If perseverance through adversity measures success, this season for the Saint Michael's College men's lacrosse team is surely among its most noteworthy in program history.
"They faced a triple-whammy this year so far," says Associate Athletic Director Chris Kenny '86, who praised how student-athletes and their new young interim coach have handled an emotional roller-coaster of a season, starting with the unexpected departure in January of popular head coach Brian Kingsbury, who departed for an attractive career opportunity in Florida.
Not long after came word in mid-February that the much-loved Purple Knights coach for eight years before Kingsbury—Paul Schimoler, widely considered the best goalie to ever play college lacrosse during his time at Cornell University– was dead of cancer at age 45. In 2011, Schimoler had taken an assistant coaching job at Dartmouth after recruiting and inspiring many of the more senior current St. Mike's players. His cancer diagnosis came just a few months before his death. The team turned out in force for an emotional memorial service in the college chapel February 23.
But even in the face of these jarring early-season disruptions, Kenny notes, the squad was coming off a very successful season last year with an experienced seniorladen roster, so they had high expectations. Fortuitously, former Purple Knights player Patrick Ivory '08 in January agreed to step in as interim coach after Kingsbury's departure. Ivory had been Middlebury High School head coach before returning to help his alma mater. Under his guidance the team notched an early-season win against a nationally ranked Mercyhurst team from Erie, Pennsylvania, and things seemed to be gelling.
Then, on March 12, a bus carrying the Purple Knights to a Spring Break trip for competitions on Long Island was traveling on a rain-slickened I-87 Northway near Albany, NY, when a sports car spun out in front of it, making a crash unavoidable. The alert bus driver managed to guide the large coach from impact into a grassy roadside ditch, where it landed on its side. Tragically, a passenger in the car died; almost miraculously, all 34 St. Mike's players plus two coaches, a trainer and the driver were able to get out through hatches in the bus roof, and only a few had minor injuries.
"That night I was on the phone to the dad of one player, and he said he had no doubt that Paul Schimoler had just made another 38 ‘saves,'" Kenny says. Young Coach Ivory rose to the occasion, and then some. "His first and primary focus always was his 34 guys, the coaches and trainer," Kenny said. "He gathered them away from the crash scene, asked if all were OK or needed medical attention immediately—the trainer Mike Garcia already was checking them out, then he asked how many had cell phones since many phones were still back on the bus. He had every player call their families to let them know they were OK, knowing word would get out quickly, which it did. He was on his own doing media relations down there and did such a great job, you can see it on the TV clips, so calm, reassuring and professional. You had to be impressed."
The team was taken by another quickly dispatched charter bus to Clifton Park's fire house. "There Pat and the coaches had a private one-on-one with each kid, saying it would have to be unanimous to go on and play or else they'd go home—but, to a man, they wanted to push on," Kenny says. The team played Thursday on Long Island and won, then played another game on Saturday and lost. "It was on the trip home they received word of the tragic other bus accident with Seton Hall women's lacrosse where the pregnant coach died. That hammered home how lucky they were," Kenny says. "It was one of the more difficult moments."