Part One (Sept. 2008) Free Fall? | Peer Review: Shannon
Part Two (Oct. 2008): Passport to Campus | Peer Review: Gordie Wells
Part Three (Nov. 2008): Too Vested in Verbals? | Peer Review: Lily Ricci
Part Four (Dec. 2008): Piece of the Pie | Peer Review: Ilyssa Meyer
Part Five (Feb. 2009): Best Foot Forward
Part Six (March 2009): Camp Stories | Peer Review: What Camp Best Fits Me?
Part Seven (April 2009): Be True to Your School?
Part Eight (May 2009): Transfer of Power | Peer Review: Q&A with an Early Commit
Part Nine (October 2009): Are You the Diamond in the Rough? | Think D-III
Part Ten (November 2009): Me Time | Peer Review: Kayleigh Hynes
Part Eleven (December 2009): New Beginnings
Recruiting is a topic on which families, prospects, coaches and others expend considerable resources, time and emotion. Lacrosse Magazine will delve into many of the sub-topics involved in a series of articles, augmented by personal stories from young men and women that have recently completed or are in the midst of the recruiting process.
Part Eleven of the series examines the rise of playing opportunities with new Division III programs, and the growing pains recruits should expect should they choose to join them. This article appears in the December issue of LM. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 300,000-plus members today to start your monthly subscription.
Recruiting U: New Beginnings
by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online
Whittier's men's lacrose team endured early lumps in California before earning its first NCAA tournament bid in 2002.
© Brendan Bush
Randolph College sophomore Nick Randall did not expect college
lacrosse to be this tough.
A talented defenseman and a freshman during Randolph’s first-ever season in NCAA competition, Randall found himself on a team with only 15 other players, some of whom had never before played organized lacrosse. The Randolph team predictably struggled, losing all eight of their games by large margins. Moreover, Randall, who had always played close defense exclusively, was forced to expand his skill set, becoming a fixture on extra-man offense and even taking some faceoffs.
Randall’s experience at Randolph, a charming liberal arts college in Lynchburg, Va., which went co-ed in 2007 (it was previously Randolph-Macon Woman’s College), reflects some of the common challenges for players at new Division III programs.
“Last year was the hardest athletic season I’ve ever been a part of,” said Randall, a native of Yarmouth, Maine. “There were definitely times when I didn’t want play. Things are so much better this year. I was taught a ton of leadership skills.”
Unlike Division I, the trend in Division III athletics, where schools cannot provide athletic scholarships and every student pays tuition, is that colleges are adding varsity lacrosse programs as a way to boost enrollment and subsequently improve their financial situations. The additions are providing hundreds of new playing opportunities for high school athletes wishing to continue their lacrosse careers.
The result has been a spread of lacrosse programs at the D-III level at almost epidemic proportions, even in geographic areas where most people’s contact with the sport consists of a few fuzzy memories of “American Pie.” Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon are just a few of the schools which have recently added teams.
Although advocates for the sport have pointed to this unprecedented expansion as a sign that the game has outgrown the cozy confines of the East Coast, what bears consideration for high school prospects is the pain these players and coaches suffer to be competitive. Randolph’s introduction to college lacrosse was made particularly ugly by a lack of depth — head coach Scott Ketcham spoke about a defensive strategy which consisted of a packed-in zone so his middies could rest — but every new Division III team is likely to struggle, even ones with significant institutional advantages.
Take Christopher Newport University (CNU), a state-supported school in Newport News, Va., which launched its program in 2007. Despite being able to offer cheap tuition and a quality education in a state ripe with lacrosse talent, when faced with competitive opponents like Whittier, Hampden-Sydney and St. Mary’s last year, CNU lost by an average of 10 goals.
But the growing pains can be a rally cry in some cases.
“It’s fun being part of something that is a new challenge,” said Ben Shaeffer, a junior captain at Birmingham-Southern College. “I enjoy the challenge to play against teams that might not know or respect your area. It keeps us working.”
Working is exactly what BSC head coach Andy Bonasera has done, particularly following a relatively successful 6-9 inaugural season in Alabama. He believes a number of talented players are under-recruited. He attributes that to the rapid growth of the game at the high school and grassroots level, even in areas not typically known for lacrosse. Not surprisingly, the BSC lacrosse roster reads more like an SEC football roster than a Division III lacrosse one.
As such, this level play has proven it’s a home for athletes, and prior lacrosse experience isn’t always necessary. Randolph senior midfielder Cody Roza came to the school from Granite Bay, Calif., for its political science program. He had never seen lacrosse until his sophomore year. He caught the bug almost overnight, and by the end of his sophomore year was going out every day with Ketcham to play catch until dark.
“It’s definitely been worth it; really, a good challenge,” he said. “I love to go over game tape.”
Consistent among the players was an appreciation for their teams and an understanding that playing for a nascent program means more than counting wins and losses. The players stressed that their experiences involved learning a lot about leadership, commitment and perseverance, and they believed that their close — almost familial — relationships with their teammates had been built as a result of long practices, small improvements and, yes, even dispiriting losses.
Moreover, these new teams have reasons to be optimistic. Muhlenburg College, where Ketcham used to coach, and Ursinus College launched programs in 2003. They have shown that they can be competitive. Mulhenburg made the Centennial Conference playoffs in 2008 and Ursinus beat traditional superpower Washington College in 2007 — signs that the perennially challenging league may have to deal with more balance in years to come.
As rewarding as these players and coaches have found the process, none of the teams are satisfied with their place in the Division III hierarchy, and each seems serious about working to change it.
That can resonate with high school student-athletes looking to make their mark on the next level.
As Ketcham put it: “I’m tired. I haven’t even considered taking a day off since August because, as much fun as I’ve had here, I definitely don’t want to do this building thing again.”