The Marist men’s lacrosse team was rolling through six games last season. The Red Foxes were coming off one of the biggest wins in program history, a 17-9 triumph over Hudson Valley rivals Army, who were ranked ninth in the country at the time. The program was looking to win the MAAC in back-to-back years for the first time since the program’s founding in 2005. Three weeks later, the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For defender Sam Ahlgrim, midfielder Joe Tierney and 11 other seniors, the news meant that they wouldn’t have the chance to finish what they started four years ago. That was until March 30, when the NCAA announced that any spring sport senior who wished to play in 2021 would receive an extra year of eligibility.
The decision to come back was a complicated one. Deciding to return for another year means putting the rest of your life on hold for the foreseeable future.
However, Ahlgrim and Tierney, along with fellow seniors midfielder Jon Constant, midfielder Wyatt Colangelo, and midfielder Jack Zukowski decided to take their extra year of eligibility and participate in the 2021 spring season.
“I talked to my family about it, took some time and thought it would be a good opportunity to pursue some more education and play another year of lacrosse,” said Tierney.
Ahlgrim was prepared to accept a job offer following his graduation, but the opportunity to return for an extra season was too good to pass up. “It was just something I needed to take advantage of,” he said.
Both Ahlgrim and Tierney are enrolled in the Marist Masters Integrated Marketing Communications program.
“I’m fortunate to continue my education,” said Ahlgrim. “It’s a blessing out of all this madness.”
As anticipated, Marist was voted the MAAC preseason favorite, receiving seven out of eight first place votes. Tierney was also named Preseason Player of the Year after tallying 17 points in just six games last season.
Ahlgrim has been a staple of the Marist defensive corps since his sophomore season in 2018, making 40 total appearances for the Red Foxes. His steadiness and experience at the back will be a major factor in an unconventional 2021 season.
With this season’s unique set of challenges due to the pandemic, the experience Ahlgrim, Tierney and the three other graduate seniors return with will be essential for the team. “I definitely think that having those older guys helps big time,” said Ahlgrim. “It’s gonna be everything.”
The team wasn’t permitted to practice until March 1, only five days prior to their season opener at home against Detroit Mercy on March 6, where they picked up a 15-11 win.
Due to COVID-19 protocol, this season the Red Foxes will play an eight-game, MAAC-only schedule. It’s a far cry from the usual 14-game schedule used in the pre-pandemic world. “We’re just trying to stay as safe as possible to make sure we have a smooth season so we can get that title in ‘21,” said Tierney.
Without a doubt, the team’s potential in the 2021 season played a role in their decisions. However, having a good team was more of a commodity than a necessity. The pair felt it was their duty to finish their time at Marist for those seniors who aren’t able to. “There is that sense of wanting to come back and finish what we started,” said Ahlgrim, “Going out on top is what we’re looking to do.”
Ahlgrim and Tierney communicate with their former teammates daily, who remind them that they’re lucky to have another shot. “They’re just as engaged as we are,” said Tierney, “That’s something special about Marist lacrosse, it’s always going to be a tight knit alumni group… and that’s something we take pride in.”
This group of seniors knows what it feels like to have it taken away from them. Last March, they too thought their college careers were over and there was nothing they could do about it. It’s out of that feeling of helplessness that they dedicate this season to the seniors who weren’t able to return. “We had a lot of great guys in our class who weren’t able to come back and do another season,” said Ahlgrim, “It’s lucky for us to get to step on the field every day.”
Among the biggest losses from last season’s team are Jake MacGregor and Peyton Smith.
MacGregor started every game in net for the Red Foxes in both 2019 and 2020 and played a major role in the team’s 2019 MAAC Championship. He finished his career at Marist tied for third all time in wins by a goalie. Junior Anthony Novellano will look to fill MacGregor’s shoes as the starting goalie in 2021.
Smith left the program last season as one of the best faceoff specialists in school history. Prior to the 2020 season, Smith was named MAAC Preseason Co-Player of the Year and in the shortened season, collected two MAAC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Smith went on to be drafted sixth overall by Redwoods Lacrosse Club in the 2020 Premier Lacrosse League College Draft.
The 2021 Marist Men’s Lacrosse Team has one goal in mind: To defend their MAAC Championship for their teammates who don’t have a chance to. With that motivation driving them forward throughout the season, they’ll be a tough team to beat in the MAAC and beyond.
Edited by Bridget Reilly & Dave Connelly