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Bill Cafferata stood at the front of the classroom as his Dripping Springs (Texas) players intently waited for his pregame speech. He had given plenty pep talks over his seven years as the team’s head coach, but nothing could quite prepare him for this one.

He had stewed over the message all day. It was March 12. The NBA had suspended its season the previous day due to COVID-19. How could he relay to his team, which included 18 seniors, that this could very well be their final game?

Cafferata mentally prepared himself but didn’t have anything written down or planned as he faced his players. What came out was genuine. Somehow, he kept his composure. And when he was finished, his players were ready to leave it all on the field.

“That was an all-day thing, building myself up for that one,” Cafferata said. “I was going through a wide range of emotions that day. I knew it was coming. I knew it was going to be our last game with what was going on in the world.

“I knew this: Those guys go in the direction I go. If I had lost my composure, they would’ve lost their composure that night.”

They did the opposite. An already hard-working, goal-driven group played relentlessly in a double-overtime loss to rival Lake Travis. Cafferata recalled one play to describe the atmosphere.

“Four minutes into this game, my LSM (long-stick midfielder), Joseph Guzaldo, I remember him Superman-diving at midfield to poke a ball free from a ground ball,” Cafferata said.

That play served as a spark for one of the most emotional games everyone involved had ever taken part in.

“I just remember thinking that I had to set the tone for the rest of the game,” Guzaldo said. “If that meant putting my body on the line, then I was going to do it.”

The emotional night was captured on video by Matt Richardson, a senior in the program who has a knack for editing. The final project, posted on Instagram (@drip_lacrosse), cuts back and forth from the speech to the field and highlights what the Dripping Springs program stands for.

E + R = O.

“That’s event plus response equals outcome,” Cafferata said. “You can’t change events. It’s how you respond that matters, and they couldn’t have responded any better.

“The response to the loss is that the guys were telling each other that, ‘You played as hard as you could tonight.’ It was never ‘I.’ It was ‘you’ or ‘we.’”

That helps encapsulate the program’s culture shift that started in 2018, when excess running and strict scheduling were implemented in hopes of breeding accountability. There was more focus on “we” instead of “me.”

It was a philosophical change that wasn’t met with open arms by parents and players of the program, but once they started to see results, all of the running and discipline became worth it. 

Whenever there were team gatherings, the players and coaches formed a circle with arms locked. They began calling themselves the Wolf Pack, even though the school’s mascot is a Tiger.

“We act like a wolf pack,” Cafferata said. “Just with the way a wolf pack carries itself. The leaders lead from behind and watch over the younger players in front of them.”

Cafferata was inspired by one of his annual trips to the US Lacrosse Convention. He followed U.S. men’s national team coach John Danowski’s advice to form circles with his players as a show of unity. Nobody, not even the person standing in front of the room, is above anyone else in the team hierarchy. In the circle, players can lock eyes with each other and show respect for the person speaking.

Cafferata goes back to LaxCon each year to absorb as much as possible. The event annually draws more than 7,000 lacrosse coaches, officials and fans.

“If it’s good enough for Coach D, then it’s good enough for me,” he said. “It changes the way we do things. Once I started going to LaxCon, every talk was about culture. Once we implemented that, it changed who we were.”

And while some coaches couldn’t find the right words to say as the global pandemic abruptly ended seasons, Cafferata stood tall and led his players toward one final game. Even in a loss, Dripping Springs showed more about its program than ever before.

“That speech that he gave us was definitely what we needed to hear,” Guzaldo said.

LOCALL GROWN: Southwest

Texas

San Antonio Youth Lacrosse has partnered with Mission Lacrosse Club on a summer skills competition.

Louisiana

The Red River Youth Lacrosse Association celebrated its eighth anniversary, providing lacrosse to kids in the Shreveport community.

Mississippi

Louisiana/Mississippi chapter president Richard Clement is working with local coaches to put on a combined officials and coaching clinic in the fall or winter — the first event of this kind for the chapter.

Oklahoma

Harding Charter School and Bixby High School were awarded US Lacrosse First Stick Program grants.

Arkansas

Bryant High School and Little Rock Youth Lacrosse were awarded US Lacrosse First Stick Program grants.

Missouri

Lacrosse The City was formed as a 501c3 to help grow the sport in the Kansas City community. Utilizing US Lacrosse First Stick and Physical Education grants and local donations, the organization is working to lower the cost to play lacrosse for young people throughout the city.