Despite COVID struggles, men’s lacrosse team remains confident

(Coach Brian Barnhill addresses the men's lacrosse team after practice, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Photo by Mark Dressman.)

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It’s 8:15 p.m. at Utah Valley University’s intramural practice fields in Vineyard. Most intramural sports are wrapping up and the field lights have been turned off — yet UVU’s men’s lacrosse freshmen James Lower and Dylan Shake arrive, suit up, and prepare for practice.

Amongst all things that could potentially be stymied by the impact of COVID-19, UVU lacrosse is not one of them. Despite being a club team — not formally funded or recognized by the University’s athletics program — they are carrying a fearsome momentum going into the spring lacrosse season.

“It’s a really good program,” said Lower, who came to UVU for lacrosse from his hometown in Virginia. Unlike most Division I athletes at UVU, these players don’t qualify for athletic scholarships and usually have to carve out time from their already busy schedules to practice. They often pay out of pocket for gear and travel.

And yet, somehow they’ve still found a winning mentality.

“We’re more lethal than we’ve ever been offensively,” said head coach Brian Barnhill, who has been with the program since 2014 and coaching since 2016. “We’ve got lots of strong incoming freshman and some super seniors that really fill out the roster well.” 

Barnhill attributes much of the offensive prowess to returning seniors Preston Birdie and Chad Renslow, as well as supporting players Remington Peterson and Michael Hart. Several new freshmen are also showing out in practice, such as Tyson Packer, Porter Shepherd, and Kyle Winn.

Barnhill has seen rapid growth in the team’s potential over the years. 

“We used to have maybe 20 guys practicing on the team”, Barnhill said about where the team was in 2015. “What happens is when some of these good young guys come in and play, and really focus on building a team family, then they play for each other and achieve more. When they achieve more, we get better players coming in the next year. It all builds on each other.”

When Barnhill was asked about his success growing the team and program he quickly said, “It’s not me, no not at all. I give all the credit to these guys on the team, how much they sacrifice, and how hard they work together. They’re good, good kids.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team is adamant about wearing masks before and after play, and several team members have elected to quarantine for a week from practice after potential exposure. Many other WAC teams have pulled out of conference play — or the season altogether — due to COVID-19 exposure. The Wolverines are confident they won’t be one of those teams.

“We’ve taken every precaution you could possibly take,” said goalie Cade Arbon, who graduated from Corner Canyon High School. 

The Wolverines face a difficult schedule this year — with Colorado State, Colorado, and BYU all being projected in the top 10. However, confidence seems to be more infectious than coronavirus for these stalwart players. 

“The dynamic of our team has completely changed,” said Arbon. “I expect us to be playing at nationals this year in Texas.”

The Wolverines’ season begins this spring when they play at home against Dominican University on Feb.13.

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