Sports team highlight

MIT Men’s Lacrosse seniors discuss their final season

Q&A with the MIT Men’s Lacrosse team, whose season was ended by COVID-19

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The MIT Men's Lacrosse seniors Adam Gumbardo, Robert DeLaus, Joe Vasile, Aidan Westley, Jameson Kief, Jack Strachan, and Jonathan Monahemi (left to right) bordered by coaches after their final practice.
Courtesy of MIT Men's Lacrosse

The MIT Men’s Lacrosse team played five matches before its season was suspended and students were asked to leave campus. The matches included 15-5, 8-7, 11-9, and 12-9 victories against Lasell University, UMass Dartmouth, University of New England, and Curry College, and a 14-6 loss against Rensselaer. The final game against Curry College was played the day the announcement was made for students to leave campus; with rumors of the announcement floating around, this was an emotional game for everyone, especially the seniors. The Tech asked Coach Tyler O’Keefe to reflect upon the crisis and its effects on his team.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Tech: What are you most proud of about your team’s progress this year?

Tyler O’Keefe: As a staff, we are most proud of this team for taking big steps forward culturally. Specifically, having that “family” mentality. Players held one another accountable. They worked on improving their personal skills to better help the team, and they put in extra work outside of the normal two-hour practice. All of this was on display since the beginning of the season.

TT: What makes the current team and the graduating class of seniors special?

O’Keefe: In the fall, we came together to identify what it means to be part of the MIT Men’s Lacrosse program, and what we want to represent for the 2020 season. Team first, discipline, mental and physical toughness, trust, and attention to detail were the five core values we came up with. Our team, and particularly the senior class, have done a fantastic job holding themselves and their teammates accountable to these values. They recognized the incredible amount of talent that we had between upper and underclassmen, and they did whatever it took to take full advantage of this. The overarching message was that if we don’t improve on strengthening these core values, then we could fall short of our season goals. Our guys and seniors this year did not want to be complacent. They took this and ran with it because, in the conference, nothing is handed to you. Every single player on this team has taken the initiative to not sit back, but to attack their goals of winning the NEWMAC. This sudden change was mostly led by the seniors, who I think all had visions of hoisting that trophy. Given the circumstances, our returners know that now this next season will count for two.

TT: Even though you didn’t get the chance to play a full season, is there a moment that sticks out to you this season? 

O’Keefe: One moment that resonates is our last game of the season against Curry College. Coaches and players went into the game knowing that it was potentially our last game of the season. As a coaching staff, we knew emotions were high, and knew that we needed to do our best to make sure we played that game for our seniors. It is important to note that two of our seniors, Jack Strachan and Aidan Westley came back from substantial injuries. Having it be their first and last game of the season, they definitely made their mark. Both Jack and Aidan registered points at a high point in the game, making this an extremely proud moment for us, especially for our Athletic Trainer Jessica Rooney Gallagher. But most importantly, ending the game with all of our seniors on the field together, and leaving Steinbrenner Stadium that night with a team win, is certainly a memory that we all will never forget.

TT: Are there any words of wisdom you have for your team or the MIT Community as a whole?

O’Keefe: We often use the phrase “control what you can control.” There are a lot of unknowns right now, but there are a lot of things we can do to help. If we can remain positive, listen to professionals, and continue to promote healthy living and practices, we are already doing more than we know. 

The Tech also asked seniors (Class of 2020) Jameson Kief, Robert Delaus and Joe Vasile who missed their last full season to reflect about the sudden end of their final season and the time they spent at MIT.

TT: What is your favorite memory from your MIT Lacrosse career?

Jameson Kief: MIT lacrosse has given me some of my favorite memories in college as a whole. One memory that stands out, however, is during my freshman year beating Babson. At the time, I did not grasp how important the win was, but being able to throw the ball in the air at the buzzer and watch the team storm the field and Coach Alessi being brought almost to tears is something I think about often.

The best parts about being on a team as special as this one are not the big moments. The small moments where bonds between teammates are far more meaningful, albeit harder to convey. My overall favorite moment was the van ride from the airport last year. Our van stopped to get a quick bite at McDonald’s and, although we were exhausted, we all had a good time joking around, meeting new people, and sharing stories.

Robert Delaus: One of my favorite MIT lacrosse memories was our game this season against Curry College. Throughout the day leading up to the game, rumors had been going around about MIT sending all students home in response to COVID-19. No official email had been sent out, but by the time we got to the locker room, all of us knew that it could very well be our last game of the season, and for the seniors, the last game of our careers. As this reality set in, we could have just checked out seeing as the game didn’t matter. But instead, we came out to the field with more excitement, energy, and passion than I had ever seen before. The whole team rallied behind the seniors and put everything we had into that game. It was really special fighting alongside my fellow seniors one last time, all of us cherishing this game that we love.

Joe Vasile: It is tough to come up with any one memory that stands out. The team was a special group and there were many good moments during my four years. Everyone on the team fit really well and each added their own best attributes.

TT: What do you appreciate most about the senior class?

Kief: I am extremely proud of this senior class and what we have accomplished. It is never easy to have a coaching transition, but my classmates rose to meet that challenge head-on. We bought in immediately and across the board, setting an example for classes above and below us. We never stopped working hard, and we were always hungry. We were vocal in the shaping of the team’s culture and proactive in building a team poised to go the distance. We, as the senior class, have supported each other, pushed each other and built a team together, and I couldn’t be more proud to call them teammates, brothers, and friends.

Delaus: I really appreciate the leadership and dedication of our seniors. Our class was the last group of guys that played under Coach Alessi. I think it’s not always easy for players to adjust to a new coach, but when we began our sophomore year under Coach O’Keefe there was immediate buy in from our class. It’s been amazing seeing how much our class and the entire program has developed under O’Keefe. This senior class has always built up the camaraderie and brotherhood of the team, both on and off the field. 

Vasile: I appreciate the cohesiveness of the senior class. We always got along and made the most of our four years. Everyone was very funny and grew into good leaders and role models for the team.

TT: What message do you have for the rest of your team and for future baseball teams at MIT?

Kief: You guys are a special group of people. I could not believe in a group more equipped to accomplish our goals than you. Just keep in mind that this senior class put everything into building what we have now as a team. We don’t get any more opportunities to win a championship, win any more accolades, or break any more records with you all. Instead, what you guys do in the next few years is what we get to hang our hats on, what we get to be proud of, and what we are going to tell our children defined our college careers. Honor that when you are thinking about hitting the wall for an extra session, doing that extra lift, or running one more sprint. I couldn’t think of a better group of guys I could have spent my last four years with and I can think of no other team I look forward to watching more. I love you all, now go win a championship!

Delaus: Play every game like it could be your last.

Vasile: Appreciate the time you have on the team. You will never be a part of a group that compares to the team. It makes every sprint, injury, and sleepless night worth it.

TT: Do you have any extra thoughts you would like to add?

Kief: One last thing I don’t think gets talked about a lot… is our parents. I know a lot of other guys’ parents have sacrificed so much to put us on the fields, drag us from summer tournaments across the country, and support us constantly. My father attended all but three games my entire college career, and what frustrates me the most about this situation is not that I don’t get to finish my season, but that I don’t get to walk out on the field with him and my mother to honor what they have put into this sport for the last 13 years. Senior night is really for the parents, and I empathize with all senior athletes and their parents who do not get that ending to their college career.

Vasile: The season ending early was pretty difficult. Lacrosse was one of the most important parts of my time at MIT. It’s where I’d see many of my friends every day and where I could push myself while still having fun. Having it end early is disappointing because our team was poised to have our best season in the history of the program.

The Tech and the rest of the MIT community are saddened that they could not see the Lacrosse team finish out a successful season, but we are sure they will be back to conquer the field in coming seasons. We hope to see the seniors succeed in future endeavors and thank them for their past performances and for constantly setting a stellar example. In addition, following the steps of Jay Kief, we appreciate our parents for helping us reach where we are today and appreciate the parents of all the athletes at MIT, whose support makes possible the excellent displays from our teams.