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April 18th:

Illinois State knew that these two games this weekend were very important and a playoff run was in our sights. Friday night we had a game against Indiana a newly joined team to the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference. Indiana had a very successful season last year and knew they were going to be a very tough opponent. However, this was our first game in our football stadium, and this stadium brings a whole new meaning to home field advantage. A sense of being in the football stadium and being the only club that has the opportunity to play there is amazing. We knew that this game had playoff implications and knew that we needed to capture a win to stay in the playoff run. I would say that our conference is one of the most competitive conferences now with great teams from seed #1 to seed #6. Midwest lacrosse is on the map even if we are not NCAA associated. Lindenwood always brews greatness as well as the University of Illinois. The teams in D1 AA are also looking to make a knock on the conference playoffs door. Revamped programs such as Nebraska, Iowa, Creighton, Ole Miss and the rest alike are making a solid dent in the conference playoffs.

Illinois State pulled off a barn burner in Normal, Illinois on Friday night. Friday night Lights we decided to call this game. It was a game filled with back and forth lacrosse with very talented Indiana midfielders capitalizing against Illinois State midfielders. Illinois State was able to pull off one of the best lacrosse games I have been a part of in a long time, and we have to credit our win to our solid defensive unit and unreal play by a freshman goalie Emmanuel Nuno. The Redbirds captured a win 7-6 in overtime play.

Saturday brought a long day, being Springfest in Bloomington, IL. A great day with cheap drinks and a wonderful time, however our team keeps to the strict policy of no drinking before a game. A long day of trying to stay busy around my house and getting everything organized for the game the next day. We got ready Sunday morning to a steady rain and a wet field. Purdue was ready to play early as they always our. I tip my hat to Purdue lacrosse; they are always the first team to show up at a field. Even during the fall tournament in Madison, Wisconsin they were always the first team to be at the field and the last to leave. We had nothing less than a promising field to play on as it rained all night and all day. The game started with Illinois State getting out to a quick 3-1 lead. Purdue came back and the first half ended Illinois State 6 Purdue 5. It was a second half full of sloppy lacrosse, given the field, and the score went back and forth. Purdue looked to seal the victory late in the 4th quarter with a huge goal by midfielder # 45 notching the score 9-8. Illinois State tried to make a run and tied the score up 9-9 with a little less than 3 minutes remaining.

Overtime proved to not be the same for Illinois State than the night before. Illinois State went man-up following the overtime face- off, but Purdue’s defense, quarterbacked by a very talented goalie was able to shut down any efforts by the Redbirds. On a very well executed clear, Purdue came down and put in the game winning goal. Props given to a Purdue team that never gave up. Illinois State looks to pursue its goal of making a playoff run this weekend with two big games coming up against #9 nationally ranked Lindewood team on Friday and a very important game against Missouri, Sunday that could be the decisions maker for the 4th seed in the playoffs.

isu_playerFriday April 3rd proved to be a long and tiring day. Running around left and right trying to put everything in place to make sure that our game on Saturday April 4th goes off with a bang. From getting timers to air-horns to even locating a working scored board from the oh-so wonderful Recreation Department here at Illinois State. Also, making sure that the field was lined properly was no easy task. The Redbirds had a walk thru around 5 o’clock on Friday to get mentally prepared to take on Western Michigan the following day.

This was our Alumni and Family Weekend for the lacrosse team so there was even more riding on this game than just a W. There was also the shear fact that we wanted to play well and win to give our alumni and fans a good showing. There was also another part of Saturday that was wearing on our hearts as well. This was our first home game, and we were paying respect to our teammate who we lost earlier this year. We were retiring his jersey, #21 and invited most of his immediate family to attend the game. Preparing to speak in front of a large crowd is not my forte and I was extremely nervous for this.

We met as a team around 7:00 PM to get our jerseys that just came back from the sew shop, because we had memorial #21 patches stitched on our home jerseys and also one of the alumni brought us a Navy flag to sign and present to his family at our ceremony.

That night most of the team just hung out and a bunch of us went bowling to only leave us knowing that we were only meant to play lacrosse and not to bowl. Bowling is an older man’s game and should allow for numerous amounts of alcoholic beverages, but we keep the team on a strict policy of no drinking the night before games.

Saturday morning came way too quickly. I did not end up falling asleep until around 3:30 AM after exchanging text messages from a teammate about how pissed he was that his roommate had a band over and the noise was outrageous. This is what happens when you stay sober on a Friday night and it seems as if the whole world around you is out having a jolly ole time sipping on some spirits.

The team met at one of the houses and prepared for the field around 12:45 to already find a very fired up Western Michigan team already preparing for the game that was slated to start at 2:00 PM. It seems as if our team, when we arrive at a field, put on their equipment and are so excited to play way too early for a game, just as if they were 5 year olds waking up at the crack of dawn to open presents on Christmas (trust me I was there as a kid).

Around 1:45 we brought the team up at the midfield line and had Jason Nash’s family gather around. I had prepared a speech a couple days before on what I wanted to say to the family. I thank Western Michigan for the class that they showed during this ceremony. Their coach had them all take off their helmets and line up at the restraining line. It was a very emotional time for me amidst trying to hold back the emotions and having to read the speech that I wrote. Later on after the game I was informed that ABC and NBC were set to record the speech for a documentary they are doing on Veterans of the war (Jason was enlisted in the Navy) but went to the wrong field. That would have been incredible had they have come and seen our ceremony. There were the most fans at this game that I have ever seen.

The game started and Illinois State came out to a quick 3-0 lead. The lead changes went back and forth until Western Michigan put in the go ahead goal with 2 minutes remaining. It was a great day to be playing lacrosse and it was a humble experience to retire Jason’s jersey. Unfortunately we did lose the game, but winning and losing meant nothing on this day, what mattered was what we were doing for Jason and his family who have shown nothing less than amazing character and support during these hard times.

I believe that even though we lost, this was a great game to be a part of and it was also an eye opener to our team, that winning every game in the season is an incredible feat and that sooner or later a loss was going to be experienced. It was better to loss to a non-conference team than loss late in the season to a potential conference team that could knock us out of the playoffs.

Illinois State takes on University of Illinois Tuesday April 7th at 6:30 PM. Stay tuned for updates.

isu_flag

Another weekend another two wins in the books for the Illinois State Redbirds. This time it was in very frigid temperatures in Milwaukee Wisconsin. We were slated to play 3 games in 3 days however given a freak snow storm that decided to dump around a foot of snow in Milwaukee forced us to cancel our game Sunday against Marquette. We were able to hold off a very tough University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee team Friday night, with temperatures nearing the 20’s. Defensively we did not play very disciplined but with a great effort in cage by Emmanuel “Mannie Fresh” Nuno we were able to hold UWM to 6 goals. As a team I felt we came out very flat but was able to pick it up in the third quarter.

It did not help whatsoever that there was a casino directly across the street from the fields. And when I say directly, I mean I could have spit into the parking lot from the field we played on. All I could think about was playing some roulette and blackjack but realized the real reason we had traveled to Milwaukee, to win games. That we did and we were able to notch our record at 4-0.

Saturday proved to be a colder game as the storm started to roll in. This time we were up against a very dangerous team, Minnesota-Mankato State. We kept a lead early but Mankato was able to almost come back with a very great performance in the 4th quarter.

The field was old school turf which sucks to play on; because anytime you fall you are going to pay for it when you water hits the turf burn. There was a lot of down time for our team this weekend and most of it consisted of making trips to the restaurant/bar that was connected to our hotel and also relaxing in the hot tub. We decided to name this hotel Hogwarts as it seemed to have tunnels to everything that was offered. There was a tunnel to the arcade, there was a tunnel to the pool, and there was a tunnel to the office. It was nice to be able to give our guys the opportunity to go hang out in the pool/hot-tub and also the restaurant and bar to get away from having 7 lacrosse guys in a hotel room that should only accommodate 4-5 people comfortably. I do not wish that upon anyone but I know many teams face these kinds of accommodations week in and week out. But let me tell you by the end of the weekend those rooms smelled like a pigpen. 7 lacrosse guys in a room on top of all the equipment did not make for a very promising smell.

These trips prove to be my favorite because of all the nonsense and shenanigans that arises from being in such tight quarters with each other for 3 days and 2 nights. The team bonding is incredible to see and at the end of the weekend instead of wanting to fight each other, we are that much closer. It feels great being 4-0 right now but we have definitely not played up to our potential yet. The second half of our season is quickly approaching and we have do not have an easy game by any means. We take on Western Michigan this weekend for our home opener and then travel to University of Illinois to take on what proves to be our biggest rival game.

I am very happy in the way the season has been progressing given all the nonsense we have dealt with to get here. We have overcame a lot of adversity so far and it would have been easy to go belly up and not fight through it, but we have, and right now it feels good to say the Illinois State Redbirds are undefeated.

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