There are only so many sands in the hour glass of a collegiate sports career. The truly gifted players can buy more time, but even for best athletes, the number of opportunities remains finite. No matter the outcome of the final contest, the halt is abrupt and borders on surreal. For four years, college athletes have much of their being defined by their participation in sports, and when the final gun, buzzer or horn sounds, just like that, it’s over.
Moments after the final sand slipped through the waist of the hour glass of the Diplomats’ seniors, three of them and their coach sat in a line before an NCAA backdrop with their faces a swirl of emotions. On the left flank was Lidia Sanza, defiant in knowing that the outcome of the last game of her career would not mar her class’ legacy. To her right sat Paulette Cutruzzula, flush with disappointment ping-ponging between anger and sadness. Next to Cutruzzula sat Blake Hargest, as calm and businesslike as she had been throughout her career. On the right end of the table, head coach Lauren Paul sat in stark contrast to her players. She was perched high in her chair, obviously disappointed, but beaming with pride.
Paul, whose first two seasons at the helm have ended with a national championship and a national semifinal appearance, was armed with the wisdom of someone who has lived through the sudden transition from lacrosse player to lacrosse alumni. In a line down the table, the former Diplomat star was listening to her legacy trying to comprehend its own.
You’ll have to forgive the newest alumnae if they weren’t able to spell it out for unfamiliar reporters ten minutes after the heartbreak of an emotional loss and the end of their careers.
“I haven’t really had time to think about it,” said Hargest. “Obviously I have my rings, but it will probably be a few years before I think I get to step back and say, wow, that was really amazing.”
For those of us who have watched them in amazement over the past four years, it is pretty easy at present to comprehend the enormity of the run. The Franklin & Marshall class of 2010 leaves Lancaster with a record of 77-7, a winning percentage of .917, four NCAA Championship weekend appearances, and oh by the way, two NCAA Championships. Add to that a slew of team and individual records, personal accolades and other myriad accomplishments, and it is easy to understand Sanza’s defiant tone when asked if she felt pressure to repeat.
“People didn’t think we’d get here,” said Sanza. “Everyone said we graduated too much and were too young. Sorry, but age doesn’t matter. If you field 12 freshmen that are better than 12 seniors, the 12 freshmen will probably win the game.”
After dutifully paying tribute to the lessons of the seniors from the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons, Cutruzzula echoed her keepers’ sentiments.
“We showed we can be here without the however many players who had graduated,” said Cutruzzula. “By being here we have built our legacy and I hope that we have set a high bar for the rest of the girls here this weekend to carry it on.”
Before carrying on let’s appreciate the opportunity these players have given their fans. It is both rare and beautiful to have the opportunity to see truly skilled artists in action. Sanza was a veritable Picasso between the pipes. No Diplomat starter has done a better job defending the 36-square feet inside of the orange frame, limiting the opposition to 6.52 goals per game. Hargest was a magician, making keepers disappear with 341 waves of her webbed wand. She used her gift wisely, converting on an astounding 60.8 percent of the shots in her career.
Their classmates too, were exceptional. Cutruzzula and Amanda Miceli anchored one of the nation’s top defenses over each of the past four years. Sarah Veneski transferred in as a sophomore and patiently awaited her turn to emerge as a dangerous feeder. In 2010, she did just that. Stolle Singleton, used to bountiful opportunities on the field hockey pitch, found them less frequently in lacrosse. It did not stop her from making the most of them. One of her last touches on the field came in the waning moments of the regional final, when she stripped a Mary Washington starter, gathered a ground ball and cleared the Diplomats’ end of danger on her own.
It was a class that was light on eye black and bluster, but big on being businesslike. The 2010 team took on their personality, just as the 2009 team was defined by their seniors. Every year within a great program is entirely different than the years before and the years to come.
The 2011 Diplomats will be deprived of their services of the class of 2010, just as the 2010 Diplomats were deprived of talents of 2009. But remember that before there was Sanza there was Mort. Before Mort there was Eide, Rao, Rao, Faill, Coyne and Krupp. Before Hargest there was Pritchard, and prior to Pritchard there was Paul and Petrella. There was Videon, Reigner, Gaydos and Cassels. Before Serpe and Shields, there was Meisenberg. Before Meisenberg was even in middle school, DeFelice, Lipari and Mauk mucked up ground balls. The clears that Shanley now carries are the clears once run by from end-to-end by Giampa.
F&M too, will carry on. Before the class of 2010 ever touched the field in NCAA competition, the Diplomats had danced nine times and made its way to the NCAA semifinals twice. There will be more dancing in the future, that is the continuing tradition of this program, and the determination of Coach Paul.
Towards the end of the seven-minute, forty-nine second press conference, a question about Hamilton was put to her, “Did they do anything that surprised you?”
“No,” said Paul. “They just did it really well.”
The same could be said for her seniors.