Growing pains are an inevitability both for humans and bees.
Believe it or not, honey bees, one of the most impactful, well-traveled pollinators on earth, are not born knowing how to make honey. They must be taught by the elder bees in their hives.
A similar idea is true for each of the youthful “bees” on the Georgia Swarm who are constantly trying to learn from their veteran teammates how they can be the optimal box lacrosse players.
In the early stages of last Friday night’s game featuring the Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks, the box lacrosse maturation process of one of those developing Swarm players was on full display.
With about 7:30 left on the clock in the first quarter, rookie defenseman TJ Comizio had scooped up the ball in the nearside corner by his team’s net. While being pressured against the boards by Shawn Evans following a failed offensive possession by the Knighthawks, Comizio bounced the ball back to his goaltender Mike Poulin between the pipes in an effort to clear the ball up the floor.
The only problem was, in the NLL, you can not pass the ball back to your goaltender – something Comizio admitted was a stark difference to the field lacrosse rules he knew. Because Poulin had picked up the ball in his crease to avoid the Knighthawks having a clear shot on net, the referees awarded the Knighthawks another possession.
Thankfully for him, the rookie’s gaffe didn’t end up stinging the Swarm. And, better yet, Comizio was subsequently reassured by his veteran teammates to ‘not worry about the mistake’ and to ‘focus on the next play.’
Comizio, whose lacrosse background stems from the field-version of the game, and not box, is one of nine rookies who have suited up for the Swarm this season – that’s more rookies that have played than any other organization in the league.
Nevertheless, Swarm Head Coach Ed Comeau says he’s not fazed by having many young players. In fact, while he knows that mistakes will occur, the willingness to absorb information for gameday will significantly benefit the team as a whole as the season progresses.
“For us, having a lot of young players has been really good,” Comeau said. “They bring a lot of energy. They make mistakes, but they are great in the sense that they are always ready to learn.”
To that point, Comizio spoke highly of Comeau, the team’s veterans, the rest of the staff and even the ownership group. He explained that when you become part of this franchise, everyone, from the top down, extends themselves to help teach the incoming youth, like Comizio, how to adjust to this professional box game.
“Even from the top down with John and Andy Arlotta, they were super welcoming and encouraging,” Comizio said. “They really emphasized that they want to help us learn the game. [Comeau] and [Assistant Coach Sean Ferris] are great coaches, but are even better people. They encourage us to ask questions and learn; they want to help you when you’re watching film. We knew especially this year that a lot of young guys would need to step up and they all are encouraging us to be confident and not play like a rookie.”
Now, it’s fair to say that the impact of Swarm’s roster turnover was more significant than expected. Since last season, this team has lost critical assets, including Randy Staats, Zed Williams, Alex Crepinsek, Jason Noble, and others, leaving the team to heavily rely on the 12 players that are 25 or younger that sit on the roster.
This team (as of this Tuesday’s active rosters) is the third youngest in the East Division and the sixth youngest in the NLL, but, as Jackson noted, if the team keeps improving every game like they have, that’s all they can ask of these newcomers.
“I think over the last three games [vs. Philadelphia Wings, Buffalo Bandits and Knighthawks] we’ve gotten better each game,” Jackson said. “That’s what we’re looking for. We want to be playing the right way, and I think we’re getting closer and closer to that and I think that’s a testament to having the new and young guys step up and play as well as they have.”
Jackson is correct; the younger players have been contributing at a decent rate. The rookies have combined for eight goals, 12 assists, 84 loose balls, and 12 caused turnovers through five games.
A significant reason that the rookies have been able to produce at both ends of the floor, according to Comeau, is that the coaching staff is playing to the strengths of the individuals when needed instead of always playing within the system.
“There is a system in place for how we want to play, but we have to understand that everyone brings different skills and abilities to the table,” Comeau said. “The onus is on us as an organization for how we’re going to best utilize those skills while helping both the player and the team be successful.”
Jackson added that leading by example through actions, not just words, is how the veterans can motivate and inspire this next generation of Swarm talent.
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you act,” Jackson said. “Whenever you have a practice, meetings, or at a shootaround, you’ve got to work hard. You can’t just come in and throw the ball out and go out and see what happens; you have to practice with a purpose.”
Considering that the Swarm currently sit at 2-3 in the competitive East Division despite the steep learning curve facing much of their team, the Swarm are in a prime position to be a significant threat in this playoff race.
Veterans Jackson, Jordan Hall, and of course, Lyle Thompson have done much of the heavy lifting on the offensive side of the ball, while Joel White and Chad Tutton have helped secure the back-end. But, Jackson knows that the Swarm wouldn’t be where they are in the standings if the youthful Swarm hadn’t stepped up to each of the occasions.
Like the bees in a hive, one bee can not make the colony thrive. It requires a group effort at all times. Jackson knows that, while the consequences of not working as a highly-productive unit may not be as dire as it is for actual bees, the Swarm’s playoff and championship lives are at risk if this unit doesn’t continue to grow and improve each week.
“We never want to quit on one another – we never want to turn on one another,” Jackson said. “We want to stay together as a group – we win or lose as a group. I think that the successful teams do that.”