Maple Grove coach Joe Weichert was not expecting his first season as head coach to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weichert was taking over after coaching nine years in club lacrosse, and he was coming to a team that had seven seniors following a strong 2019 season.
Seniors attacker/midfielder Jayden Cruz, midfielder Parker Slotsve, Long-stick midfielder Liam Heaton, goalie Alex Mills, Midfielder Lucas Keisow, attacker/midfielder Cody Binstock and defenseman Nathan Key were the expected upperclassmen on the team.
But because the pandemic forced everything to be shut down on March 13 before the season was canceled on April 23, Weichert never even got to be on the field with the team.
All he had was film from the previous year and what little he learned in meetings. But what he saw was a “gritty group” that had a style and a tenacity for things like winning groundballs.
“They didn’t like to quit, and they surely didn’t like to lose,” he said.
The seniors also helped during the wait-and-see month from mid-March to mid-April by setting up their own training regimen and keeping ready just in case there was a season.
The 2019 team did graduate a lot of talent after a 10-3 overall season and a runner-up finish in the Northwest Suburban Conference. The Crimson were the second seed in the 8A section and made it to the semifinals.
“My expectations come down to how we play the game always,” Weichert said. “I think the wins and losses will come. It’s the culture and the way we play. Those seniors were a really nice cornerstone.”
Slotsve and Cruz were two of the top scores back on the team. Slotsve finished with eight goals and nine assists in 2019, and Cruz had seven goals and eight assists. Binstock added three goals and an assist, and Heaton had one goal and one assist.
“It was a loss to not be able to coach these seniors,” Weichert said. “All praises to them for how they handled this. If I was a senior in high school, I would have been down and out. These guys said, ‘Coach, it is out of our control’ which to me, that shows maturity beyond their years and how they handled that.”
The future of the team still has potential despite the lost season. Zick (four goals, six assists, Perdew (assist), Steinkopf (four goals, two assists), Sillerud, Friedrichs and Jones look to be the varsity experience in 2021, but it will be a new role for them to be the upperclassmen leaders after being underclassmen a year ago.
During the offseason contact period, the Crimson have organized practice from 2-4 p.m., and players are showing up and taking it seriously.
Weichert said that the lack of varsity experience might end up being a positive headed into next season because of the benefit of everyone needing to compete for spots on the team, as no one feels like anything has been earned already, including roster spots.
Weichert said it keeps the program hungry.
“I am really excited for this upcoming year with the hunger that I see and the fight that we are starting to see at practice from a competition standpoint,” he said. “It’s exciting. The tides are changing, and I think the boys are ready. They are definitely putting in the work right now.”