Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.
With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.
RECENT "FALL BALL
BLITZ" STORIES | ARCHIVE
Going Back to Cali: NDNU Alters Its Focus
|Senior Greg Bearson led the Argos in scoring last year
with 31 points and will be the engine for the offense as NDNU
attempts to win the first-ever Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse
© NDNU Lacrosse
The Notre Dame de Namur program is the baby of Doug Locker, the
architect of the successful Whittier program who came to NDNU as an
athletic director and put the school on the NCAA scene. With the
help of one of his former assistants at Whittier, Joe Romano, the
Argos were built using a similar model that proved so successful
with the Poets.
The primary part of that blueprint was to lure Canadians and East Coast players to the West Coast in order to hit the ground running. But now Locker, Romano and one other coach have come and gone, leaving the program in the hands of Steve Dini starting last season.
Dini's arrival marks the beginning of a new recruiting era for the Argos.
"Four years ago they had a roster of 40 players and only four kids from California," said Dini, referring to the early days at NDNU. "I think that hurt the team a little bit in the local area and we're trying to change that. We're a Western United States team and we need the support of the families. It works better for us when we have local kids."
In fairness, the Locker model made sense at the time. Ten years ago there were about 30 high schools in the entire state that offered varsity lacrosse. Heading into the 2011 season, there are roughly 215, supplying enough talented players for the NCAA and MCLA programs that inhabit the Golden State.
"There are a lot more kids to choose from," said Dini. "Kids from the Bay Area and Sacramento are good players and good athletes, and it's important for us to give an opportunity to those kids who are talented enough to play at our level to stay here."
He's done that. In just over a year, Dini has brought in 18 players – half the team – and has changed the composition of the roster to closely reflect his concentration on the West Coast.
Alas, as California high schools improve, they are now drawing keen interest from East Coast collegiate programs. When you include high school hotspots like Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix, it's becoming essential for NCAA programs to put the western part of the country on the recruiting itinerary.
Whereas last year Dini was going up against MCLA programs for recruits, now it's other NCAA D-II schools.
"Because of the success West Coast kids are having in varsity programs, you're finding more and more varsity teams out here [recruiting]," said Dini. "I'm hearing more and more about the Carolina teams out here recruiting. That's going to change the landscape. Two or three years ago you could go to a game and none of those kids would be recruited to a varsity program and now kids are seeing their buddy go, and once that happens expectations change."
A lot of things are changing at NDNU. Gone is the "outpost mentality" that forced the program's creators to look east or north to fill the roster, replaced by a coach trying to build from the inside out.
Expectations are changing at NDNU, as well. And they are only getting higher.
FALL BALL BLITZ
Team: Notre Dame de Namur
2010 Record: 6-7 (Independent)
2010 In Review: While the Argos were the top D-II program in the West, swings through the Central and South regions produced a 2-5 mark with the wins coming against Wingate and Queens.
Goodbye... Conrad Clevlen. Although he was ranked second in the country in ground balls (131) and sixth in face-offs (66 percent) last year, Clevlen was no FOGO. He finished fifth on the team in points with 14 goals and seven assists. "You're losing someone who has a great face-off percentage and also scores, and that kind of production is hard to replace," said Dini. Was Clevlen a leader at NDNU? Well, in addition to being a captain of the lacrosse team, he was also the student body president.
Hello... Jordan Wagner. Size adds another dimension to most attack units and Wagner, a frosh out of Bainbridge Island (Wash.) High School, will provide that for the Argos. At 6-foot-4, 215lbs, he's a load. "He brings some size, speed and skill, and we're really excited about him," said Dini. Also keep an eye on transfer Will Chuch. He joins NDNU after starting his academic career at the Air Force Academy. He didn't play lacrosse for the Falcons, but had a solid prep career at Amidor Valley (Calif.) High School, and will add to the defensive depth.
Offseason Developments: The western Division II
schools, which will increase to five this spring when Mesa State
and Adams State – both of Colorado – join NDNU,
Domincan and Grand Canyon, have created a league. The Western
Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association was devised in order to name a
champion (which will not involve a tournament), players of the
week, and an all-league team at the end of the season.
With no automatic qualifiers in Division II, conferences play a different role than in Division III. The WILA will be a loose confederation that will not only assure games – the Argos will actually have six home games this year, which includes Adelphi and Rollins – but perhaps act as a catalyst for other institutions looking to make a move to varsity and are eyeing stability. "It's what you need to do in non-traditional areas," said Dini.
In addition to the new league, Dini has overhauled the NDNU coaching staff. With the departure of Gary Podesta, who returns as the head coach of Santa Clara (MCLA-1), the Argos have added five new assistants.
Derek Pedrick, who was an assistant at Siena College last year, takes over the role as first assistant but is also joined by Rick Blick, who was a three-time All-American at Hobart, a member of the 1978 World Team, and a former coach at Boston College during its Division I days. Former Denver captain Deke Jackson and his father Dana (who played at Hobart) will be helping on a volunteer basis along with Matt Fredericks, who played briefly at Georgetown and is currently the assistant coach at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco.
Big Question: After three different coaches in four years, can the Argos all get on the same page? There has been a considerable roster turnover in just the 13 months that Dini has been at the helm of the program, which will present plenty of challenges. "For us, the key element is teamwork," said Dini. "We have to learn to play as a team. If we can do that, we're going to be a tough to beat."
Fall Schedule: The fall schedule kicks off this Sunday (Oct. 17) when the Argos entertain MCLA Division I teams Cal and Stanford. The following weekend, NDNU will host its alumni game. The fall season wraps up on Nov. 6 when two other Bay Area MCLA teams – Santa Clara and Sonoma State – travel to Belmont for another play day.