Things haven’t started exactly as planned for the Springfield College men’s lacrosse team through the opening four games of the new season. The Pride are 1-3 after four games, but senior attacker Jack Vail is confident that the team, which received votes in national preseason polls, is capable of challenging for the NEWMAC title.
“Our main focus is just to work really hard on ourselves and competing against each every single day,” Vail explained in a conversation ahead of last weekend’s trip to Union College (N.Y.). “We’ve been definitely working hard to improve and just keep getting better every day.”
Through four games, Vail is fourth on the team with four goals and seven points, but his role as a senior and as a captain is bigger than just scoring. A former Hockomock League MVP and two-time HockomockSports.com Player of the Year at Franklin, Vail is also the leader of the attacking unit and he takes that responsibility seriously.
“I’m able to be a more vocal presence and mold the team into what we want it to be as a senior class,” he said. When asked how it felt to be selected as the captain by his teammates, Vail replied, “It was a great feeling. I’ve always aspired to be in those leadership roles, so being voted captain was a satisfying feeling.”
The leadership role is one that Vail has developed in his four years in Springfield. He only played three games as a freshman, which was a big adjustment for someone who was an automatic selection every game in high school.
He admitted, “ I definitely thought, at times, that I could be out there and making an impact but just being a part of a college-level team you get a much deeper bond than you would on your average high school team, so I was able to understand my role and be really working on the scout team and getting better every day.”
Looking back now, he recognizes that his freshman year was a positive learning experience to help him get acclimated to the speed and physicality of the college game. Vail jumped in as a sophomore and made a big impact, scoring 32 goals and recording 16 assists. Last spring, he scored 26 goals and had 30 assists to earn first team all-conference honors.
If Vail puts together similar numbers this spring, it will see him jump into the top 20 all-time in career goals, points, and assists. Not that he is too worried about that right now.
“I’ve never really been a big listener to all-conference awards and hype and stuff like that,” he said. “I’ve just been focused on my team and getting better and winning games. Just making sure I can be the best player for my team and helping everyone around me get better.”
That attitude was put into place early on, as Vail was part of the early stages of the Franklin youth lacrosse programs, which now regularly produces college-level talent and has helped the Panthers dominate the Hockomock in recent years. In high school, Vail was a dynamic scorer, with 55 goals and 38 assists his senior season, and his six goals against Xaverian (five in the second half) helped Franklin get past the Hawks and into the Div. 1 South semifinal for the first time in program history.
“There’s definitely a lot of great memories associated with those years,” he said. “Being able to have that bond with those guys all these years later and also being able to look at the program now and all those kids who were just coming up and are now big contributors and senior leaders.”
There has been a Franklin pipeline to Springfield College in recent years. Vail was introduced to head coach Keith Bugbee and learned more about the program thanks to family friend and Springfield alum Jake Versprille. Now, Vail is connecting other Panthers to the program, including current Springfield sophomore Packie Watson and freshman Kyle McEniry (North Attleboro grad Thomas Lindstrom is also a freshman at Springfield).
“It being a great fit for Jake, I knew it would be a great fit for me,” Vail said. “Going back to Franklin and seeing kids who I think would be a good fit here, like Packie and Kyle, just really kids who would buy into the program and be hard workers and then get the opportunity to meet with Coach Bugbee and eventually come here has been great, keeping that pipeline alive.”
The Pride have reached the NCAA tournament for 11 straight seasons and, despite a tough start, Vail believes that the team can get things in order to be playing its best lacrosse when NEWMAC play kicks off at the end of March.
“I just want our team to be as close as we can be and have the most fun we can,” he said. “By doing that, the wins will sort of take care of themselves. If you can continue to get better every day then play your best lacrosse in the late season then hopefully you can make a deep playoff run and that’s all we want.”
As a senior closing out his lacrosse career, it is no surprise that Vail emphasizes fun as well as results. He is trying to enjoy his last few months on the lacrosse field.
“You’ve definitely got to take a step back and think about how far you’ve come in these four years,” he explained. “They have sort of flown by and I have so many great memories associated with them. Being an in-season college athlete, it’s a really fast-paced schedule, so you need to find time to take it all in before it all ends.”
Springfield College will be back in action on Saturday with a trip to Endicott College.