Lacrosse team gets back in action

Members of the lacrosse team practice two days before their game against the University of Tulsa. The team currently consists of only 14 players.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Charles Shu’s name was incorrectly spelled. The Mercury regrets this error.

The team showed up almost two hours early when the norm was to arrive an hour before the game started to warm up. They were setting the tone for the program and getting everyone in the mindset to win. It was the first time the UTD lacrosse club would be playing in a decade.

They knew what they had to prove, and they did – defeating Dallas Baptist University 22-3 on Jan. 30.

Ten years ago, the lacrosse team was a member of the Lone Star Alliance, but after half a season, it fell apart due to a lack of organization and commitment. This year, president of the club, junior Derek Aguirre, brought it back.

“A lot of people wanted to play, but not a lot of people wanted to put the work into starting it,” Aguirre said. “I’m not afraid of putting some extra work to see it happen because I have a clear vision of what I want in the future for lacrosse.”

The team currently consists of 14 players, including team captains Charles Shu and Casey Glad and vice president Preston Ooi. It is voluntarily coached by head coach Zac Gutierrez and two assistant coaches, Sam Lockett and Dexter Goode.

Gutierrez, who has played lacrosse since high school, played varsity on the collegiate level at the University of North Texas. He also worked as an athletic director at the YMCA in McKinney.

The sport contains four positions: midfield, attack, defense, and goalie. Team member Sean Barnett calls it a mix between hockey and soccer, and he prefers to switch between goalie and offense, not wanting to be stuck in one position. Lacrosse, one of the oldest games in North America, was originally played by Native American tribes and later modified by European immigrants.

The lacrosse stick is a long-handled stick with a net designed to catch the small rubber ball the game is played with. On offense, the purpose of the game is to score by shooting the ball into an opponent’s goal, through catching, carrying and passing the ball with the stick. Defensively, the purpose is to prevent the opposing team from scoring and to gain the ball through stick checking, body contact or positioning.

“You get a stick, you get to hit people with it and you get messed up,” Barnett said, laughing.

He said the goalie position in lacrosse is like the quarterback position in football because it lets him dictate how the game is played but also puts a lot of pressure on him.

“Every time a shot gets by you, it’s so heartbreaking,” he said. “All eyes are on you when you mess up. It’s all on you, and that gets to you.”

But after a few minutes, Barnett remembers making great saves and showing off his skill. The adrenaline kicks in, and he’s in his zone. With that, the pressure fades away or he just stops noticing it.

While half of the players joined the team with some prior experience, the other half are playing for the first time. The team’s roster is smaller than most other teams, and that pushes members to play extra cautiously to prevent careless injuries.

Shu, who only began playing last fall, said one of the challenges that came along with a team of varying skill was keeping everyone on the same page. In the beginning, he would just hold the stick at home, but eventually he developed a certain bond with it.

“There is a personal connection you have with your equipment that’s unique to sports – the stick especially because you need it to do everything,” he said.

The next step as a new player was finding a dense wall to practice throwing and catching on. That — along with watching YouTube videos — helped Shu get a feel for the game. Getting in shape was another obstacle, with the amount of running involved in the game.

“The hardest thing is sticking with it, thinking in the long-term and knowing that one day you’ll be decent at it,” Shu said.

When Gutierrez began working with the team, his main objective was to teach them how to run their squad like a business. He noticed they were lacking in organization, and they needed some direction.

“This isn’t about me or the other coaches,” Gutierrez said. “It’s about the team having a good experience — one they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

Money was one of the biggest obstacles in building the team. Aguirre’s biggest fear was getting everyone on board and then being told that they couldn’t play because they couldn’t afford it.

New equipment costs anywhere from $500 to $700, and because the school does not fund much money for the club, the team members are required to pay for all expenses.

The team attempted ways of raising money through crowd funding, selling t-shirts, online fundraising and sponsorships. Sometimes, they were forced to resort to pitching in themselves.

“A lot of companies want to put money into something that’s already established and recognized,” Ooi said. “But having no money just made us work harder and knowing we have nothing made us want to build something out of it.”

Aguirre said he realizes they haven’t tried everything, and this year, fundraising will definitely be a focus. They have considered holding a car wash, sending letters to family and family friends asking for donations and leaving jars at local restaurants for donations.

So far, the team has won three games, falling short by six on the most recent game. There are eight more games left. Their next game is against Tulsa on Feb. 22, while their next game at home is on Feb. 28.

Aguirre’s hope is that they can win the division and the school can see lacrosse as a viable sport for the NCAA.

“The club is at a point where if I leave, I know the club will still go on,” Aguirre said. “It feels great looking out in the field and seeing UT Dallas lacrosse jerseys. It is truly out there.”

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