While it’s largely overshadowed by other professional sports leagues, one league that is safely competing during the COVID-19 pandemic is Major League Lacrosse, which launched an eight-day tournament last Saturday.
One of the players participating in the league, which is playing all of its games in Annapolis, Maryland, is former Virginia star Michael Kraus. A pivotal member of the Cavaliers’ 2019 national championship team, Kraus made his professional debut Saturday with the Connecticut Hammerheads.
“Obviously a little bit nervous going in,” Kraus said of his debut. “Once the first whistle blows, I think it kind of goes away. Once you get hit, once you make one pass, you realize you’re just playing lacrosse again.”
The Hammerheads dropped their first and second games of the tournament, putting some pressure on Kraus and company to rally. Two of the league’s six teams won’t compete in the Saturday semifinals.
Kraus, who hasn’t notched a goal or assist through the first two games, isn’t particularly worried about scoring his first professional goal. He wants finish the short tournament strong.
“More focused on first win as a professional,” Kraus said. “That’s what we’re focused on more, but goals and points will come.”
After an 18-6 loss to the Denver Outlaws in the first game of the tournament, Connecticut rallied in its second game. Despite losing to the Philadelphia Barrage 14-10, the Hammerheads were competitive throughout and had chances to win.
The squad plays Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with all three games on ESPN+. If the Hammerheads make the championship match Sunday, they’ll play on ESPN at 2 p.m.
Adjusting to the professional ranks, especially in such a competitive and short tournament, presents challenges. Instead of easing into a rookie season and learning the ropes, Kraus has been thrown into the fire from the beginning.
“These guys are the best players in the world,” Kraus said. “They’ve been playing pro for years now, and they know exactly how to play with each other. Defensively, they know exactly how to go, when to slide. Guys’ sticks are at another level, too, so you’re just getting used to that speed and pace of play that the game is at, at this level.”
Competing against the best in the world is one thing. Competing against the best in the world while a heat wave ravages the East Coast is another thing.
Keeping his body in shape to play, especially with three games in three days looming, is on Kraus’ mind this week.
“With this heat, I think it’s been like 120 on the field at one point, just hydrating as much as possible, taking care of your body, eating right,” Kraus said. “They’re providing us meals, all three meals, so that’s been nice, but just doing everything I can to get the legs fresh.”
Playing in the MLL isn’t quite like playing in the NBA or MLB or even the MLS. Kraus and his teammates aren’t bringing in massive paychecks. In fact, some of the guys work remotely during the day prior to the games.
Kraus begins a job in the New York area — he’ll start remotely at first — just a few days after the tournament’s conclusion. The life of a professional lacrosse player isn’t always glamorous, but the competition level is legitimate, and it’s even tougher in the hot conditions.
As Kraus adjusts to the short tournament against elite professionals in 100-degree weather, he’s still grateful to continue playing lacrosse after his time at Virginia. It’s not a typical professional season, but the eight-day tournament beats not playing lacrosse.
“It’s pretty crazy, honestly,” Kraus said. “Just excited we’re able to have this opportunity to get the season in this summer. It’s been a pretty awesome experience so far.”