During the long weeks of social distancing and quarantine, Hayden Jones decided to do something productive.

The Mayo senior lacrosse standout is the best goalie in the Big Nine Conference and has committed to Division III powerhouse Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

But Jones is never fully satisfied, so he went back and watched all the film from his sophomore year. He deciphered the film, hunting for weaknesses and trying to figure out how attackers tried to score on him. The player that he sees on film from 2019 and the player he is today are two totally different people.

“My steps are a lot different,” Jones said. “I’m definitely a lot better. I’m watching and going, ‘How did you let that happen?’”

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The Spartans finished 7-6 overall and 7-3 in Big Nine play in 2019 and Jones was named honorable mention All-Big Nine as a sophomore. Even after not getting a chance to play last year — spring sports in Minnesota were canceled due to the pandemic — Jones believes he’s going to show that he’s a more well-rounded goalie. The attributes that help him stand out aren’t going anywhere.

"I play defense in hockey and I like when I can check people,” Jones said. "Although my goalie coach hates it, I do come out of the net and I’m physical. I make players scared to come into the crease. If they get that open crease shot and their back is turned, they know if they turn around, I’m going to come out and hit them.”

It makes attackers think twice about venturing right in front of the net thinking that they have opportunities for easy goals. Jones has spent plenty of time in the weight room. Since last June, he’s transformed his body thanks to workouts at ETS Performance in Rochester.

“The coaches there are so awesome and they push us to be the best we can be,” Jones said. “The programs that they give us have gotten me so much more explosive and stronger."

Mayo goalie Hayden Jones (24) walks out for player introductions before a Big Nine Conference game against Century on Friday, May 17, 2019, at Mayo High School in Rochester.
Mayo goalie Hayden Jones (24) walks out for player introductions before a Big Nine Conference game against Century on Friday, May 17, 2019, at Mayo High School in Rochester.

Mayo boys’ lacrosse coach Adam Gibson is high on his Spartans because he believes he has the best goalie in the Big Nine, a guy who can be a game changer.

There’s been a buzz and excitement around the practices as the Spartans enjoy being back together on the field. Jones is the leader of that excitement, a player who sets the tone on a daily basis.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Jones said. “We were a pretty young team so we’re returning a lot of young talent. So if this year isn’t our year, then I think these sophomores and freshmen that are coming up are going to do really good. I’ve enjoyed it so much just being back with the boys and seeing all of our coaches again. It’s been such a good feeling.”

There’s obviously a sense of thrill and excitement to be back on the field after two years off, but Jones was just happy to be back with a Mayo coaching staff that’s invested a ton of time into the guys. Sebastian Baker — a Mayo assistant and goalie coach who’s nickname is "Seabass" — has had a life-changing impact on Jones that he won’t forget long after he dons a Spartans’ jersey for the very last time.

“'Seabass' is the reason why I’m going to Carthage and the reason why I’m playing college lacrosse,” Jones said. “I’m a completely different person because of him, not just athletically and goalie-wise, but personally and my character and how I act. He’s just been so nice to me. He’s another father figure. If I’m in a tough spot I’ll go, ‘What would Seabass do in that situation?’”

There’s a maturity and calmness about Jones. He’s not afraid to speak up and speak out. He has an innate ability to connect with his teammates and coaches in a special way, because Jones is a special player and person. When the Spartans run out onto the field for the very first time in two years today to play St. Michael-Albertville, Jones is going to lead the way. And he’s hoping to lead Mayo back to the state tournament for the first time since 2013.

"Mayo High School is the only high school that’s made the state tourney other than a team from the cities," he said. "Every time we play a Cities team, it gets me a little angry and a little 'eye of the tiger,' like, 'Hey let's go. Let’s do what they did in 2013 and show it to the Cities teams.’"