SCHENECTADY — It’s as if the Union men’s lacrosse team’s national ranking was preserved in amber.
When the 2020 season was canceled with 10 games left because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dutchmen were No. 10 coming off a 16-11 victory over No. 12 St. John Fisher.
In 2021 preseason rankings that came out recently, Union is No. 10 according to the Nike/US Lacrosse Division III rankings, and No. 11 in the USILA poll.
This, despite the fact that Union still doesn’t have a schedule and probably won’t have one for at least the rest of February. The Dutchmen did start practicing on Monday, on a limited basis, so there’s that, and head coach Derek Witheford said he and his staff have a rusty, but hungry, team on their hands.
“The biggest change I can see in the team and individuals is how grateful they are to be out practicing with each other,” Witheford said. “Even if it’s a limited capacity, these guys are really excited and grateful and hungry to be out there and compete.”
Under the NCAA return-to-play guidelines, Union is in Phase 2, which means practices are no-contact and capped at 10 players on the field for any given session. The college had been on a self-imposed quarantine at the beginning of the trimester because of high case numbers, but is out of lockdown now, Witheford said.
The Dutchmen are honored to be ranked in the top 20, but it’ll be a hollow recognition if there’s no season.
“It’s really hard this year to make an accurate list,” Witheford said. “I’m happy we’re in the top 20, I think it’s where Union belongs, but it doesn’t mean anything to me if the guys can’t compete this year. I could be the 300th-ranked team, and if we’re playing, I’m going to be a happy man.
“It’s even harder this year. It’s usually based off last year’s results, which we don’t have, so this is really a poll from two years ago, so it doesn’t mean much to us. But it’s a nice honor.”
RPI is No. 17 on the Nike/US Lacrosse list, and another Liberty League team, RIT, is No. 3 in both polls.
In 2019, Union went 14-4, and three of the losses were to top-ranked RIT, in a regular-season Liberty League game, the league tournament championship game and the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In 2020, the Dutchmen were 4-1 when the season was canceled, and the only loss was 11-10 to No. 4 Williams.
Witheford said he doesn’t expect to be able to put together a 2021 schedule before March 1, when the Liberty League is supposed to decide on whether it will hold championships for spring sports.
In the meantime, the Dutchmen are doing what they can to prepare.
“It’s hard to tell [how good we are],” Witheford said. “We’re not allowed contact. We’re in groups of 10, so we really haven’t had the whole team together yet.
“But we’re working on getting our sticks game-ready, and more importantly getting our bodies game-ready. We’re out of shape a little bit right now but should have some time before our first scheduled game.”