When sports collided with a global pandemic this year, one phenomenon rose to prominence even as games fell to the wayside: playing in a bubble.
Over the summer, the Premier Lacrosse League instituted the bubble format to save their season, following in the footsteps of the NBA. The league rented out an entire hotel, acquired access to regular and robust COVID-19 testing, and set up a three-and-a-half-week bubble in Draper, Utah.
Michigan men’s lacrosse assistant coach Justin Turri ‘bubbled’ in Utah with the PLL’s Chrome. With the news of his first child on the way at the beginning of the year, Turri, who played six seasons in Major League Lacrosse before playing with the Chrome in 2019, thought he would be hanging up the cleats.
But the bubble, which drastically shortened the season, gave Turri another run at it. He would not have to be away from home for long, but would be able to get enough lacrosse in to make the trip worthwhile.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Turri said. “I got to spend time with some great people.”
It was that experience that gave Turri the added edge he was looking for as an uncertain year loomed.
“It gave me a lot of positive energy going into the school year,” Turri said.
As Turri enters his second year as an assistant on Michigan’s staff, the same circumstances that had him playing in a bubble this summer is impacting every aspect of coaching. First and foremost, recruiting. The staff had to adjust on the fly in order to successfully recruit once the pandemic hit. High school athletes missed out on a lot of competition, and thus a lot of live evaluation. But after an aggressive virtual campaign, Turri is positive about the incoming recruits.
When it came to the cancelled season, the offseason in quarantine and the continuing uncertainty, staying in touch with his guys was a top priority for Turri.
“We just wanted to keep everyone engaged, but at the same time, make sure they had their space,” Turri said.
That engagement went a long way. The team was able to hit the ground running this fall, even with practices and film sessions looking far different in order to keep safety protocols in place. Faces and names were already connected, and players found ways to bond before coming to campus.
Athletes were certainly not the only ones antsy for competition after quarantine.
“I was as fired up as I’ve been on the field in a long time,” Turri said, recalling the first day back in the fall.
Not only does Turri have memorable recent events to rally around as a once-in-a-lifetime season approaches, he also has a breadth of experience. Along with the pros, Turri has been involved with the lacrosse programs at Duke, Harvard and West Point. Michigan, he says, is different.
“There’s just an expectation of excellence, of competing for championships,” he said. “Everyone cares about the block ‘M,’ and it shows.”
It’s been a memorable year for Turri, and he is taking all his new experiences with him to give Michigan lacrosse the best version of himself yet as preparations for the spring are in full swing.
“You certainly don’t take what you have for granted,” Turri said. “I’m really thankful to be able to see our guys and work with them.”
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