As long as five years ago, DeSales boys lacrosse coach Matt Triplet couldn't help noticing that highly touted midfielder Mason Rickens exclusively used his left hand on the field.
By the time Rickens was a freshman and already had committed to Rutgers, Triplet's curiosity got the best of him.
"I asked him No. 1, why don't you ever go to your right (hand)? It was difficult and he eventually told me he had cerebral palsy in his right hand," Triplet said. "Because he has to go left, he's gotten really creative in the way he can free up his left hand. He has to be creative with how he gets that open shot, open pass, whatever you want to call it."
It never stopped Rickens, who called his condition "a blessing," from making a tremendous impact during a three-year career that was shortened first by an ankle injury, then by the cancellation of this season because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Rickens, a Lewis Center resident who committed to the Scarlet Knights two months and five days before his first high school game, earned his spot in the Stallions' starting lineup as a freshman and became a mainstay. In the final game of his sophomore season, he had three goals and three assists in the Division II state final to power DeSales to a 13-5 win over Toledo Ottawa Hills and the program's second state championship.
"That's been my biggest thing, to never let it be an excuse to not be able to play or be the best athlete I can be, but it has been tough," said Rickens, who was born with cerebral palsy on the right side of his body but underwent intensive physical training growing up and now largely has limited its effects to his hand. "More than anything, it's been a blessing because it's pushed me harder to be as good as I can be because I've had to work harder to do the things I can do.
"It is a disability, you could say, but it's helped me have that attitude of working hard and being a leader out there and having a strong work ethic."
Rickens, who has difficulty gripping the stick with his right hand, missed most of last season because of his ankle injury but still served as a team captain. Despite Rickens' injury as well as setbacks that kept All-American and leading scorer Tommy Clayton and Ohio State recruit Carter Hilleary out for much of the season, the Stallions went 14-7 and reached a state semifinal before losing to Cincinnati Mariemont 8-6.
Triplet said he let Rickens know in no uncertain terms that his leadership needed to increase this season.
"If you're injured, you're just not as engaged the entire time. It's like the kid in the classroom who's bored and has nothing else to do, so he's the class clown. Three of our four captains were injured much of the year, so we struggled with that leadership," Triplet said. "This year, he stepped up. He led a lot of our team activities in the offseason. He's always the first to respond when I need him. If there's an issue, he always is the first one to get the conversation going."
The team held Zoom meetings at 7 p.m. each Monday during what would have been the season, and Rickens continued to give his younger teammates any needed advice even as his time in the program wound down.
Rickens graduated May 30, although because of the pandemic he is unsure when he will move to college. His roommate will be Stallions defender Dante Fuller, another Rutgers recruit.
"(The meetings were) just an opportunity for some normalcy, some way to connect with the team. It's good to have something normal, some kind of routine," Rickens said. "I want the guys to keep improving even though this is a different time."