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Crosse Roads Written by: Ali Paquette

After the final whistle blew on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, the Middlebury College men’s lacrosse seniors were left with an overwhelming sense of loss. They had won the contest, but after just three games, their entire season was over.

With COVID-19 cases rapidly spreading across the United States, Middlebury decided to send students home and conduct the rest of the semester remotely. The spring athletics season ended nearly as soon as it had begun.

Senior Connor Quinn remembers the day vividly. “Our professor ended class early, and I got in my car and drove,” he says. “When I parked my car, I sat there crying on and off for about an hour. I knew a lot of supportive messages were coming in, but I wasn’t ready to look at my phone or read them.”

Connor grew up surrounded by the Middlebury men’s lacrosse community, and just like that, his 21 years with the program came to a screeching halt.

Connor’s family has been a staple of Middlebury athletics since long before he was born. His grandfather, G. Thomas Lawson, served as a coach and the athletic director for 30 years. Both of Connor’s parents were varsity athletes at Middlebury, and when he was born in 1997, his father, Erin Quinn ’86, had already been the head men’s lacrosse coach for six years.

Connor and his older sister, Hannah Quinn ’16, grew up around the men’s lacrosse program and viewed the team as their extended clan. Says Erin, “A lot of people use the word family to describe their team, and that is very true for us. I remember giving prospective student-athletes a heads-up before they came to campus that my kids would probably be with me. They were a huge part of our team atmosphere and an important part of the program’s storied culture.”

Most of Connor’s free time as a kid was spent with the team. He tagged along with his father during practices, games, and away trips. During home football and lacrosse games, Connor and one of his close friends, Bobby Ritter ’19, son of head football coach Bob Ritter ’82, had a ritual that took place on the hill that separates Youngman Field from the Ralph Myhre Golf Course. The two coaches’ sons participated in weekly pickup football games on that hill, taking breaks to watch their fathers coach the sports they loved.

L>R: Erin Quinn '86, Peter Kohn, Connor Quinn '20, Bob Ritter '82 & Bobby Ritter '19

During the early 2000s, Erin guided Middlebury to six national championship appearances, including three straight titles. He remembers an NCAA title game when the Panthers lost.

“Connor was sitting with an alumnus who was a year out of school. He consoled Connor when we lost, and handed him down to me on the field. It was truly a special moment between all of us; to watch a three-time national champion soothe my son really exemplified how this program is a family.”

As his dad transitioned into the role of director of athletics, Connor remained very connected to Middlebury athletics throughout his middle school and high school years. When it came time for him to start looking at colleges, Middlebury was at the top of his list.

“During Connor’s junior year of high school,” says Erin, “I overheard a conversation he had with one of the current Middlebury lacrosse players at our dinner table. He said, ‘At the end of the day, there have been a lot of Middlebury lacrosse players who have become family and sat at this table, and I am not playing against them.’”

Connor’s parents still insisted that he do a thorough college search. What sealed his decision was seeing how well Hannah and other coaches’ children attending Middlebury were able to balance their college lives and their home lives.

Once he was accepted to Middlebury, Connor aspired to play both football and lacrosse. But not right away. In the back of his mind was this thought: “What if I go to Middlebury, graduate, and have never experienced anything outside of my little hometown?” Taking a gap year was popular at that time, so he decided, with the support of head men’s lacrosse coach Dave Campbell ’00 and Coach Bob Ritter, to venture outside of Vermont.

During the first half of the year, he coached football in California, then spent the second half of the year with Lacrosse the Nations in Costa Rica. A nonprofit organization cofounded by men’s lacrosse alumnus Brad Corrigan ’96, Lacrosse the Nations seeks to use lacrosse as a vehicle to help children in some of the world’s most impoverished communities.

“The gap year I took was a great opportunity,” recalls Connor. “It really gave me a lot of independence and a sense of perspective before I returned to Middlebury. I was very grateful to have that experience and know what awaited me when I returned.”

After growing up around Middlebury athletics, Connor was ready to see his lifelong dream of playing for the Panthers come true. But his journey from first-year to senior was anything but ordinary.

His transition into his first year was seamless. Between the two teams, he had 115 instant friends and felt welcomed immediately. But at the end of his first year, he had a very difficult decision to make. While he had loved his experience on both teams, he felt burned out, unsure that playing two sports was for him. Connor was also intending to major in international politics and economics, a field that required studying abroad for a semester during his junior year and missing one of the sports. He ultimately made the tough choice to quit football to focus on lacrosse.

“I went back and forth about this a lot,” Connor says. “Coach Ritter, who was like a second father to me growing up, was really supportive. In the end, I know I made the right decision, but it was still a very tough one to make.”

Erin recalls, “As his dad, I know it was an incredibly hard decision, but he had this perspective that although losing football was sad, there were other people with much harder things to deal with. In a lot of ways, dealing with the loss of football prepared him for some of the challenges he faced over the next three years."

During the preseason scrimmage of Connor’s sophomore year, he sprinted toward a ground ball and collided with another player. He suffered a concussion and shattered his wrist. In a matter of seconds, his season, and possibly his career, was over.

“I remember going to the surgeon,” says Connor, “and he asked me, ‘How bad do you want to play lacrosse again?’ That was when it hit me that there was no hope of coming back that season.”

His long road to recovery was just beginning.

Having played at Middlebury for Erin, Coach Dave Campbell knew Connor well. “He had always been a very driven and determined player, but I marveled at how he approached his rehabilitation.”

Connor made the most of his time on the sidelines. He was at every practice, helping to run the clock or keeping score during drills. In film sessions, he would speak up and be very engaged. Anything that the team needed, he was there. 

“His commitment level was never questioned,” says Campbell.

Not only was he there for his team, but he also made the time to focus on his recovery process. Without fail, on any given day you could look in the field house at any time and see Connor practicing. “I was starting to feel a little better, but I just couldn’t shake this pain I was having every time I exercised,” he says.

After waiting over a year to play again, he suited up for his junior season in hopes of playing. But his comeback attempt was thwarted by the pain in his wrist. Connor went back to the doctor to get an answer, and it wasn’t good: his ulna was still broken off and had never healed.

“That was brutal news for me to hear,” says Connor. “Not only was I disappointed, but I also had to get another surgery and have pins put into my wrist. I felt like I had done everything I was supposed to, but I was right back in the same spot I was the year before.”

After getting surgery and letting his wrist heal through the spring, he began working out in the summer. The surgery had worked. He was pain-free and ready to play his final season of lacrosse.

Having missed almost two years of lacrosse, no one expected Connor to be in the top group in 2020. But by the first game, he had worked his way onto the first midfield line. As Campbell says, “He had barely played a year of college lacrosse, yet he beat out some very established players coming off his injury. It was a true testament to his work ethic and love of the program and his teammates.”

“Being able to walk out on the field for our first game this year is when the circle really closed for me,” says Connor. “I finally made it back, I was jogging onto the field pain-free and I was playing again.”

Connor sat in his car on March 10, trying, like many on campus, to wrap his head around the news he had just received. After nearly an hour of sitting alone, he got confirmation that he would be able to play in his final game later that afternoon. He drove to the athletics complex and headed into the locker room.

As Connor remembers, “The seniors were in the locker room alone, sitting in silence for about 45 minutes. But as game time approached, we realized that we could go through this game feeling sorry for ourselves, or we could play with our brothers, for our coaches, and for Middlebury.”

During the pregame speech, Campbell echoed the seniors’ emotions. “The biggest thing I asked them to do was focus on this moment. I asked them to play hard for each other, to have as much joy as they have ever had playing, and to enjoy every second out there.”

There were many emotions on the sidelines and in the stands before the game against Plattsburgh State started. But once that first whistle blew, all of the anguish melted away. For 60 minutes, the only thing in the world that people at Alumni Stadium cared about was this single midweek, nonconference, men’s lacrosse game.

“All of the seniors played their very best lacrosse that day,” recalls Campbell. “Watching Connor, he was like a sponge out there. He was putting everything we had talked about for four years to work that day.”

Leading 19–5 in the third quarter, there was a push to get Connor the ball and give the senior his first, and only, collegiate goal. His parents looked on from opposite sidelines. He cut to his right and drove toward the net. He hopped out of the air on his left foot, and fired the ball into the left side of the goal.

The crowd erupted.

“I don’t know if I have ever seen the bench go that crazy,” says Campbell. “The referee turned to us, now with a 15-goal lead, and said, ‘Please tell me that celebration was for a very special senior goal.’”

Connor recalls the moment with humility. “The goal was nice, but I think other people were much more concerned about it than I was. It sounds cheesy, but I really did not care if I scored 50 goals or no goals this season. Just being able to wear the Middlebury jersey, which was a childhood dream of mine, and play with this incredibly special group of guys, was all I really needed from this year.”
Middlebury College men's lacrosse Class of 2020.

Looking back on the game and his shortened season, Connor is left feeling grateful. “As sad as our story is, there are teams across the country sharing that same pain with us, and many of them did not know that their last game was their final contest. I am grateful we were able to play that last game, to get closure and reconcile everything that had happened.”

Connor knows that with everything going on, he probably has not fully digested what unfolded just a couple of months ago. “I am sure we all have some healing to do at a later date. But for right now, I could not be more thankful that we played that Tuesday game.”

Created By
Ali Paquette
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