Corey Hall is well acquainted with handling adversity.
His dream of attending and playing lacrosse for the Coast Guard Academy was derailed by a back injury.
The 2017 Easton High graduate rebounded nicely, transferring to Furman (S.C.) University, where he transitioned from offensive to defensive midfielder, a position he had never played. Hall started all 14 games last year as a sophomore for the Paladins — a team high — and extended that streak to 21 consecutive starts this spring before the coronavirus forced Furman — and every other school in the country — to cancel the remainder of its spring sports seasons.
But on Monday, May 18, the 6-foot-1, 191-pound junior defenseman suffered a deeper disappointment, when Furman announced it was disbanding its Division I men’s lacrosse program because of the significant financial concerns created by the coronavirus.
“I was actually on the way down to Salisbury University with a couple of buddies,” Hall said. “We got an email earlier that day that said, ‘Hey, important zoom call at 3 p.m.’ I’d already planned to go down to Salisbury to help my buddies move out of their apartment. So I was on my phone, I logged onto the call. And immediately I saw the athletic director and some other administrative people. That’s when I kind of knew that something wasn’t good. We didn’t know if it was like our coaching staff getting fired, or like the worst, like it did happen with the program. And ultimately that’s what happened.
“It crushed all of us,” Hall continued. “I went home that night and it was a tough night. I talked to a couple of my buddies that said they broke down right away. It was tough. Still is tough. Obviously you go through three years with some of those guys and build friendships that can’t be broken and then all of a sudden it’s all taken away from you.”
But Hall learned early in his collegiate career the pain of having something taken.
He had become one of the Bayside Conference’s top offensive threats, scoring 30 goals his junior year at Easton, before bagging 40 goals and 28 assists his senior year to earn selection to the All-State senior team.
A lifelong dream of attending the Coast Guard Academy became a reality when he received an appointment in 2017. But during his swab summer — basic training for the academy — Hall injured his back and was medically discharged. He came home, got healthy and considered returning, but then reevaluated his situation.
“There was some medical concerns on their end and I was going to have to go through the whole medical process again,” Hall said. “And I was concerned going through I might not be able to get back in, considering I had been injured before. So instead of risking that, and potentially wasting a year if I had not gotten back in, I decided to go to Furman and play lacrosse.”
Hall headed to Greenville, S.C., and played in six games as a freshman for a Paladins’ program that had been started just four years earlier and was under the direction of former Navy head coach Richie Meade, who decided to turn the sharpshooter into a defenseman.
“I had never played defense once in my life,” Hall said. “And so my freshman year at Furman, I played defensive midfield, short stick.”
Hall again returned home for the summer and packed on 25 pounds of muscle before heading back for his sophomore year.
“The coaches, as soon as I got back, essentially they were like, ‘All right, we’re going to put a pole in your hands,’” Hall said. “They put the pole in my hand and I went all fall and all spring, ended up starting every game since. So it worked out pretty well.”
Meade, who had seen Hall play in high school, agreed.
“We were fortunate to get him,” Meade said. “He was a really good athlete, could have been a defensive midfielder with a short stick. But I decided we’re going to put a pole in his hand, which isn’t unusual for me. So he was playing up on the defensive midfield with a long pole; great on the wing on the faceoff. And then he was one of the guys that we had that could cover a quick, little attackman so we moved him to close defense and he did well. And that’s the end of the story.”
Well, actually there’s more.
“There’s two things about being a defensive player,” Meade said. “Number one is playing on the ball. Number two is playing off the ball. And number three, at this level, it’s making decisions; when to slide and when not to slide. And that’s all other things.
“I think his transition playing on the ball was good,” Meade said. “I think playing off the ball and those judgment calls they needed some development. We threw him and his teammates, the guys that would have been seniors (next year) into the fire two years ago. We play a pretty tough schedule and there was some hard lessons. And he significantly improved in those areas I mentioned.”
Hall — who led the Paladins with 42 ground balls and 22 caused turnovers — improved so much he earned the Jackson Roberts Defense award last year, given to Furman’s defensive MVP in honor of the former player and student assistant coach who was killed in a motorcycle accident on Jan. 12, 2018 at age 22.
“It meant a lot,” Hall said of the award. “I came (to Furman) in the spring of my freshman year and Jackson had passed away probably about a week into my time there. I didn’t have a chance to know him well, but just to have that award … Jackson was a great player. He was the type of player that made everyone laugh, made everyone smile, worked hard, did everything he could to help the team. To be able to receive that award in his name was something I was proud of, and something that meant a lot to me just because of who is was as a person.”
Though Furman was off to a 1-6 this season, that included losses to No. 13 Duke (19-6), third-ranked North Carolina (18-11) and No. 7 Penn State (22-7) in a one-week stretch, Meade was encouraged from what he saw from Hall and his team heading into Southern Conference play.
“He maintained his focus and concentration when things weren’t going well, which however you define it, was a level of poise,” Meade said of Hall, who ranked second on the team this season with 14 ground balls. “We played Carolina, Duke and Penn State all in one week. It was tough. I felt like we really improved from the standpoint, not score-wise, but our focus, concentration, and our approach was great. And I was looking forward to the back half of the season, where we would have played in our league, and had the opportunity to compete in our league; make our league playoff and do well there, which is an optimistic view, but that’s sincerely how I felt. And I think our entire team felt that way.”
Hall shared his coach’s optimism.
“Coach Meade likes to play the best teams he can and there’s a couple of games we maybe should have won, or should have been a little bit closer,” Hall said. “Obviously it’s going to be nearly impossible for us to get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. Our road to that tournament is winning the SOCON (Southern Conference). So Coach Meade’s philosophy, which I agree with, is to play these great teams, and once you play these great teams you figure out how UNC does it, you figure out how Duke does it, Penn State. And then you can kind of mimic that going into your conference schedule, where the teams are much more like us. And we’re better because of it.”
Furman was scheduled to begin its conference slate on Saturday, March 14, against the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. But two days before an administrator broke the news at practice that the trip was off.
“I think the next day they had canceled the season, but we all thought that is was because we had to fly,” Hall said. “We were still holding out hope that we’d play the games that we could bus to. And then once everything started hitting, like the Ivy League canceled and the ACC canceled, that’s when we kind of knew we were in the works. We were kind of all just monitoring everything, and once the NBA season was canceled we kind of all figured that our season was going to be done, too.”
But Hall and his teammates thought only a season was lost, not a program.
“We had had a zoom call with the athletic director maybe three weeks before and I ask, ‘Hey, is there any chance that our program is affected because of the coronavirus, and his answer was, ‘No.’ He said it wasn’t affected. Whether he knew that the process was in the works I’m not sure, but to our knowledge we had no idea it was going to happen.”
Hall, who is studying politics and international affairs, said he is still figuring out what his next move is. He entered his name in the transfer portal three weeks ago, and has the option to return to Furman because he has only one year left.
“I talked to a couple of other coaches and I’m just trying to figure that out,” Hall said. “And I’m trying to figure out what’s the best option financially, academically. And obviously it’s important for me to go to a good academic school. And the only way that it would be possible for me to leave Furman would be a school that is as good academically and as affordable, because Furman is honoring the scholarships that they were giving us in the meantime.”
While Hall said the adversities he’s faced over the past four years have carried different degrees of pain, Furman’s disbandment has carried a different sting.
“It’s hard to like weigh all of them,” Hall said. “The Coast Guard Academy, that hurt because that was lifelong dream of mine.
“But this is a little bit different,” Hall continued. “Because when you spend three years of waking up at 5 a.m. to go to a 6 a.m. film, then you head to 7 a.m. practice, then you have class until 3, then you’re lifting at 4, you’re putting forth all that effort, and the bond you make with the guys you’re going through that with is incredible. And to have that just ripped away, that was devastating.
“It was about lacrosse, but it was more about just the fact I mean now we’re not going to experience our senior year of that. We’re not going to be able to be the leaders of the team and have it be our team. We really thought it was going to be a special year this year and the year after. Essentially every kid in my grade contributed to the team, and the fact that we were all going to be seniors was pretty special. Like we were going to have an older team with plenty of experience. Off the field we were as close as can be. We’ve lived together for three years. We were basically inseparable at this point.”
Hall and Meade have spoken since the verdict cutting the men’s program was reached. And as deflating as it has been, both have digested that decision and are moving forward.
“It’s disappointing, but they’re resilient,” Meade said. “They’ll get over it. They’ll figure it out. Even with the circumstances here, it’s not the worst thing that ever happened in the world. When I was at the Naval Academy there was a guy that I met, a 24-year-old that had his legs blown off in Afghanistan. That a was tragedy. This is an inconvenience that can be overcome.
“He’s a wonderful student and very good kid,” Meade said of Hall. “So he’s going to do fine.”
Hall sounds like he’s already moving in that direction.
“We understand things happen,” Hall said. “Whether we agree with the decision or disagree with how it was handled is beside the fact. But at certain points you have to accept the fact that it happened. You can’t control everything in the world and sometimes stuff like this happens and you just got to move on and deal with it.”
Corey Hall has a history of doing just that.