Canceling a sporting event because of weather is a regular occurrence for college and high school teams across the country every spring. But canceling because an NCAA Division II women’s lacrosse program has too few players available to play is virtually unheard of.
That was the case when Fort Lewis College team announced its women’s lacrosse team had to forfeit a crucial weekend set of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference games against Lindenwood University and Colorado State University-Pueblo because of numerous head injuries to players on a roster already low on numbers.
Friday’s game against No. 8 Lindenwood was supposed to be played in Colorado Springs as a makeup for a game that was postponed because of weather in mid-March, while Saturday’s game against the ThunderWolves will now be a scrimmage, as the Skyhawks will still pay to send the team to Pueblo to accommodate CSU-Pueblo’s senior day game.
In order for an NCAA collegiate women’s lacrosse game to be played, there must be 12 players on the field at all times – 11 field players and one goalie. The Skyhawks have 15 players total on this year’s roster, which means that at any one time, there are only three substitutes available.
After last weekend’s win at Adams State, the Skyhawks had another player suffer a concussion. Four players are now out with concussions.
Postseason hopes were at stake for the Skyhawks, who at 2-5 overall and 2-4 in RMAC play sit in seventh in the conference standings. FLC will be forced to forfeit the games and fall to 2-6 in RMAC to effectively eliminate the Skyhawks from RMAC tournament contention for the first time in program history. Only a match April 26 against Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction remains on the FLC schedule.
FLC head coach Sean Claussen said the decision to cancel was tough but necessary.
“We had to forfeit both of them because we don’t have enough healthy players, and we’ve had four players get concussions in the last two games, and none of those players have been cleared to play,” Claussen said. “Of course, we are disappointed, but at the same time, we are not going to mess around when it comes to this sort of thing, and our safety for them is taken to the highest degree. We know how big this weekend is, and it would have been great to play, but there’s no way it could have happened just because of the nature of their injuries.”
FLC’s roster has dwindled from 24 players in 2016 to 16 in 2017 and 15 this season. Claussen has been the head coach for the last two seasons in place of Julia Decker, who led the team from 2015 to 2017 after she replaced Kelsey MacDonald, who led FLC the previous four seasons. Claussen had been an assistant under both previous coaches from 2011-16.
Claussen knew that the numbers game was Fort Lewis’ biggest question mark heading into the season.
After last season, Claussen initially had 10 committed recruits, but only eight showed up last fall. Then, three more players departed.
“This has been kind of a concern from the day I got the job,” Claussen said. “I walked onto campus in August 2017 when I got the job with 16 players, and eight of those 16 were either graduating or leaving at the end of the year. My recruiting class this past year, it was bringing in any available body I could to make a team. ... I’ve done everything in my power to get those numbers back up to what they once were. We thought we were in better shape in the fall, and as the fall progressed, the lower number already and the three departures kind of killed us in conjunction with the injuries.”
Claussen said the numbers moving forward are looking up for FLC, as to date, he has signed 12 recruits for next season and is hoping to add a few more. This year’s team has only two seniors, Allena Wolfblack and Aitaina Rivera. Two juniors could return, while there are four current sophomores and seven freshmen.
Lindenwood head coach Jack Cribbin said he understood the decision to cancel the game, but it was a first in his 14 years with the program.
“First and foremost, our thoughts are with Fort Lewis, and hopefully their players will recover soon,” Cribbin said. “In regards to canceling a game, I’m not sure that this has happened to us before. I have only heard of it happening a very few amount of times, and it’s extremely rare. It’s the exception, not the norm, and in my experience, not to field a team of 12 people, it takes a lot of things to happen. There have been times where rosters have been thin, and that’s the case with us right now. We’ve got 22 players, but only 16 or 17 are truly healthy. We don’t have a big roster this year, and sometimes it’s just how it goes.”
The Lions (13-1, 6-1 RMAC) currently sit at No. 8 in the latest national poll and are No. 2 in the Midwest Region. Cribbin is now hoping this cancellation will not negatively impact his team’s postseason seeding.
“Our compliance department has been in contact with the NCAA and championship committee to get some light shed on it, so we will get credit in the eyes of the conference for the win, but not nationally,” Cribbin said. “It could have implications on our season, student-athletes and program. Region wins are a big part of being selected for the NCAA Tournament, and we wanted an opportunity to win this game tonight and earn it, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be this year, but both games were canceled for good reason.”
FLC made the trek Friday to Pueblo and will play a 10-on-10 match Saturday.
“It was a decision that I was going to do whatever I was told, and between the administration and the RMAC, with it being Pueblo’s senior day, we didn’t want to take away that opportunity for their student-athletes,” Claussen said. “Even though it won’t be a real game, we’re going to try and make it a fun and competitive event for their players and ours.
“I don’t want to take two losses when we don’t have the means to compete, but at the same time, I look at how our conference schedule works and how close everybody is right now and completely understand it. For a team like Lindenwood and Pueblo, who is in the hunt for the RMAC Tournament, it wouldn’t be ethical for us to try to get that game canceled outright and give them the opportunity to get that win and advance their season.”
Claussen, who operates without a full-time assistant coach, said he thinks that for all the hardships the program has had to go through, the adversity can make the program stronger. This year, FLC played only two true home games because of snow on its home Ray Dennison Memorial Field. Two home games were moved to Aztec, New Mexico.
“It’s absolutely what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger for us right now,” Claussen said. “This has been one of the toughest years in my coaching career, from weather, practicing in the gym and playing essentially everywhere but our own field, including Aztec, plus these injuries. You deserve to give the student-athletes more. As much as they grin and bear it, they’re going to get frustrated, and we all are, coaches as well.
“All of us might put our frustrations into different places ... instead of taking some time to evaluate what the issues are. I think we’re going to make it through, and hopefully, we’ll have a real game against Mesa next week if we can get them cleared and healthy. We know that this season we’re going to continue to work hard, have fun and use it as fuel for next year.”