By BRIAN CUNNIFF
For nearly a full year, Maya Critchfield, Delaney Cluff and Carina Raymond put in the work behind the scenes.
They patiently watched from the sidelines as their teammates went about their business, grinded through hours of painful rehabilitation and fought the lonely war against doubt that rattled through their minds, hoping they’d eventually return to the field.
This spring was supposed to be a season of redemption for them.
The three senior players from the Lower Cape May Regional High School girls lacrosse team are each coming off anterior cruciate ligament injuries suffered last season.
All three missed field hockey or soccer in the fall as they worked behind the scenes to get their bodies and minds right in order to have one last high school season of sporting competition.
All three each recently received medical clearance to play, although in Critchfield’s case it will be in a limited capacity.
But now, all three are simply hoping to have some kind of a season.
“It’s frustrating,” said Raymond. “We’re not able to do what we love and be around each other.”
Measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19/coronavirus have brought high school sports to a halt. Schools across the state — and country — are not in session. All practices and scrimmages have been canceled.
Regular-season games in lacrosse were set to begin next week. Those early-season contests will not be held.
There’s no guarantee any games will be held at all, which would be devastating to all spring sports athletes, particularly seniors. But imagine what it would be like for seniors coming off injuries that have already cut major portions of their high school careers short.
That’s exactly what Cluff, Critchfield and Raymond are facing.
“I feel awful for them,” Lower coach JoAnn McLaughlin said. “All three of them were rehabbing so hard and they were doing amazing. I’ve watched how hard they’ve been working and their intensity level. They’ve watched so much lacrosse and doing so much for the team when they were out. For those three girls coming back, what’s going on is just awful for them not being able to come right back.”
Lower Cape May had held five or six practices when they edict came down from above to suspend all spring sports activities due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19..
“They all worked so hard this offseason, rehabbing and working out,” McLaughlin said. “The first three or four practices, I was like, ‘Wow.’ They were so focused, they had so much energy and they were having fun at the same time. Then it all just stopped.”
Critchfield, already a career 100-goal scorer, tore the ACL in her left knee in a game against Egg Harbor Township on April 5 of last season. She had surgery about six weeks later. Critchfield originally was told by her medical team a few weeks ago that she would not be able to play at all this season. But then earlier this week, Critchfield received notification that she could return to the team as goalkeeper only. She figured to back up the starting goalie this season after previously starring as a midfielder.
“It’s definitely been a long journey coming back,” Critchfield said. “I can’t play in the field but at least I can help the team.”
Having the season suspended is “definitely disappointing,” added Critchfield, who plans to attend the University of Tampa and is leaning toward studying psychology. “But not even just with lacrosse. It’s our whole senior year and everything involved with it.”
Cluff and Raymond were involved in a bizarre, perhaps downright twisted, set of circumstances regarding their respective knee injuries. Raymond, who had torn her right ACL in December of her sophomore basketball season, suffered the same injury to her left knee during a game against Egg Harbor Township on May 1 of last season. Cluff, who entered the game as Raymond’s replacement, subsequently tore the same ligament in the same knee just five minutes after Raymond was carried off the field.
Raymond, an attacker, had posted 73 career goals despite playing only one full season and the part of another. She scored 28 goals as a freshman and, after sitting out her sophomore year following her first ACL tear, had posted 45 more in her junior season before being injured. She’s set to play college lacrosse at the Division II level at Thomas Jefferson University or Georgian Court.
Raymond, however, wants to have another season of high school lacrosse before moving on.
“It was so awesome to be back,” Raymond said. “I hadn’t been playing for so long so it was good to be out there. Whether I was playing my best or not, it was great to be out there with my friends and having fun.”
And now that everything is on hold …
“It’s just the feeling of not being able to prove yourself,” Raymond said. “After two years of battling injuries, that’s what gets me the most.”
For Cluff, the ACL tear was her major medical issue. She also had surgery to correct issues with her calves prior to her junior year. The two surgeries forced her to miss her final two high school soccer seasons.
Cluff felt like she and her teammates were finally able to put the injuries past them, only to have another stoppage for reasons no one can control.
“It’s disappointing because we had rehabbed so hard for nine months but then we got it back to where playing feels so routine now,” Cluff said. “Now it’s looming that I might not be able to play my senior year and in my first year back (from injury). It’s devastating.”
Cluff, who plans to study photography and graphic design at Savannah College of Art and Design next scholastic year, said there is some good to come out of what’s occurred over the past week.
“It’s been really crazy but seeing how everyone’s dealing with it has been pretty refreshing,” she said. “I feel like the team has gotten closer together over the last few days. Obviously we’re all holding out hope we’re still going to have a season. All the girls have been willing to work on their own during the time off.”
“There’s still a pretty big family thing,” she said. “As far as team bonding, we’re still pretty together even though we’re not practicing.”
Cluff, Critchfield and Raymond know far too well what it’s like to have something they love to do taken away from them. But now that it was about to come back, lacrosse has been taken away from them again for the time being.
“I would say I’ve learned maybe to not rely on things being set in stone,” Cluff said. “Especially with me being a senior. I’d always get to March, and then I’d have lacrosse from then pretty much all the way to the end of the school year. I sort of expected that. But now that’s not the case. It’s taught me to expect the unexpected. What I went through with my surgery taught me that, too. What’s happening now kind of reassures that.”
Raymond spoke in the same terms.
“Take nothing for granted,” she said. “Everything can get taken away in an instant. The whole world is not normal right now.”