By Amanda Baxter
The men’s lacrosse team returned to the field on Friday, March 19 for their season opener against St. Leo University. The Spartans took home a win with a final score of 24-8. The men are eager to continue playing in hopes of a successful season.
“We are excited about getting our first win this season after almost a year to date since we were sent home due to COVID. Our defense played well, and Ross Dickerson won many face-offs, which gave our offense many opportunities to score,” said Luke McAnaney, junior offensive midfielder.
Tampa was ranked preseason number one in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) conference and number one in the nation by the Nike/U.S. Lacrosse preseason poll. Head coach Rory Whipple has high expectations for the Spartans moving forward.
“Our goal is to go undefeated in the conference and get an NCAA bid and win a National Championship,” said coach Whipple, “we have a really strong team, and we are looking forward to having a great year and going all the way.”
The team began practicing in early January, one week before the start of the spring semester.
The Spartans were set to play Jacksonville University on Jan. 23 and Mercer University on Jan. 30, but both games were canceled due to COVID-19.
“Everyone is eager to get back out there and play other schools. We’ve been fortunate enough to be scrimmaging each other the past month or so, but we’re sick of playing our own teammates. Competing against other schools to see where we stand will make it worthwhile,” said Owen Matukas, a junior defensive midfielder.
In the past, the team typically played schools outside of the conference in addition to the conference. The SSC released a statement that schools are only allowed to play conference games. No overnight travel and no conference tournaments are permitted. However, there will still be a Division two NCAA tournament featuring five teams from the north and south.
“Because of COVID, we have seven players that are in their fifth year of college,” said coach Whipple. “Some of these kids I have been coaching for five years now, I have never experienced that.”
The NCAA granted all student-athletes an extra year of eligibility to make up for lost playtime due to Coronavirus last season. Some students took the opportunity to keep playing while continuing their education at UT.
“Being able to come back and have a second chance at a senior year is an opportunity most don’t get to have,” said Nick Perrot, graduate student, defender and captain. “I’m blessed to be able to make one more run at a national title before I have to hang up the cleats.”
With only nine games left before the NCAA tournament, the team continues to practice hard through their competition season.
“I’m so stoked to be back on the field with the team,” said Parrot. “We have a great group of guys who are all hungry for the title, and I can’t wait for the first whistle of the year.”