Road Trip Dad – Here we go – the 2019 NCAA Division I Season Begins . . .
Dan Witmer |January 21, 2019
Well, here we are – January 21. No unnecessary travel. State of Emergency. Windchill below zero. Blizzard-like conditions. “Feels-like” temperatures. “Ten-to-sixteen inches, with winds up to 45 mph, followed by lake effect snow on Monday.” Snowmegeddon. The Snowpocalypse. Hunker down. Stock up on bread, milk, and maybe alcohol. Kids and teachers thinking, “What a waste of a Snow Day” on this national Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

It took almost an hour and a half to clear the driveway, and that was with some help from the wife. The poor dog wasn’t real keen about being in snow deeper than the length of his legs.

If I don’t think about lacrosse, I’m afraid the weather could get the best of me. Thoughts of Jack Torrance, Stephen King’s main character in The Shining, come to mind...

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

So, please, let’s talk lacrosse.

Believe it or not, most D-I programs have not only started their 2019 practice seasons, but they’ll be scrimmaging next weekend. Most of those scrimmages will be outdoors…

January scrimmages. Try wrapping your mind around that thought. Meanwhile, Ivy League schools like Cornell, Princeton, and 2018 national champion Yale are not allowed to even begin practices until February 1.

While Bob Shillinglaw was the head coach of the University of Delaware Blue Hens, it seemed like they thought it was their job to play the first NCAA game of the year. More than once they played their first game on February 1st, and if Coach Shill hadn’t retired recently, they’d probably be playing their opener in January by now. Now that Delaware is under the direction of Ben DeLuca, their opener isn’t until February 9 – and they are still playing four games in the month of February.

This year, according to my 15 minutes of research, the first game of 2019 will be on Friday, February 1 – and guess which state will be hosting.

Florida? Nope.

Hawaii? Nope (but why not?).

No, not California, Georgia, or even one of the Carolinas. The first D-I game of the season will be in Salt Lake City, UT, when the Utes play their first NCAA game vs. the Catamounts of the University of Vermont.

University of Utah lacrosse will be one of the big stories of 2019, along with The Shot Clock and The Dive. Coach Holman left the University of North Carolina after the Tar Heels won their national championship in 2016 to take the Utes into prime time, and now we’re just two weeks away from their debut. I don’t know much about Utah weather, but it looks like they’re counting on some decent days in February – they’re scheduled to play five games in their first month!

And the Catamounts? They’ve become the road version of Coach Shillinglaw’s Hens – they’ve been a frequent guest in season openers down south before, so it didn’t really come as any surprise to see that they were obliging the Utes in their program opener. My only question for UVm’s head coach Chris Feifs is, “Are you guys practicing outside in Burlington in January to prepare for these games, or do you have a decent indoor option?”

Besides Utah and Vermont, I found 5 of 11 schools opening their 2019 seasons on Saturday, February 2. Of the 13 schools I looked at, the latest starting date I found was Sat, Feb 16 – and that was UAlbany. Coach Scott Marr has been a vocal supporter of avoiding the “winter crawl,” and once again the Danes will open their season inside the controlled environment of the Carrier Dome.

The first schools I checked were the southern outposts of D-I men’s lacrosse – High Point, Mercer, Furman, and Jacksonville. All open up on February 2. Mercer hosts UNC, High Point hosts newbie St. Bonaventure, and Furman plays host to Duke (imagine being at Duke and UNC and you get to go south for your season-opener!).

But it was Jacksonville’s opener that caught my attention: Saturday, February 2… at Detroit Mercy. An away game. As in, Michigan. On February 2. Why? A closer examination suggests that the game is scheduled for a nearby indoor facility, which begs the question, “Why not just agree to play at Jacksonville?” For years we used to open our season at the University of Rochester; we never asked them to reciprocate and come to Oswego. They had the turf field, and the odds were excellent that we’d be able to play the game as scheduled. Coach Kolon, wouldn’t “We open our season in Florida” be a better recruiting hook than, “We open indoors on February 2”?

Sorting through the other schools, an Upstate salute of respect goes to Hobart. Counting on the effects of global warming and El Nino, the Statesmen are slated to play four games in February – all in Upstate New York! Of course, the Pinnacle indoor facility in Victor and other indoor options are always there, but Coach Raymond’s quad is scheduled to play home against Canisius and away at Siena, Cornell, and Colgate. Hope Santa brought them some Cold Gear!

On the other end of the spectrum, Syracuse opens with Colgate on February 8 – in the Carrier Dome, of course. As a matter of fact, the Orange will play seven – seven! – consecutive home games in the Dome before they finally venture outside on March 30 (at Notre Dame).

The other New Kid on the Block this spring is St. Bonaventure, and it looks like the new kid got bullied in the playground while everyone made their 2019 schedules; the Bonnies have just three home games this spring!

Colgate and Canisius are both scheduled to play four games in February; three of Colgate’s four are in Upstate NY, while Canisius has games in Georgia and South Carolina, and another in the Pinnacle indoor facility in Victor.

So while we Upstate New Yorkers sit here feeling sorry for ourselves, chilled after shoveling, plowing, or snow-blowing, let’s look at the bright side – lacrosse season is, in fact, right around the corner. By this time next week, many D-I program will be in “Game Week” mode. And while I didn’t research D-II, D-III, or JUCO schedules, we all know that once the big boys start playing, LeMoyne and Roberts Wesleyan, and Cortland and RIT and Nazareth, and even OCC can’t be far behind.

So stay off the streets if you can. Stay warm. Have another cup of soup. Do a picture puzzle. Binge-watch something.

But most importantly, take some comfort in knowing that lacrosse season is here!

LAST CALL FOR NEW REFEREES! It’s late, but it’s not too late! Even if you’re not in the CNY area, please email John Zagata at jzagata@aol.com if you’re interested. He’ll gladly put you in touch with the right people.

In the meantime – now maybe more than ever – please drive carefully, everyone!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books. The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland. ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and soon to be on the shelves at the river's end bookstore.