BLISS ENJOYING HIS 'GOLDEN YEARS' WITH NATIONALS
7/21/11 1:00 PM
By Craig Rybczynski – June 21, 2011
For the past two years, Sol Bliss was content raising a family, and teaching and coaching at Tully High School near Syracuse, NY. His professional lacrosse career was behind him after hoisting the Steinfeld Cup as a Major League Lacrosse champion in his final game back in 2008.
Yet in the summer of 2011, Bliss got the lacrosse bug again and he was off to play in the MLL. This time it was for the Hamilton Nationals and coaches/friends Regy Thorpe and Gary Gait. At 31 years old, Bliss was still ready for the rigors of traveling 14 weekends in four months. The 6-3, 215-pound defenseman was exceedingly prepared for the physical demands of the “fastest game on two feet.”
“I didn’t stop working out completely; I just changed my focus to maintaining instead of building. So when I decided to go back I still had a pretty good base to go off of,” said Bliss. “I coach three sports so I don’t ever feel it would be a good idea to not be in the gym staying fit. I try to get my athletes to work so I better be in there too. I actually thought working out became easier once I decided to go back because I had more motivation and focus to get through some of the tough ones.”
Bliss played in the MLL for five seasons with the Rochester Rattlers and was one of the anchors on a defense that led the Rattlers to back-to-back championship weekends and the 2008 championship. His second stint in the league has been surreal for the husband and father of two.
“From a personal stand point it just means a lot more to me now knowing what it is like not playing. I find myself stopping to step back and soak it all in sometimes whether it is during a practice, shoot around, or in the locker-room getting ready to go out before a game. There really isn’t a part of it that I don’t enjoy,” he said.
Opposing attackman and midfielders might disagree when they take on the towering, blond defenseman. Bliss first arrived in the MLL after getting selected in the fourth round of the 2003 Collegiate Draft out of Syracuse University. There, Bliss was a two-time team captain and led the Orange to two NCAA Division I National Championships (2000 and 2002). In 2002 and 2003, he was an Honorable Mention STX/USILA All-American. In 2002, he even earned a spot on the 2002 NCAA All-Tournament Team. So it’s no surprise that Bliss would return to his old form. The only difference is he takes more time getting ready for the games, which his younger teammates remind him of constantly.
“Being the only one over 30 is fine with me, the guys joke about getting to the training room before me though. I take a little longer that just a preventive tape job. Our trainer just asks ‘what is it this week?’ when I walk in. I got an injury I didn’t even know existed during one of my workouts a few weeks ago, so that part isn’t fun. But they all go away eventually and adrenaline really helps with pain. When I first met some of the new guys I asked them how old they were and when they answered I just starred at them and shook my head. I guess as long as I can keep up with them the age doesn’t matter,” said the elder statesman on a team whose average age is 24.
In fact, Bliss now plays alongside a defenseman he once coached at Tully High School. Talk about a jolt of reality. That player is rookie Bill Henderson from the United States Military Academy.
“Playing with Bill is great. I can still remember the first conversation I had ever had with Bill. It was right before the football season and I had just been hired as the defensive coordinator,” said Bliss. “From that point on Bill has always been one of my favorite athletes that I have ever coached. He has every attribute you would want one of your athletes to have: work ethic, character, skill, the ability to lead, just everything. I can’t explain how proud of him that I am, not only for his success in lacrosse but just who he has become and what he is about.
“It is pretty funny that two kids from Tully are playing in the MLL and on the same team. If we could get Dan (Hardy) to come up north that would be great too,” added Bliss. “I did have to think a bit about how I felt about playing with someone I have coached. I don’t know if that makes me happy or old. That is still out for debate I guess.”
The kids on the Nationals have 30-something Bliss feeling and playing young again. Bliss, along with Brodie Merrill, provides mentoring on and off the field for players like Henderson and fellow rookie Kevin Ridgway. The influx of five Division I First Team All-Americans among the 11 first-year players on the roster was a stumbling block early in the season, but the Nats have won three of the last four games to move into playoff contention.
“I think our turn around has happened due to a number of different factors. I think being young it has taken some time to adjust to the differences between the college game and the pro game,” said Bliss. “Knowing each other is huge in team sports. The first couple games some guys didn’t even know each other’s names so to ask them to be a cohesive unit is tough. I think the coaches have been patient as far as that, they knew what was going on.”
The Nationals face on of their toughest tests this Saturday as Hamilton rolls into Boston to play the first-place Cannons. With leading scorer Paul Rabil and the likes of Matt Poskay, Ryan Boyle, Max Quinzani and Brad Ross, the defense and goalie Scott Rodgers will battle the highest-scoring offense in the league at Harvard Stadium.
“I think our defense just has to keep going in the direction we are. Our communication is at the best it has been all season. Scott is coming off an unbelievable performance so his confidence is right where it should be,” said Bliss. “Boston has some great players on the offensive side but every team does in this league. We need to know the scouting report and make sure we are dictating where we want the dodges to go. We have to clear the ball and get it to our offense and let them go to work. We are at our best when we trust each other and talk through every cut and every slide. I think we know that goals are going to be scored. We just have to concentrate on making them earn goals and not letting them string goals together.”
The team will catch a flight in Buffalo Friday night and land in Boston that evening. Saturday is a full day with a shoot around and then the game in the evening with an 8:00 a.m. flight Sunday morning. It is a hectic way to spend a weekend, but it’s not inconvenient for Bliss because he loves the lifestyle.
“If it isn’t fun anymore than I will stop,” he said. “I tell the teams that I coach that the No. 1 job is to have fun. Then I follow that up by saying the best way to have fun is to win.”