On a chilly Wednesday night at the artificial turf practice field, you could see steam coming from helmets and hear pads crunching as bodies hit the turf.
No, the football team wasn’t getting in some early spring practice – the CSU men’s lacrosse team was preparing for their season opener.
The defending national champions head north to Oregon this weekend to play the Oregon Ducks and rival Sonoma State Seawolves. CSU plays the Ducks Friday at 6 p.m. and Sonoma State Sunday at 1 p.m. in Eugene, Ore.
According to the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, the governing body of club lacrosse in America, CSU is the top-ranked team in the nation and Sonoma State and Oregon are ranked fourth and eighth, respectively.
The Rams haven’t had much outdoor practice time this season due to the snow and cold, so they’ve had to practice inside a gym doing a lot of half-field work. Assistant coach Alex Smith said the weather has affected practice.
“It’s been bad but nobody has a choice.” Smith said. “This is really awesome for the athletic department to let us use this field for about two hours.”
He said the team is looking sharp and in “good spirits” before the trip, but Head Coach Flip Naumburg said it was hard to judge with so little preparation.
“We have a young team,” said Naumburg, who is entering his 11th season with CSU lacrosse. “And the snow has affected us a lot; we need the practice time as much as we can get it.”
The last time the Rams played Oregon was in 2004 when the Rams dominated the Ducks, 15-6. The coaches don’t know much about Oregon but Smith did say they play an athletic up-tempo game, and will “get after us.”
Sonoma State is one the Rams’ biggest rivals but there isn’t much of a grudge between the teams.
“It’s not a bad blood rivalry between us,” Smith said. “We have a lot of respect for their team and they have a lot of respect for us.”
The Rams lost some important players from last year’s squad with the graduation of team captains goalie Pete Jokisch, midfielder Mike Murphy and defenseman Kellin Bershinsky. Stepping up this season will be attackman Danny Stevens, defenseman Adam Schnirel and midfielders Lee Cates and Pat Bird. Bird is the only returning captain.
Stevens said he is “pysched” to get the season going and remembers the last time they played Oregon. He also offered a different view on the rivalry between CSU and Sonoma State.
“I don’t think it’s friendly,” Stevens said. “We beat them last year so I think they are going to be looking for blood.”
Naumberg is ready for the season to begin and doesn’t mind that other teams will be looking to knock off the top-ranked Rams squad.
“We have been here so long we know we have a target on us,” Naumberg said.
Men’s lacrosse beat reporter Grant Meech can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.