By: Head Coach Gene McCabe
There is a unique story to each season. Within a season there are a number of chapters that help create that story. Typically you can find common themes in each chapter which help define a team’s legacy. This is a look back at our season through the first four games, or Chapter One if you will.
Our preseason was excellent. The guys worked extremely hard everyday and most of our players returned in great shaped. I was particularly pleased with the improvement across the board in our testing areas. I believe we start the preseason stronger and more athletic than we ever have. The competition to make the roster was intense and after a demanding three weeks of practice in bitter cold temperatures we were ready for the season to begin.
Dawning Blue Cascade R helmets, new uniforms, and new gloves, the new look Generals opened the season with a solid win over Ferrum College. After a forgettable first quarter brought on by nerves, we settled in and pulled away from a tenacious Ferrum team. We went 21 for 23 on faceoffs that day. I was pleased that we were able to play everyone who was cleared to play. I know how important those minutes are for our young guys.
On the first day of February break we travelled to Newport News to take on Christopher Newport University. The weather in Lexington had prevented us from practicing mid week. We got on the bus prepared to play a game with just 80 minutes of practice under our belt. We seemed undaunted. On Saturday morning it was a cold, rainy, gross day out there and I was in a baaaad mood! (inside team joke ;)). CNU is a good team and they are well coached. We had to fight hard all day to get the win in some of the worst conditions I have coached in. Two things about this game stood out for me. One, we played as well for 60 minutes as a team as I have seen us play this early in the season. Two, the energy and support from our bench was amazing! I cannot recall that kind of sustained enthusiasm from the bench in my time here at W&L. I think we all learned a good lesson about the importance of team on that day. I believe our energy, team speed played a big part in helping us pull away from a feisty CNU team and get the win.
We had a week between games and we were on Feb break. We took Sunday and Monday off. We practiced hard Tuesday- Friday to prepare for what we knew would be an excellent Denison team. While we lost a tough game against a very good team, I was pleased with how well we played in many facets of the game. Ultimately, I came away from the game with a lot of positives. I did, however, feel we needed to shoot better, finish transition plays better, talk better and be more organized on defense.
We had another week between games to prepare for a different, but equally good Washington College team. We cut practice length down on this week because we felt like the guys were getting a little worn out from two-hour practices. We also knew that many had a lot of academic work to do. In addition, it was the last week of pledgeship and we have 14 first-year players. I was personally relieved to know our first-year guys were in the final week of the fraternity new membership education process.
We worked hard and I felt we were well prepared for WAC. I explained to the team that it was important that we bring the fight to our opponent, play with poise and composure and to play with a chip on their shoulder. Well, to be honest, I do not think we did any of that. I was disappointed with how our team showed up for the game and how we played the game throughout. I was impressed with WAC for sure, but I felt we had failed as a team to bring the level of hunger, intensity, discipline and focus needed to win big games like that. I could see that the team was disappointed in themselves. I took this loss personally and I know the staff did as well. Accountability in the face of adversity is vital to personal growth. One must look at themself and ask what they could have done better. While going in I believed we had set the right tone and sent the right messages, it was clear that we did not get our guys prepared to play at their highest level on that day.
The only real failure in life is the failure to learn and grow from setbacks and mistakes. All you can do is get up when knocked down, dust yourself off, and move forward with great resolve to improve. The way this team responds to this adversity and this loss is going to help shape the legacy of this team.
The guys knew that they would be challenged this week with demanding practices. We challenged every player to raise the level of play. We need to improve our toughness both mentally and physically. We need to be more patient and efficient as an offensive unit and we need to capitalize on the impressive number of transition opportunities we create in each game. On defense, we need to execute what we do more consistently. Playing these good teams out of conference will help our younger defense mature faster for sure.
So we currently stand at 2-2. We are closing out a good week of practice as we prepare for our annual rival game against Franklin and Marshall. This is an important road trip and I am very much looking forward to seeing how we respond after a tough loss last weekend.
Despite recent setbacks, I really like this team. There is an unflappable nature to this group. They take a lot of pride in what they do. We knew from the beginning that we would face some adversity in the early season. We are not a young team but we are undeniably a “younger” team. With that in mind there are going to be some growing pains and some tough lessons learned. From the onset, I maintained that we may not be as good (in terms of wins and losses) early on like we were last year, but I believe wholeheartedly we could be better than we were last year later in the season. No one said it better than our good friend and comrade Tony Conway, we just need to “make each day better than the last”! I am confident this team has the ability, the leadership, and the character to make this a special season.
Up Next: We follow a member of the Generals’ team around campus for our video diary “Day in the Life” series.