“59!” one of the players yells excitedly, before a short stick player drops the next pass and draws an audible groan from the rest of the Hawks.
The Rhinebeck boys lacrosse team, practicing in the middle school gymnasium, make 59 straight passes in their six-line drill this day. The drill involves six lines of players passing forward and diagonally while running. They count out loud when they complete a pass; on their previous attempt at the drill, they only completed 13.
New head coach Will Bussert is excited. “We had 12 successful passes (in a row) at best in the past few days. We got through every single person three times in the six-line drill. That’s phenomenal. And honestly, to see what we were doing yesterday—we weren’t ready to be doing that yet. They learn fast, though,” he said.
The team’s talent range is vast. Some players, according to Bussert, have played on club teams, and others have competed in indoor winter lacrosse at the Hudson Valley Sports Dome. But for many, lacrosse is their first and only sport.
And this year the team moves to varsity status, facing a full slate of games against Section IX opponents.
Bussert, a substitute teacher at Rhinebeck Central Schools, is still getting a feel for a team that is suddenly his. They listen to him and they run their drills dutifully, but he hasn’t drawn a bead on the specifics of all his players. He has to ask junior midfielder Roan Gideon his year and position.
Bussert says that he fell into the position after Rhinebeck’s coach during its club days, Jim Barysh, a former coach at Vassar college, left it.
“They were in desperate need, and they knew I had coaching experience,” Bussert says, “But this experience is good. I’m kind of thrown into it—you know, next week is spring break and I don’t have keys [to the gym] yet. They’re telling me that I need to disarm an alarm to get in… and I don’t even have keys yet, or a code for the alarm.”
There’s no doubt that Rhinebeck’s lacrosse team is a major work in progress. Only three players at practice have Rhinebeck practice pinnies, and a handful of them have helmets that don’t conform to the purple-and-yellow Hawks color code.
But they’re a work-in-progress that was very hard work to get in progress.
The push for a team
The lion’s share of credit for Rhinebeck having a lacrosse team goes to high school junior Roan Gideon. Gideon transferred to Rhinebeck in his freshman year and had been playing lacrosse since fifth grade at Dutchess Day School. He also played with the area’s premier youth lacrosse club, Hudson Valley Express.
So he was interested in pulling together a school team for Rhinebeck, but preliminary plans didn’t work out. “Initially, we were trying to form a merger team with either Red Hook or Hyde Park, but those both fell through,” he says.
Gideon says Rhinebeck Athletic Director Steve Boucher told him, after the failed merger, that Rhinebeck didn’t have the cash to assemble a brand-new varsity team, which would cost about $15,000.
“So I asked ‘What if the students raised all of the money themselves without any of the tax money coming from the school district?’” he recalls.
After a few presentations to the school board, in which Gideon and other community members lobbied for the opportunity to assemble a crowd-funded lacrosse squad, Gideon received approval for his plan in June of his freshman year. He would have to have sufficient funds raised by that fall.
Gideon and his supporters held a whirlwind summer fundraising rally, including events like a youth lacrosse tournament, called the “Summer Sizzler,” a lacrosse shootout, and a rummage sale, and raised $15,000 in time to fund a non-varsity, school-affiliated club team.
In its first club season last year, Gideon says, Rhinebeck went 5-3 playing teams from Pawling, Goshen, Millbrook, as well as Storm King’s varsity program, which the Hawks managed to beat in a 14-0 shutout.
This year, as it heads to varsity play, the team is still not fully funded by the school, and relies heavily on fundraising, Gideon says. But, he adds, “it’s incredible to see how everything pays off. Everyone in the community and the players have been incredibly helpful, both with Friends of Rhinebeck Lacrosse fundraising and the team. A lot of players have their parents sponsor the team—individual sponsors, family sponsors, corporate sponsors, etcetera. We all work at the tournaments, reffing and selling food. It’s incredible.”
The season begins
Rhinebeck lacrosse is only days away from the beginning of the season.
The plan was to open against Red Hook, but Bussert made an executive decision to cancel the match and wait until Rhinebeck is adequately prepared for their inaugural match against the Raiders, who have won five straight Section IX Class C championships.
And things don’t look easy elsewhere on the schedule. The Division, which has expanded to include both Rhinebeck and Cornwall Central, now hosts 11 teams and very few pushovers.
Rhinebeck’s players know that. They don’t have overly ambitious expectations; they’re just excited to play. “I feel like this is kind of like what we’ve all been waiting for,” says defenseman Sean Phelan. “Last year, we built up a lot of anticipation being a club team, and then playing winter league this year as a team. As a senior, it’s just really nice to play varsity finally, and I think no matter what we’re just going to give it our all.”
But in the face of it all, with a new coach, a new team and a tough schedule, the Hawks know one thing: they want Red Hook. “Playing Red Hook,” says junior midfielder Mike Flanagan. “That’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
“Yeah, we’re really excited for that match and we’re looking forward to playing Red Hook,” adds Phelan.
The Hawks open their season visiting Pine Bush on April 2 at 4:30pm.