Nickerson Field is Boston University’s all-purpose outdoor space. Located just off Babcock Street in what BU students call “West Campus” (closest to Packard’s Corner and Allston Village), the Terriers use it for everything from soccer to Ultimate Frisbee to graduation. Also, women’s lacrosse.
Between the cloudy, overcast sky, the loud and industrial Mass Pike behind it and the just-above-freezing temperatures, Nickerson Field seems downright bleak Saturday afternoon, as BU takes the field to face nationally ranked Notre Dame.
I’ve never been entirely OK with Notre Dame’s team name: the Fighting Irish. The school’s in Indiana. How many actual Irish people could possibly live in that state? If any school was going to call themselves the Fighting Irish, shouldn’t it be a school from Boston?
Additionally, I don’t get how “Fighting Irish” has hung around when any number of other ethnically named mascots haven’t. Countless teams have changed their mascot away from Native American tribes and imagery, and those that haven’t are pressured to fall in line. The lone exceptions, of course, are the Florida State Seminoles, who had the audacity to just ask the Seminole Tribe for permission, and their chief – in a move that could catastrophically reduce the amount of hours public activists could bill them for – just said “sure.”
Isn’t it hypocritical to come down so heavily on stereotyping one ethnic group and let another go without mention? Is Notre Dame just so old a school it’s above reproach?
None of this has anything to do with lacrosse, but the begrudgingly named Fighting Irish so dominate the beginning of the lacrosse game – with the sparse crowd of mostly parents and high school lacrosse players muted by the cold – that my mind starts wandering.
Over the first 17 minutes of the 30-minute half, Notre Dame jumps out to an 8-0 lead. BU manages just one shot on goal, and ND goalie Ellie Hilling saves it, while senior Maggie Tamasitis (five goals, four assists) cuts through the BU defense like butter:
“She plays with a lot heart,” says Laurie Shoemaker (mother of ND junior Jordy Shoemaker) of Tamasitis. “She’s pretty determined to win every game.”
BU’s biggest problem: moving the ball through the middle of the field. Body checking and slashing can be penalized, but stick-on-stick contact is fine, and Notre Dame is very good at knocking balls out of the webbing of BU’s sticks, then scooping them up and going on the fast break quickly. The Fighting Irish force 12 Terrier turnovers in the first half.
When BU actually gets through to the ND’s restraining line (behind which five players from each team must wait while the remaining seven try to score), they’re able to penetrate and score with some success, especially freshman Mallory Collins, who scores five goals on five shots. This leads to an 8-3 Terrier run through the first 10 minutes of the second that makes it an 11-8 game:
It’s around this time that three sophomores from the BU wrestling team show up. They quickly become the loudest fans BU has (though a few others try their best to keep the comeback going), about equally cheering on the women in red and white while mocking those in blue. With most of the campus on spring break, these three instantly jump out as good people to ask about the team’s place on campus.
“We’re constantly supporting each other,” says Bubba McGinley.
“Regular students don’t really know what all the athletes put in, but from the other teams we realize how much they put in. We see them in the weight room, we see them during practice. They’re out here not only at like seven in the morning, but they’re out here at night and in the afternoon. They want it this year.”
And as a reward for their loyalty, the trio get to see the prettiest goal of the game: a give-and-go between Terrier elite scorer Danielle Etrasco (15 goals this season, two of which come Saturday) and freshman Jenna Boarman (two assists):
Unlike any other sport, lacrosse has a sizable amount of space behind each goal. Teams usually try to run their offense through their players positioned behind the net, passing back and forth behind the net before trying to sling it in front for a quick shot.
“A lot of [game strategy] is you start behind the net and you wait for cutters to come in,” says Luisa Del Rio, a BU women’s lacrosse recruit currently at Pingree High School in Hamilton. Jenny Thompson, a lacrosse player at Londonderry High School in New Hampshire, finishes her future teammate’s sentence: “You settle it down, and you don’t just force it and rush to make the pass.”
Not even playing in the same state yet, the two already seem in synch with each other. I’m not surprised, considering the sorority-like cameraderie John Boarman says her daughter feels with her team, even though Jenna is just a freshman.
Basketball teams usually stall and reset by swinging the ball behind the three-point arch. But unlike in lacrosse, basketball has a shot clock that keeps the action moving.
Lacrosse needs a real shot-clock. Without it, the fastest-paced action occurs meaninglessly in the middle of the field, while the scoring opportunities slow to a crawl.
A shot clock would also keep teams from stalling for time – something Notre Dame starts doing for time with about three minutes to go. They don’t have to shoot, so they just pass it back and limit BU’s chances to further erode the deficit. The refs can call stalling penalties, but I bet they don’t very often. Sophomore Lindsay Powell‘s goal with a minute to go clinches the 14-11 victory for the Fighting Irish:
Over the final eight minutes of the game, Notre Dame takes exactly four shots. But they hold the ball so damn long, the Terriers never get closer than 13-11. It’s good strategy, but it makes the final minutes of the game – usually the most exciting – really, really boring.
Right now, women’s lacrosse is a varsity sport at BU, while men’s is a club sport. That gives this team a unique place on BU’s campus, one can on a school day pack Nickerson Field with passionate Terrier fans.
“Last year, lacrosse versus Albany came down to the last second,” McGinley said. “Even though it was pouring rain and everything, there were so many fans here supporting them. It was coming down to the conference title, and it really proved, even through the elements, how strong we support our clubs.”
But on this day in March, with the day cold and overcast and the team starting too slow to ever recover, the atmosphere in the stands could best be described as “reserved.” Even during the almost-comeback, the fans cheered during scoring plays and the occasional stop, but they came nowhere close to the potentially game-altering noise a full house can generate.
Matt Goisman is going to write about a game each and every week from America’s #1 city for sports: Here. We’re calling it 52 Games, because that’s what we’re going to end up with. Last week, he drove to Amherst College for the national college squash championships. This week, he stayed local and caught a women’s lacrosse game at BU. Next week: postseason basketball with Harvard, UConn and maybe more! Keep up with him here.
PHOTO BY STEVE MCLAUGHLIN.