WCLA Players Excited, Cautious as 2022 Season Nears


Two years ago, on the last day of February, the Florida State women’s club team had a lot to celebrate. The Seminoles had enjoyed a warm, sunny afternoon in Tallahassee by defeating Ole Miss and South Florida in a pair of lopsided games, completing the program’s most successful month ever with a 9-0 record.

Five days later, undefeated FSU received its highest ranking in the WCLA coaches’ poll, climbing to within sight of the coveted Top 10, at No. 12. Poised for a strong stretch run, the Seminoles were in position to make more program history with their first berth in the national playoffs.

“We have a team of passionate and hard-working girls this season that have great chemistry on the field,” FSU’s 2020 club president Julia Dennis said that day. “We’re looking forward to continuing our success and seeing what our team is going to achieve.”

Sadly, the Seminoles never got the chance to reach the finish line.

Ten days after the Seminoles made club history, the season was canceled for all teams due to the global pandemic. No more games, no more rankings and no postseason tournament.

Disappointed, the Seminoles quickly shifted their focus to 2021, vowing to return and build on the momentum of the disrupted 2020 campaign. But alas, that was also not to be.

With the lingering pandemic also causing the cancellation of the 2021 WCLA season, players at FSU and throughout the WCLA were left sidelined for a second year. Some schools permitted their clubs to put together a patchwork schedule and play a few limited games. Others hosted practices and played intersquad contests.

Most, however, did not take the field at all, accepting the fate of a second straight spring devoid of sanctioned WCLA competition.

“It’s truly been frustrating,” said senior Sophia Villalonga, now serving as FSU’s new club president. “That’s why we’re so motivated for this season and excited to be back on the field.”

The WCLA (Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates) is comprised of 230 non-varsity collegiate teams nationwide. The traditional spring season culminates annually with the Division I and Division II national championship tournaments, hosted by USA Lacrosse. This year’s championships are scheduled to be played in Round Rock, Texas, May 4-7.

Now, as the 2022 season draws near, the WCLA reset button has been activated, with fingers crossed.

“We’re all looking forward to being back on the field, but we also know the different possibilities that could happen,” Michigan coach Dave McKinnon said. “We try to stay in the present and simply make the most of our time together.”

Michigan is one of seven teams scheduled to play in UCLA’s Golden State Invitational, Feb. 18-20. The field also includes traditional heavyweights like Georgia, Cal Poly and Pitt, which claimed the last contested D-I title in 2019. Technically, the Panthers are still the reigning champions, three years after hoisting the trophy.

“We certainly look a bit different than we did, but we’re excited to get started and hopeful that we will actually get to have a season,” Pitt coach Kevin Tidgewell said.

Just up the coast from UCLA on the same February weekend, 35 Division I and II teams have committed to play in the annual Santa Barbara Shootout, including Colorado State.

“Our team has a mutual feeling of excitement and nervousness going into this season,” senior CSU club president Sara Haefele said. “With the Omicron variant heightening cases, it makes us skeptical because our season could get canceled again, which is very heartbreaking to think about. Having a normal fall season was phenomenal, so we’re excited that this spring could be a normal season too.”

Adjusting to the traditional cadence of spring practices and games, while also preparing for the unknowns that may lie ahead, seems to be part of the mental preparation for many teams in 2022.

“COVID has been extremely hard for WCLA players because we didn’t have the luxury that a lot of NCAA teams had. We didn’t get any options to play, or any recognition in how we felt with having our seasons canceled,” Haefele said. “It’s also been difficult coming back to campus and suddenly having a routine and set of rules and expectations to follow.”

Vaccinations, boosters and weekly testing are some of the new routines that players are facing in 2022. At Michigan, spending one practice each week with a professional ‘mindfulness coach’ has also become a staple. It’s a routine that began before COVID, but one that has taken on new significance post-pandemic.

“This coach really helps our players deal with the stress of balancing academics, lacrosse and everything else that’s happening,” McKinnon said. “We talk a lot about not putting our energy into the things that we can’t control.”

FSU’s Villalonga says that her team also talks about staying focused on each game, knowing that disruptions to the season are still a possibility.

“We have the perspective that each game could be the last one,” she said. “We’re hopeful, but we also know that it can be gone so fast.”

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