.
Watching Fall Ball
To even most lacrosse people fall ball is relatively non-existent. Until very recently the crowds at both men's and women's fall college events were very low and made up mostly of parents, friends and recruits who might bring their parents and friends. But the few people that did attend as just fans usually got treated to a sumptuous lacrosse sampler platter. There are usually 4 to 16 teams participating in little one hour games on multiple fields at the same time. You can walk around and see them all or maybe plant yourself in the spectator space between 2 sidelines and catch both games at once. It has always surprised me that more people don't come out. But, this year, the crowds have grown. The Price Modern, UMBC and Loyola Tournaments, all held in Baltimore, increased traffic substantially. Lacrosse enthusiasts in attendance had the opportunity to see the highly touted and not so highly touted freshman perform with their new teams. Viewers observed new coaches at work for Cornell, Hopkins and North Carolina. Fall Ball spectators are able to watch the game at its most fundamental level. Four lines of midfield, two lines of attack, seven or eight defenseman, and sometimes up to four goalies. Coaches experiment and tool with the chemistry of their teams, hoping to find the right blend that will make them the most successful. Things are tried that you might not see in the Spring. It's the insider's season. You can always check out the highlights of fall tournaments on E-Lacrosse, but check out the fall schedule and go to one of the tournaments for yourself. Take some friends and spend a cool day watching great lax. Record the football game or Baseball playoff game you were going to watch and check out some fall lacrosse.
Columns by Brian Carcaterra
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