Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers
September 10, 2020WOLFEBORO — Imagine if you will, you play lacrosse growing up, all through high school, go on to college and play there, return to your alma mater as an assistant coach and then finally getting the chance to take the reins of your own varsity team.
Winter creeps toward spring and you begin to prepare for the season, looking ahead at the players on the roster who you've watched the last few years and get in a few optional practices.
And then, well, 2020 happens.
If you can imagine this, then you are living in the mind of Kingswood boys' lacrosse coach Mike Manning.
The 2007 Kingswood graduate, who played goal for the Knights, went on to play goal at Wheelock College and returned home to work with fellow Kingswood graduate Matt Tetreault as an assistant coach. And when Tetreault decided to step down after the 2019 season, Manning applied for the head job and was hired as the Knight varsity coach.
"We got in three days of optional practice and then were told we'd have to wait for two weeks, then we were told to just wait," Manning said.
The COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy in the United States when Manning held a few optional practices in March with a team that he was fairly familiar with. Most of the kids he'd been around either as the JV coach or as the assistant coach on the varsity team.
"Going into it, I had a rough idea in my mind as to major contributors, etc., but then just nothing," he said.
While the idea of a 2021 spring season is still a ways off, Manning knows that he will have some unfamiliar faces when the season starts, as last year's freshmen and this year's freshmen are basically new to him.
"I really only have two classes to pick from, the juniors and seniors, that I know," Manning said. "There's two classes with minimal knowledge as to what they can do."
While Manning was disappointed to lose his first varsity season, he knows that the way he feels is nothing compared to the way that last year's seniors had to go out, with no season, in addition to all the other things that went by the wayside during the spring.
"We had a pretty small senior class, but the kids we had had put a lot of effort into it," Manning said. "We had some kids who were on the precipice of having a great season and had a couple of kids who had put in good work and were poised to get their first role at the varsity level.
"We never got a chance to see what they could do," he continued. "The seniors got cheated pretty significantly."
While fall sports are just getting under way, Manning said he's going to keep an eye on how things go and how other coaches and schools handle things.
"Hopefully by spring, the most successful version of any plan they might have will be in place," he said.
With no lacrosse for more than a year, the Knight coach decided to take advantage of the state's return to play rules and start holding some lacrosse clinics over the course of the summer.
The clinics were held two nights a week and were open to kids in grades seven through 12, no matter their lacrosse experience. It was also open to students who weren't Kingswood students. Manning noted there were a couple of seventh graders who came to just about every clinic.
"We just wanted to get kids back out and involved," Manning stated. Most of what the clinics focused on in the early going were individual skills so as to abide by the protocols set in place by the state and the school.
"We wanted to make sure that as many guys as possible could get involved and not have a chance to take a full year off from lacrosse," the Knight coach said. "We are a bubble team (for playoffs), so we want all the practice we can get to hone our skills. My hope was to get a few extra touches."
Manning reports that all the athletes were willing to do whatever was required in order to get out on the field again and did a great job of following the guidelines.
"It was a chance to get out and play and do something," he said. "They wanted to get out and do something because everyone was going stir-crazy."
Sports Editor Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.