Albany County

Wake up: 6 a.m. practices part of Siena men’s lacrosse program’s turnaround season

Unusual challenge rallies Saints together
Each Tuesday and Thursday, Siena men's lacrosse practices at 6 a.m.
Each Tuesday and Thursday, Siena men's lacrosse practices at 6 a.m.

LOUDONVILLE — At the start of Tuesday’s practice, the Siena College men’s lacrosse team somewhat eased into things as it got going.

Eventually, the workout’s intensity increased as the Saints woke up.

Practice, after all, started at 6 a.m.

“Realistically,” senior Mike Reilly said, “there’s always a little time everyone needs to pick it up a bit.”

The team’s goalies disagree. Siena’s early-morning workouts, a necessity for the program this spring on Tuesdays and Thursdays, offer a sharp wake-up call for fifth-year senior Aaron Lewis and his fellow goalies.

“It wakes you right up. It definitely makes you alert right away,” Lewis said of facing shots from his teammates less than an hour after he gets out of bed. “But we’ve been saying all semester that if we can save shots at 6 a.m. when it’s dark out, it’ll be easier come Saturdays in the afternoons.”

Most college teams find time to practice late in the morning or early in the afternoon. This season, though, Siena had to get creative to find a way for its team to practice together as a full group because of a conflict for several seniors involving the team’s normal practice time and a needed class for graduation. So, for Tuesdays and Thursdays, the team had to choose between practicing very early in the morning or late at night.

“So we had to bite the bullet. It was either go really late, which I think is even less ideal, or go at 6 a.m. — and we’ve made it work,” Siena head coach Liam Gleason said. “It’s kind of worked out perfect, in a way.”

Gleason, Siena’s first-year head coach, thinks about that last piece to his statement.

With a smile, he offers a clarification.

“It’s been better than I thought it would be,” said Gleason, whose Saints (3-2 MAAC, 6-5 overall) host Detroit Mercy (4-2, 7-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a pivotal conference game at Hickey Field.

Siena junior Dylan Pantalone said the team’s “initial reaction wasn’t too great” to the idea of regular 6 a.m. practices. This last year, though, has been about changing the program’s culture to a more positive one after several consecutive losing campaigns — so, eventually, the Saints rallied around their unusual schedule.

“We came together as a team about it,” said Pantalone, a Niskayuna High School graduate. “It’s a team thing. We’re doing it together. The coaches, too, are probably waking up even earlier than any of us since they have to drive here and we just walk down.”

Gleason said the Saints have been able to avoid some of their early-morning practices because of the way their game schedule was set up, but Siena has conducted approximately a dozen workouts starting at 6 a.m.

On those days, most of the Saints wake up at 5 a.m. to get ready. Only once, Gleason said, has a player slept through his alarm and missed practice. Several times this year, Siena conducted a film session at 6 a.m., and Gleason’s been impressed there have only been a few instances in which he needed to make sure a player or two weren’t falling back asleep.

“They’ve done a great job with it,” Gleason said. “They’ve all been really good with it.”

Logistically, there are some extra challenges to practicing at 6 a.m.

To start, it’s been so cold. As a coping mechanism, Gleason said the team has adopted the joking mantra that each practice will be the “last cold day” the team faces.

Then, there’s the need for the Saints to supply more of their own energy for the workout.

“We can’t blast music at 6 a.m. like we would at our regular 10:30 time,” Gleason said.

More of an issue than anything, though, is the lighting. Earlier in the year, Hickey Field’s artificial lights were needed for the entirety of the team’s early-morning practices. That proved problematic one day when the field’s lights inadvertently shut off at 7 a.m., and the Saints couldn’t get them back on.

“So when that happened,” Gleason said, “that practice was over.”

For a while, lighting got better with each practice for the Saints, but then took a steep turn for the worse when the clocks were advanced last month in accordance with daylight saving time.

Of course, what’s worse is a matter of opinion. Now, the Saints are back to practicing in bright sunlight for the majority of their workouts, but the low angle of the early-morning sun creates some problems for players in terms of seeing the ball.

“We’ll do a scrimmage and three or four passes will get completely missed in a row,” Gleason, laughing, said. “You can’t get frustrated by it. That’s just out of our control.”

Instead, like any strong-minded team, the Saints have focused on what they can control. That’s meant keeping a positive attitude, something that’s been fueled for the Saints by the pride they take in handling their unique situation a couple days each week.

“While the rest of the whole campus is still asleep, we’re up and we’re grinding away,” Lewis said. “We’re working hard. It’s just us out there. For us, that’s been a very personal thing that’s brought us together.”

“And when you put in that kind of work and you’re all there together like that, sacrificing, that brings you closer,” Gleason said. “I’m sure it has. I don’t know how that’s quantified or how much it has helped, but it’s been a shared challenge.”

One way to quantify Siena’s overall improvement this season? That’s simple enough.

Heading into its final two MAAC games of the season, Siena’s already won twice as many games as it won in any of its prior three seasons.

That’s left the Saints in control of their own postseason destiny with a pair of regular-season games to go, a development that seemed unlikely last summer when Gleason took control of Siena’s program.

“I’d have signed up for that,” Gleason said. “Definitely.”

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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