Washington & Lee Enjoying the Rebound
The low point came on April 14.
Ten days removed from yet another season-ending injury to All-American pole Joe LaSala, and with the seconds winding down on Senior Day, the Washington & Lee players and staff realized they were about to get doubled up by ODAC foe Virginia Wesleyan, 10-5.
"That was a tough moment for our kids," admitted W&L head coach Gene McCabe.
With a 2-4 conference record, the Generals were doomed to the conference's sixth seed in the six-team bracket with two games left in the regular season. They managed to beat Greensboro and squeeze past Randolph-Macon to enter the conference tourney on a positive note, but a talented, if perhaps underachieving, Hampden-Sydney squad awaited in the first round.
"Quite honestly, we had to do some soul-searching and figure out what we're about and what we want this to look like," said McCabe. "As coaches, we told the players we believed in them and told them what they were capable of doing. We had to keep fighting and working hard."
W&L raced out to a 6-2 lead against Hampden-Sydney, but as the two teams entered the fourth quarter the game was knotted at sevens. Faced with a 15 minute season, junior attackman Jack Switala broke the tie and rookie Cam Lewis added the eventual game-winner less than a minute later as the Generals posted a 9-8 victory.
"That's the thing about our team: through all of this, what has been a consistent commitment level and attitude," said McCabe. "You can't have success unless those things are at a high level and you're able to push through the adversity."
Adversity was waiting again three days later when W&L had to travel to face Roanoke, a team riding a seven-game winning streak since losing in overtime to No. 3 Lynchburg on St. Patrick's Day. With contributions from three precocious freshmen – Garret Paglia (3g), Cameron Dabir (2g, 2a) and Warren Berenis (20 saves) – and a monster game from senior Scott Meehan (5g, 2a), the Generals stunned the Maroons, 13-8 to punch their ticket to the finals.
Now W&L is a game away from a bid to the national tournament. They face Lynchburg on Sunday at 1 p.m., and the Generals will hope to channel 2009, when they went on the road to defeat the Hornets and then-undefeated Roanoke to capture the AQ.
"The great thing is we certainly can recall back to that and remember that not many people gave us a shot," said McCabe of the '09 run. "We went down there and played a hell of a game and won a conference championship. We feel like we're capable of doing that again, and I really like the fact that our kids are zeroing in on that this is this year and this moment, and they want to take advantage of the opportunity we have."
Regardless of how Sunday's game turns out, this run has been important for the program. While McCabe says that the parents and alums have been supportive during the mid-season trials, just knowing that all of the work has finally manifested the way they had hoped has been cathartic for everyone involved.
"Any time you have a little bit of success, you have that affirmation that what you're doing is the right thing," McCabe said. "We're so much more in a groove and we're confident in our systems now. The chemistry of the team is very good. Like I told our guys, Lynchburg is a fantastic team that is loaded with talent, but I think we're night and day compared to where we were when we played the first time. Our guys believe that, and we believe we have a chance. We're 60 minutes away from the NCAA tournament and the guys really believe it."