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Catholic Memorial lacrosse staying connected with ‘chalk talk’

Sal Malone and his Catholic Memorial lacrosse teammates were attentive viewers recently on a Zoom film session with head coach Matt Callahan.
Sal Malone and his Catholic Memorial lacrosse teammates were attentive viewers recently on a Zoom film session with head coach Matt Callahan.Courtesy

Matt Callahan experienced plenty of setbacks during his first year as boys’ lacrosse coach at Catholic Memorial.

His Knights closed out a 5-11 campaign with six straight losses to end the 2019 spring season. Those are the growing pains a coach with experience at the college level might expect while playing a challenging schedule in the loaded Catholic Conference. But with the 2020 spring season cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, those losses have become opportunities.

The Catholic Memorial athletic department and community have gone virtual this spring, offering a multitude of challenges and recreational outlets for student athletes.

Callahan, a US history teacher at CM, is offering another type of instruction after school with his weekly “chalk talk” film sessions. Open to all CM students, these voluntary sessions include clips from the college and professional level in addition to Knights games from last season.

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It’s been quite a valuable resource for aspiring lacrosse players to pick the brain of Callahan, who, as a senior at Tufts University, was named the most outstanding defender in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. Selected 14th overall by the Denver Outlaws in the 2014 Major League Lacrosse draft, he then served as an assistant coach on Tufts’ Division 3 national championship squad in 2015.

“As a coach, I think [Callahan is] doing everything in his power to keep us motivated, and you can tell he genuinely cares for us,” said junior midfielder Gage Mohammed. “He's always there as a coach, and teacher.”

Catholic Memorial's Gage Mohammed said coach Matt Callahan (above) has been all in to keep the players motivated in the absence of a season.
Catholic Memorial's Gage Mohammed said coach Matt Callahan (above) has been all in to keep the players motivated in the absence of a season.Catholic Memorial Athletics

Since April, the film sessions have begun by breaking down the previous week’s topic in a Zoom meeting before diving into another strategic discussion of lacrosse strategy. Callahan and his staff diagram the lessons and take any questions student-athletes might have before breaking them into subgroups for middle school, subvarsity, and varsity age players.

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Since there were no cuts this spring, the forum is open to everyone from seasoned seniors to seventh graders. And Callahan has been pleased to note that many of those middle schoolers ask “phenomenal questions” every day.

“As coaches, all we can do is provide the content and [the players] can take it as far as they want in terms of developing their lacrosse IQ,” said Callahan. “For the players that take lacrosse seriously, I do think they're going to get something out of this. They thrive on it, and they want more”

‘“As coaches, all we can do is provide the content and [the players] can take it as far as they want in terms of developing their lacrosse IQ. For the players that take lacrosse seriously, I do think they’re going to get something out of this. They thrive on it, and they want more”’

Matt Callahan, Catholic Memorial lacrosse caoch

From athletes, to parents and alumnus, the tight-knit community of the private school in West Roxbury has been thirsting for ways to connect during quarantine.

In March, CM athletic director Craig Najarian organized a wellness challenge for the entire school, awarding points to teams from each grade based on their progress running, biking, practicing yoga, and other solitary activities.

This past weekend, Catholic Memorial ran a virtual 5k, and the school is offering modified home workout plans for specific sports courtesy of strength and conditioning coach Sam MacNicoll.

“Being on a screen for all those hours each day is tough,” said Najarian. “You need to have a balance to clear your head. We want to provide another outlet to connect with friends, and maintain the camaraderie and community aspects of our school.”

Najarian added that Callahan has gone above and beyond by keeping his program connected this spring. Beyond those weekly film sessions, players engage in voluntary challenges to work on their fitness and stick skills. Combine those workouts with mental reps, and the long-term future of CM lacrosse looks bright.

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“No one gets into teaching or coaching to spend all day in front of a computer,” said Callahan. “You get into it for the relationships and that’s what makes CM great. It’s been difficult given the circumstances, but we’re just teachers trying to help students better themselves, and we happen to be teaching lacrosse.”