By Anthony Caruso III
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 4/6/20
Cabrini men’s lacrosse coach Steve Colfer said he is facing a difficult and unique challenge as he tries to guide the defending NCAA Division III champions in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Not only can we not coach our players, this is the first spring I’ve had off in 26 years,” said Colfer, who is in his 20th year as Cabrini head coach. “I’m not able to do anything. I cannot do anything on my bucket list of things that I would like to do when I have that first spring off, because the world is mostly shut down. It is definitely unusual. As coaches, teachers, and educators – my classroom is now virtual and I continue to mentor them and guide them the best that I can.”
Colfer was the NCAA Division III Coach of the Year in 2019 when his Cavaliers toppled Amherst for their first NCAA crown at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cavs entered the 2020 season as a legitimate threat to repeat as national champion and had rebounded well from an early-season loss to Ithaca (11-9 March 7) by downing Hampden-Sydney, 16-6 on March 10 to improve to 4-1.
Then the season came to an end March 12 due to the spread of COVID-19. Colfer gave this exclusive interview to Phillylacerosse.com.
Q: When you first heard that the season was going to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, what were your thoughts when your season was over?
SC: “Obviously, there were a lot of different emotions going through your head. Obviously, I was concerned for the well-being and safety of our players and the people around our program. At that time, there were still a lot of unknowns about this virus and how it was spreading. Once that set in – it kind of happened over a two-day period. At first, we were told it was going to be shut down for a little bit. Then, the next day, the NCAA came in and we were told that there would be no postseason play. Once that happened, conferences began to suspend play for the rest of the season. Also, once all that happened, it started to set in that our season was over. Obviously, I’m heart broken and I’m disappointed for the seniors the most – if they are not granted another opportunity to finish their careers on the field. They come to my mind first, because they may not be able to play the game that they love again. I’m also concerned with the underclassman, but they still have seasons in front of them.”
Q: After your players found out the news, did you get together one last time on the field?
SC: “I had the seniors up in our meeting room when we found out right before practice. I talked to them about what they wanted to do. At that time, there was still a possibility that we could have played that coming Saturday. We talked to the seniors about potentially playing that Saturday, as a one-game season. We told them that it may be suspended and it may come back later in the year. At that point, we really weren’t sure. Our seniors – and we have a lot of guys, who have played a lot over the years – I think they were looking at it when we go at it in practice, we wanted to be playing for all the right reasons. We weren’t sure what we really had in front of us. The coaches met with the seniors, then we met with the entire team, and we didn’t have a chance to practice, because at that point, our administration told us that we needed to shut it down.
“We met back in the locker room and talked about different things — and honestly, over the next 30-to-45 minutes, the guys were cleaning out their lockers and were heading home. I wanted to make sure that they were staying safe and taking care of their health. It was weird because never in my coaching career has a season ever ended like this, especially in light of last year coming off of the national championship. We wanted to be able to defend that, but to have it end like this, it was heartbreaking for all of us.”
Q: How are your players coping with this?
SC: “This past week was a little bit better just because school started back up after taking a week break off. Cabrini took a week off then they opened back up again – and the guys are doing online classes – at least that is keeping them busy and their minds busy at the same time; obviously, as they pursue their education. I think each player is dealing with it in their own way. Myself and my fellow coaches are using a number of interactive tools to keep in touch with them with FaceTime, Zoom, Phone Calls, Text Messages, Emails – whatever we need to. Obviously, there is still a mix of disappointment and anger, while also dealing with a sense of loss. These players are also dealing with a sense of the unknown, as well. They’re kind of fearful of the future. What does the virus look like? Nobody really knows. Are we able to get back on the field in the fall? Is next spring in jeopardy? We do not know those answers right now. Is life as we know it going to be very different after this? I think that has a lot of people worrying, including coaches and administrators scared for the future. We’re trying to help them navigate this unnerving time, as we as coaches try to do the same in our history.”
Q: As coaches, how are you guys dealing with the sudden end of the season?
SC: “It’s tough. Not only can we not coach our players, this is the first spring I’ve had off in 26 years. I’m not able to do anything. I cannot do anything on my bucket list of things that I would like to do when I have that first spring off, because the world is mostly shut down. It is definitely unusual. As coaches, teachers, and educators – my classroom is now virtual and I continue to mentor them and guide them the best that I can. I know that we’ll be back together soon. We’ll get through this, but in the meantime, we want to make sure that they stay engaged. We want them to know that the program is still there for them. It is certainly a different kind of coaching – it is more mental than physical. It is a unique challenge, but one that I think my coaches have embraced and are working at, as we figure out this new normal that we’re in right now.”
Q: How are the seniors dealing with this?
SC: “I think they’re hoping that this is not the end of their collegiate careers. I, myself, am hoping that the NCAA will be able to navigate and see their way through this unique situation. I think they’re hopeful. Some of them have already advised me that they have made the decision, as they are graduating and there is not a graduate program to fit their needs. It is unfortunately time for them to move on. There are also financial implications to that, as well. I think they’re the ones who are struggling with it the most, as the game did not end on their terms. They did not get to play one last game, or get to put the uniform on one last time, or get to run onto the field with their teammates. They did not have the joy of winning or the agony of defeat. The joy of team sports has been ripped away from them. I assume, while they’re laying there, they have moments that it is unfair. I’m sure they wonder ‘Why this year?,’ ‘Why my senior year?.’
“I really feel for the high school senior, because he or she does not have an opportunity to go get a fifth-year. On the other hand, the college senior, he or she may have the opportunity to get a fifth-year. The high school senior may have the ability to play college sports – and that obviously keeps them looking forward – but there’s always something very special about your senior in high school. Some seniors may never get the opportunity to play sports again after all this. As an athlete, I still have memories of my senior year in high school. I really feel for those kids, as much as I do with the college seniors, too.”
Q: If the NCAA does not give these 12 seniors an extra year of eligibility, what are you going to remember them?
SC: “They were such a big part of the core foundation of our team that won a national championship. They continued to build the culture the right way. They continued to come to work every day and worked hard. They continued to do the things the right way on and off the field. They also come from great families and great high school programs. If this season is an asterisk in the history books, because we only got to play five games, then, in theory, their last official game was the national championship. If there is any comfort in that we didn’t get to play a full season, in our last full season as a group, we got to culminate it at Lincoln Financial Field, hoisting the national championship trophy. I think that there is a supreme silver lining for our Cabrini players, but I’m sure they would have still loved an opportunity to go out there and to have played, given it their all in order to defend it. Win or lose, they would have enjoyed the journey. Our guys love playing the game. I think that’s what they miss the most and those moments.”
Q: As the defending champions, all the teams on your schedule were bringing their ‘A’ game against you. Could you talk about what that was like in this short-lived schedule?
SC: “It’s really a tale of two stories and two extremes. We came into the season on the highest of highs with our win last May and then through the summer. Then, when our guys came back to school in the fall, a good core of that group was back. They were excited to get back onto the field. Then, we have something like this happen that has taken us to the lowest of lows. As we like to tell our guys, life will humble you in minutes sometimes. Sports, sometimes, plays that same story out. I think what it’ll teach these young men to really appreciate these opportunities that they have in life and don’t assume something that it’ll be great forever. You have to work for that, while appreciating every moment that you have, especially when you’re doing something that you really love. I hope that they’re able to focus on that and remember that – not only in the short season that we had this year, but also in the success that we had last year that culminated in the national championship.”
Q: How do you think your players are trying to practice, while also being a student at home?
SC: “First, I hope that they’re practicing good social distancing, along with making healthy and safe decisions. I know guys have been posting videos to our social media that they’re shooting on their own, running and doing their own individual exercises. I really want our student-athletes to be leaders in a situation like this. I want them all to do the things that will keep them safe, along with their families safe. There will be plenty enough time for us to play lacrosse going forward. At this moment in time, we need them to do all the things that are necessary as a society to keep us healthy – and not spread this terrible virus. I tell my guys – who think that they’re invincible – this virus doesn’t go against a certain race of the population. As we’ve seen, this virus attacks anyone, young and old, as well as the poor and the wealthy. Anybody can get it through a variety of different ways. Life as we know it is completely different. Lacrosse players want to take a bucket of balls to their local fields, but that’s shut down right now until we can get back to normal.”
Q: If this coronavirus pandemic continues, how is that going to impact coaches around the country in their recruiting efforts?
SC: “That’s a very good question, but one we do not have an answer for right now. We don’t know what is going to happen, as coaches. Fortunately for me, I have developed a lot of relationships with coaches in my coaching circles at the Division I, Division II, and Division III level that are not only great peers, but not only professionals, who I compete against, but also great friends. We have a lot of resources. We have been talking about that and trying to figure it out. Obviously, we’re going to have to do a lot of it virtually, as we’re going to have to use videos, or Skype, or Zoom. We’re also going to have to do our due diligence over the phone with high school and club coaches about these players. It is going to be a unique challenge if we’re going to have to deal with it, if we are not able to do live recruiting this summer. Luckily, we did a good job in the fall when we had the opportunity to recruit in November and recruit the Class of 2021. We have a good active database of these players with athletic and academic evaluations in there. Obviously, a lot can happen now with this pandemic going on.
“Players develop athletically during their junior years. Now, these players are impacted, as well, by this, so we will see what happens. That’ll be in unchartered waters. I know that myself and my coaching staff will figure it out. We’ll do the best that we can. I want to make sure that we’re prepared in any way possible if we have to actually face that scenario. I know as a coaching staff, we’ll be ready, but I assume we’re going to do a lot of virtual recruiting utilizing videos and technology, along with using word-of-mouth – the old-school way – with coaches, both at the high school and club level, to get their evaluations to use that to make our determining factors in order to offer a young man an opportunity to come in and compete with our program.”
Q: What do you say to high school underclassmen that are looking at being recruited by Cabrini?
SC: “If any high school player ends up reading this, know that we are recruiting. We’re not shut down, as we’re using our phones and our computers, along with the different video tools that we have access to, and we will continue to recruit this way until we are able to get the green light to physically go out and watch guys play in person.”