It’s been several years since the Hempstead girls lacrosse team won a game. So long, in fact, that neither the coach nor the players know precisely how long. They acknowledge that they don’t know if it's realistic to think they might win a game this season.
But here is what everyone around the team is certain about: this season is supposed to be about making progress, with an eye on the future. With a junior-laden team and a second-year coach with a strong background in lacrosse, Hempstead was focused on building a program that would begin reaping benefits in a year.
Now, however, everything is in flux as the coronavirus pandemic has closed schools across Long Island until at least April 1 and there's no definitive answer as to when -- or if -- sports will return.
“These girls just need the opportunity to play and develop their skills,” coach Ray Mills said. “Last year we spent so much time on the basics, like learning how to catch and throw. This year we were focused on playing as many games as possible.”
Mills is a retired Wyandanch teacher who lives in Islip. His three children all played the game collegiately. And a decade ago, he was inducted into the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Foundation Hall of Fame. So he knows the game.
Twice a week in the summer he held open practices, then every Saturday in the fall. He was in talks with Copiague, Brentwood and North Babylon about scheduling scrimmages this season. He also planned to take the team to a four-team, round-robin scrimmage at Center Moriches.
All of this was being done, Mills said, with an eye on preparing the team of about 20 for next year when the majority of the returning players are seniors.
“I could already see a difference when we started practicing this year, even though it was only for a week,” he said. “Most of them already played together last year, so they knew what to do. That’s big.”
With the season now in limbo, the players are disappointed.
“I’ve been talking to my teammates, they’re all real bummed,” junior attack Natalia Romero said. “I get that this is something we can’t control. But we were even planning to go to the park on our own and play, but they also canceled that too. We’re all just disappointed.”
Romero said the difference she saw in the team in just five days of practice this month compared with last year was significant.
“Last year was kind of weird for the first time playing because this game takes a lot of practice,” junior attack Jennifer Guevara said. “I was looking forward to playing the game for fun this year. I hope the girls don’t give up on lacrosse because of this situation that has nothing to do with it.”
Mills said he is trying to keep them engaged by sending group text messages telling them how sports is about overcoming obstacles, and this is one of them. He’s even floated the idea of joining a summer league program to get them additional game time.
“Certainly there are girls on the team that I believe have the ability to play lacrosse in college, and have the grades to do so,” he said. “They just need to play more.
“This team is back next year, everyone. Usually you have one or two or five seniors graduating. But this? This is ideal. Two years of doing something together, that’s what you want. So we’re just sitting here hoping, staying positive about the future.”