The 12-7 loss to Navy on Saturday evoked a lot of emotion out of the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team as it walked off the field.
While the loss was disappointing for the team, it was difficult to also lose another player to an injury. With a bag of ice taped to his leg, senior defenseman Casey Eidenshink joined the other eight injured players on the sidelines during the third quarter. Lehigh now has nine players hurt, five of them being major contributors in the starting lineup.
This injury spell has taken a mental and physical toll on the team. Younger players are usually expected to step up, and older leaders are expected to keep the team’s confidence and motivation alive. But more importantly, the injured players are expected to embrace new roles on the team.
“A great example of role changes is Jason Kozel,” said sophomore Matt Ernst, who’s been injured since Lehigh’s game against Colgate University on March 5. “Ever since he tore his ACL, he has coached (Matt) Rimol to step up on defense.”
Rimol, a freshman defenseman, played against Navy on Saturday. It was only his third game of the season and his first start. Ernst said he’s proud of the way Rimol has stepped up in Kozel’s absence.
Being asked to fill Kozel’s role as a starter might put a lot of pressure on Rimol’s shoulders in theory. But Rimol said Kozel’s support and experience has made the transition easier.
“He has been hugely helpful since day one and been a great friend and coach,” Rimol said. “He is always watching me and helping me out with my game.”
For Kozel, watching his younger teammate improve brings meaning to a season ruined by an injury. Kozel said watching Rimol continue to get better is a rewarding experience.
But Kozel’s adjustment to his role is nothing new to him. While he tore his ACL this season during practice, he also tore it during his freshman year.
“It’s really hard knowing you’re done for the season,” Kozel said. “It’s especially hard when it happens twice. We have a lot of young guys this year so I’ve tried to take on more of a coaching role and help show them the ropes.”
Rimol said he feels lucky to have his teammate so invested in his improvement and success.
“It has been great to know I always have him watching so when I come off the field he’s always there to tell me what I did well or what I did wrong,” Rimol said.
Lehigh will have a short turnaround until its next game, which is home Tuesday against No. 12 Stony Brook University.