Morning Jac: 'I'd Rather Lose to Springfield Guy'
Stepping out of the room where the Springfield team was gathered on Sunday to watch the NCAA selection show, Pride head coach Keith Bugbee was asked if the world would explode if he was joined by his former players John Klepacki, who won the Commonwealth Coast automatic qualifier, Mark Theriault, who won the Little East, and Endicott's Sean Quirk, who was waiting on an at-large bid after losing to Klepacki.
"I mentioned that to my family at dinner tonight," Bugbee said at the time. "Would any program have that many guys from the same school who played together make the tournament? It would be really remarkable."
It would be perfect symmetry for the group as Klepacki, Theriault and Quirk were all members of the 1994 Springfield team that won the Division II national championship (the school moved to D-III a couple of years later) that was coached by Bugbee and will be feted in Baltimore during Championship Weekend during their 20th anniversary.
As it played out, Endicott received the last Pool C bid to the tournament, meaning for probably the first time in the history of any sport at any level, a coach and three players that once won an NCAA national championship will also participate in the same quest to win another as coaches.
And in an added twist to the story, the selection committee has matched up the four coaches with each other in the first round. Keene State will be heading to Endicott while Western New England visits Springfield.
In situations like this, one might think that the glory days and friendship are put aside from the moment of the announcement until the end of the game, but that's certainly not the case with Theriault and Quirk. Theriault, who was a two-time All-American middie at Springfield and MVP of the championship game, wasted little time calling Quirk, a two-time All-American goalie who was the winning netminder in '94, when the match-up was announced.
"I already called him [Monday] and heckled him," Theriault said with a laugh. "That's what I love about Division III because it is that student-athlete approach. The attitudes about friendship and experiences are not just with the kids, but with the coaches, as well. It does make it special when you are playing against a teammate. We coach the other team as friends. We see each other all summer recruiting. Sean and I have a special bond with our college experience and the lacrosse championship and all of that. It's bigger than just trying to win a game. At least for me, there's a lot more."
During his conversation with Quirk, Theriault doled out some good-natured ribbing, but also talked about their playing days now 20 years in the rearview mirror. Theriault even suggested to Quirk that the '95 team – the one that was undefeated up until the national championship game – might have been the better squad, which is sacrilege in Springfield circles.
"That team, 20 years later, is still so tight," Quirk added. "Before the game he can pick up the phone and heckle me. And I know that come game time, it will be all business. And that second the clock ends, we'll go back to being great friends. That's how it is with John [Klepacki], too. We play them twice a year for the most part, and it's the same thing. He called me [Tuesday] about the tournament."
The relationship between Klepacki and Bugbee is obviously a little different. Teammate against teammate is one thing, but former player against former coach brings in a different dynamic. All of the coaches have a great reverence for Bugbee, who has mentored numerous coaches at all level of the sport (as highlighted by an article I wrote for Lacrosse Magazine a couple of years ago).
That doesn't change the end goal. For as unwavering as their bond cemented in the crucible of playing together is, all four coaches desperately want to shake each other's hand after the game as the victor.
"I want to win this game more than anything," Quirk said of playing Keene State. "I want to move on and play an opponent [Tufts] who we played earlier on in the season and we lost to. But after the loss we just suffered against Western New England, Klepacki was on cloud nine and I was happy for him. I really was. The same would be true with Mark. I think the world of Mark and he has been a great friend over the years. You never want to lose to anyone, but if you are going to lose, I'd rather lose to a Springfield guy."