Fun & Games: Staying positive in the press box


by Anthony Harrisonanthony

When the UNC-Chapel Hill’s women’s lacrosse team visited High Point University for the latter’s season opener, I prepared for the cold, but not for such a blowout.

The Lady Heels are ranked second in the nation, and the team exhibited martial discipline. An assistant coach harshly blew a whistle prompting her players to twirl their sticks in their chapped, bare hands.

Meanwhile, plenty of Panther faithful braved the chill to cheer on the home team. Some members of the women’s basketball team, who would lose to Gardner-Webb University in a close contest the next afternoon, were some of the most enthusiastic fans.

Now, I love this kind of stuff. As a writer and observer, it is my bread and butter.

But right before the first draw, I got a call from Mark LaFrance, HPU’s assistant athletic director for communications.

“Where are you?” LaFrance asked.

“I’m down in the stands,” I said.

“You wanna come upstairs where it’s a bit warmer?”

I wish I could say I hesitated, but I immediately tramped up the aisle. LaFrance met me at ticket sales, and we walked up to the press box.

Typically, when I attend sporting events, I prefer sitting in the stands. I like picking up on the exclamations of the crowd, and I sometimes get lucky and pick up on dialogue between players and coaches. There’s plenty of color to be found in general admission.

But on this night, I reveled in the press box, largely due to escaping the elements.

Purple and gray carpeting dressed the floor, and the left-hand wall was painted a similar shade. Two rows of tables on two terraces of stairs sat before the glass wall overlooking the field. From here, observers could see the entirety of the field in a glance. Beyond and to the right, Lexington Avenue wound down in a curving slope, headlights and taillights glinting and tracing. Further right, one could see the HPU bell tower, lit in a soft, golden glow.

Still, there was a strange sterility to watching the game from this sequestered view.

Machines powering the sophisticated broadcast equipment whirred quietly along with the air conditioning. The large, flat-screen television hanging in the left corner showed the game, producing a disorienting, doubling effect. Also, the crowd noise could be heard, but stifled through the sealed glass.

And, while you could see the whole spread from this bird’s-eye view, details proved difficult to catch.

“I forgot what it’s like doing night games,” LaFrance said at the outset, watching the game through binoculars. “Won’t be able to see anything.”

But Carolina quickly put on a show. Too quickly.

In minute and a half, the Heels scored three goals: One free-position shot by junior attacker/midfielder Molly Hendrick, then two goals back-to-back by freshman attacker/midfielder Olivia Ferrucci.

LaFrance had to call out each Carolina score for the stat keeper, maintaining an impartial monotone.

“Shot for Carolina, Z-shot on 23… 10 from 27. Second goal for 10, third assist for 27… Shot, Carolina 4, goal…”

The Heels raked in nine unanswered goals, and High Point had hardly crossed into Carolina territory. When the Panthers did attack, they were met by impenetrable defense and halted by fouls and impressive saves by goalie Caylee Waters.

The mood among the other observers turned towards sorrow.

“Is there a mercy rule in lacrosse?” one asked.

“10,” LaFrance said from behind his binoculars, still trained on the action.

Finally, with eight minutes and 14 seconds left in the first period, a glimmer of hope: High Point junior attacker Samantha Brown sent a free-position shot home to put the Panthers on the board.

Muffled cheering from the stands outside; an uneasy sigh of relief from those assembled in the box.

Carolina got right back into rhythm with the next draw. In 20 seconds, Hendrick scored yet another goal for the Heels, flicking the ball into the net like tossing a dirt clod with a shovel.

“Is there a mercy-mercy rule?” someone asked.

Rough chuckles.

“UNC’s treating this like a scrimmage, like practice,” another moaned.

“Let’s be positive in the press box,” LaFrance said.

In the second period, High Point showed some offensive promise, matching Carolina’s four goals.

There was no catching up to the Heels after their early run, though: The final score was 17-5.

HPU head coach Lyndsey Boswell stayed positive.

“We have some young players on the field that are learning this pace and this style of play,” Boswell said. “When you have high-school players step in for the first time against the No. 2 team in the country, chances are they’re gonna be a bit behind.“

Boswell especially pointed out freshman goalie Molly Andrews for praise.

“Her first time on the field, she’s seen 44 shots,” Boswell said. “I think to have any save when they’re coming straight at you is a good thing.

“They’re all competitors,” Boswell added, “so I don’t think anyone feels good about this, but I think it’s a good starting point.”

After all, as someone remarked in the press box, at least High Point didn’t get shut out.