MCLA Notebook: Hable Still Present at Virginia Tech
from staff reports | Twitter
It's the Fourth of July. The weather's beautiful. He's at the local watering hole with his buddies, jumping off a rope, swinging into the river.
Alex Hable is the prototypical 19-year-old American college student.
That holiday back in 2014 should have been just another day in Hable's long life, but it was his last, ended by a freak accident that involved nothing but misfortune. It's also a day that has been ever-present in the lives of the Virginia Tech men's lacrosse team that has spent last season and the start of this season honoring their fallen teammate.
"He wasn't the best lacrosse player in the world, but his work ethic and the type of kid he was, it's what we're shooting for at Virginia Tech," said assistant Matt Schroeder on Hable's legacy.
The loss of someone that age always leaves a wound, but Hable left a legacy.
"His work ethic was something I've rarely seen," said Matt Schroeder, the former head coach for the Hokies and now an assistant. "In addition to his academic work, he held a part-time job as well as playing lacrosse. He was always busy, but when he was on the field, he was happy to be there and always working his butt off. He wasn't the best lacrosse player in the world, but his work ethic and the type of kid he was, it's what we're shooting for at Virginia Tech."
Thomas Westfall, a senior and captain of the Hokies this year, came to Blacksburg with Hable. Neither saw a whole lot of time – Hable at attack and Westfall at long-stick middie – but Westfall saw what Hable's approach was going to be to getting on the field. It crystallized when Hable showed up for his sophomore season.
"I almost didn't recognize him," Westfall said. "He put on 15 pounds of solid muscle and was dedicated to getting better, playing and being there for the team."
The Hokies are trying to repay that dedication.
They have home and away warm-ups, all with Hable's No. 8 emblazoned on the back. There are Hable's initials on the back of the Tech helmets, along with the slogan "We Will with Hable," which is another nod to Hable's optimistic nature. The No. 8 is painted above the field and there is an award given at the end of the year given in his honor.
Hable's number hasn't been worn since his death, but this year, a player will be picked every week to wear No. 8 during a weekend game. The individual who shows the traits that Hable was renowned for – hard work, dedication and high character – will earn the jersey. And in many ways, that person will be playing for Hable.
With the consent of the conference and the understanding that opposing teams will have to be informed, Hable has remained listed on the Virginia Tech roster. Not only that, but the player who wears No. 8 during the season will donate their stats to Hable's memory.
"By the end of the year, we're going to say, 'This is what Alex's stats would have been for his senior year,'" said Schroeder.
This dedication isn't happening with a peripheral team with long-shot dreams of Orange County. The Hokies went to the final four last year and, barring a miracle overtime goal by Colorado, would have played for a championship in 2015. They are loaded again with high expectations and, perhaps more importantly, plenty of impetus to bring the crown to southwestern Virginia.
"We were constantly reminding each other that he's with us," said Schroeder. "He's watching us and wants us to do well. It was really motivating for the guys. We really rallied the people we needed to rally around."
"We've had talks at the end of the practice and getting ready to do sprints," added Westfall. "Alex is looking down on us. What message do you want to send him? That's the attitude that has given us the motivation and inspiration to work harder and look out for each other."
Alex's mother, Heather, has stayed closely connected with the program. She comes to as many games as she can from her home in the Richmond area, and has become an embodiment of her son for the program.
"She's in the back of my mind all the time," Westfall said.
She'll be feted on senior day along with the other parents, regardless of how the season goes.
A mundane season is not an option, however. Hable's legacy will not allow it. There is also a larger perspective in the wake of his death.
"We're keeping the picture big and stressing the importance of the program, as it's not just about lacrosse," Westfall said. "It's about the people involved. That has been the after-effect of going through this as a team."
"Alex is looking down on us," said No. 27 Thomas Westfall, a senior and captain of the Hokies this year. "What message do you want to send him? That's the attitude that has given us the motivation and inspiration to work harder and look out for each other."
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