North Central Men’s Lacrosse learn from both success and failure

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North Central Men’s Lacrosse look to continue last year’s success

The North Central Men’s Lacrosse team entered 2023 off the high of their best ever season, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time following their first CCIW Tournament Championship. With the team’s core largely unchanged from that season, they knew they had an excellent opportunity this spring to build on that success.

“I think coming off of last season with the NCAA Tournament appearance being our first ever, it was exciting,” said head coach Jay Farrell, who has led the team since it’s inception. “We really just wanted to take in that experience to use it as a learning lesson moving forward. So for us it was ‘enjoy the experience, soak it all in’ and take what we can in order for when we return in the future to be prepared so we can compete at the highest level.”

“After the NCAA Tournament and our CCW championship, all of the seniors kind of talked like we have a precedent now that’s set as a team, right?,” said senior attacker Nick Rubino. “So we know we can do these things. We have these things set in place. So let’s continue growing. That’s kind of what we continued to talk about as a senior class. How can we continue growth, right?”

“It was a great year for all of us,” junior attacker Tom Eberhardt reflected. “And being like a junior coming in after sophomore year, I feel like we had to grow up a little bit more than anything and really take more of a leadership role, which none of us were ready for. It’s like, thank God we had the seniors that were there to just kind of show us how to do everything. And I think we all wanted to come back. We all wanted to win another one. And we knew that that wasn’t just given, it was earned.”

A new best-ever regular season conference campaign

This was just the seventh season for the North Central Men’s Lacrosse program, and thus just like many of the student athletes this team is young and still maturing which underlines how impressive the success to this point has been. The team followed up last year’s tournament championship by improving on their regular season conference record from a year ago, going 5-1 and only falling to perennial conference champions Illinois Wesleyan in double overtime.

“We still have yet to have as a program true four-year playing seniors, ever,” said Farrell. “Even our seniors this year that started as freshmen with the interruptions that 2020 and 2021 brought, you know, they didn’t get a full season in the 2021 year. So we have still yet to see a class come through as seniors that’ve played a full four year seasons of lacrosse. So we did a great job just making sure that we were very communicative about what it is we needed to do, how we needed to stay on path to replicate and to continue to do what we ultimately wanted to do, which is compete for conference championships every year.”

The strong regular season saw seven Cardinals named to the CCIW all conference teams, as Trenton Herubin and Dylan Milnarich were named co-defensive players of the year and joined on the first team by Rubino, senior goalie Jake Allgood, and grad-transfer defender Miles Rathell; Eberhardt and senior midfielder Jack Moran, who finished his career as the program’s all-time leader in points, were named to the second team.

Postseason disappointment for NCC Men’s Lacrosse this time

Unfortunately the Cardinals would play only one more game, losing to Transylvania in the semifinals of the CCIW Tournament. Thus, they neither had the chance to defend their title nor improve on their NCAA Tournament performance from a year ago. But the team has taken it on the chin and wants to use it as a teachable moment for the future. As for the seniors, they’re not allowing one game to define what have been fantastic collegiate careers.

“It’s sad. Period,” Farrell said. “There was no other way around it. It is a soul crushing way to end the season, especially, like I said, with having the amount of upperclassmen that we had that that’s how their their fantastic careers and all they’ve done for the program to bring us from a startup program essentially to one of the most recognizable programs in the Midwest. And so the message and the takeaway has to be: embrace it. Take it for what it is, and how do we get better because of it? How do we learn from that mistake? How do we try to put on our system ourselves in a position that we don’t have to have that feeling again and that we’re prepared, but at the same time recognize that not everything is always in our control and we are going to experience this in other times, whether it’s on the lacrosse field or in our real life.”

“We obviously ended with not the result we wanted, which is going to sting for now, probably the rest of my life, because it’s the last time that I’m going to play an organized lacrosse game and season, right?.” said Rubino. “That sucks and it’s hard to come to terms with that. And then at the same time, I couldn’t have traded, you know, the last four years in the last season with some of who will probably be my best friends the rest of my life for the world. There’s been so many opportunities for me to grow as an individual, to help others grow as individuals, and being blessed with a leadership role on the team, I think is a huge part of that. I get to be behind the scenes on some things. I get to know some other people, you know, on a deeper level than I probably would if I wasn’t in a leadership role. And I found it honestly really fun.”

Replacing important seniors and learning different lessons

Thirteen players recently graduated and will not return to the team. That of course leaves a gap on the field, particularly with players like Rubino and Moran, but it also creates an opportunity for new leaders off the field as well. Rubino and his fellow seniors are proud of how they’ve helped this program grow up and are excited to watch as fans what comes next for the team.

“When I see my high school success now and the years after I left and seeing kids like breaking my records and doing things like growing the program, I wanted to be a part of that again,” said Rubino, who was part of the beginning of the boys lacrosse program at Marist High School in Chicago. “And I think it’s amazing that now we have an opportunity where there’s young guys like Tom Eberhardt and Luke [Illgen], who I had played with the last two or three years in the same, you know, attack line, being able to watch them grow as lacrosse players, you know, when I’m watching at the games or on my phone, grow as lacrosse players, but then also just grow as adults, right?”

“I feel like it’s more of the off field stuff,” said Eberhardt of what adjustments will need to be made Onfield stuff will come. We’ll have guys that score goals, we’ll have guys that do all that stuff. It’s the stuff, the unteachables, that like the leadership qualities that Jack Moran and Nick displayed, you just, you can’t teach that stuff. So I feel like from that and we just got to learn how to like not tell guys what to do, but to show them how to do it and just show them everything that we’ve learned from them and just keep, keep moving on.

“You know, we have a group of young men on this team that have a chip on their shoulder now,” said Farrell. “Not in a negative way, it’s about us, you know? And so I know they’re going to do everything in their power to avoid what we’ve gone through this season. So that’s a huge piece of it. I also think that we have seen some guys in our program grow tremendously. They might not be the guys that everybody sees on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons. They’re still growing, you know, in their own growth process. But we have seen some guys grow tremendously in off seasons. So that always gives me hope that we’re doing the right things as a program.”

“I’ve got another season to make it right,” said Eberhardt. “I got a chance to go out on top again and you know, we never really thought about losing this year. I think we thought, alright, well, I’m looking for my third ring. I’m not just looking for my second one. And I think when we lost, it really just set in that we need to be better. We need to do better. We have now the motivation not just from losing, but the motivation just to be better for everybody. And like we’ve always been a team, a family, and I think we’re all just going to work hard this summer for each other. And for that CCIW title.”