April 7, 2014

Club Holdovers Lead John Carroll

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Using four holdovers from its club program, including sophomore Jack MacLean (above), John Carroll has raced out to a 9-1 record heading into a big OAC showdown with Otterbein this week. (John Carroll Athletics)

The players saw Brian Small.

While John Carroll was playing its final season of club ball in the MCLA last year, there weren't a whole lot of fans at the games, so it was easy to find Small, who had been hired as the school's first varsity head coach four months earlier.

Small spent much of last spring on the recruiting trail in hopes of filling out the program's inaugural roster in 2014 and had no affiliation with the club program, but he always tried to carve out time to watch them.

"There were a few times that I'd look up to the press box during games and normally it isn't used, but you'd see him up there silently watching," said sophomore long-stick midfielder Jack MacLean. "He never really talked to any of us during the club season, but we knew he was watching and assessing what he had to work with."

"I wanted to make sure that I was performing well at the games he was at because he made it clear that he was going to be watching us when he got a chance," added junior close defender Kevin Werner.

In its last club season, John Carroll won its division within the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association (CCLA) and advanced to the conference tournament, but Small appraised the non-varsity players with a jaundiced eye.

"I went out and evaluated the club talent that we had and tried to figure out which guys wanted to be part of a varsity program," Small said. "Obviously, there is a different mentality from club to varsity."

The Blue Streaks' MCLA outfit typically practiced twice a week and did it with an informality that was light years away from Small's comprehensive approach, honed through years coaching at the Division I and III levels. So he had a chat with the club players to let them know how he would approach their candidacy with the varsity concern.

"I met with those guys and said, 'This is what we're doing,'" Small said. "'This is how the schedule is going on a week-to-week basis, these are my goals and this is what I want to do. If you guys feel that you'd be interesting in trying to do that, I would love to have you and see how you fit it.'"

MacLean and Werner both knew they wanted to play varsity lacrosse, and they were joined by sophomore midfielder Patrick Carney and senior middie Brian Jaszka. However, the contrast between how Small ran his team and the club entity was stark.

"It's a lot more rigid and more structured, which it has to be," MacLean said. "Getting up early and practicing for two hours. It was just a lot more disciplined."

The choice to embrace this new brand of lacrosse has paid off for the four transition players and the rest of the 26-man roster, 20 of which are freshmen. The Blue Streaks have started their first season at 9-1 with the only loss coming in double overtime to Wooster. Playing in the CCLA – one of the better MCLA Division II conferences – definitely gave the four holdovers a good foundation for this inaugural campaign.

"We played against some really good teams like Dayton and Indiana Tech, and just having that experience definitely helped us with the transition," said junior close defender Kevin Werner. (John Carroll Athletics)

"We played against some really good teams like Dayton and Indiana Tech, and just having that experience definitely helped us with the transition," Werner said.

They have contributed on the field to help John Carroll reach its current station, but the four MCLA guys have provided a veteran presence that Small has leaned on to break in his huge rookie class.

"They've been a big part of it," Small said. "Not only from a leadership standpoint, but helping the younger guys get acclimated to John Carroll. How to go about their business from an academic standpoint, etc. Those guys have been quite a treat to have and we've been lucky to have them."

"It's not like we're teaching them or looking down on them, telling them what they should do," MacLean said. "It's just guiding them through and helping out when we can. Just being a good teammate."

"We spend a lot of time with the freshmen, more so off the field" added Werner. "We show them the ropes when we can; tips on college life and how to get used to everything."

Now the Blue Streaks have to get used being a marked team on opponent's schedules. They aren't the lovable start-up program rolling in for an easy win, but a gritty team playing with a lot of confidence.

"A lot of teams in Division III probably looked at us and didn't expect much," Werner said. "Most teams make the transition from club to varsity and don't have the success that we've had. I take a lot of pride, and I know the team does too, in knowing that we've done as well as we have. But we are not really surprised by the results because we believed in our whole team from the get-go."

At this point, John Carroll is on the outside of the Pool B picture because their strength of schedule is what one would expect from a first-year program. If the Blue Streaks knock off Ohio Athletic Conference rival – and 2013 NCAA tourney participant – Otterbein this Saturday, then they'll definitely enter the discussion.

Regardless, this has been a heady year for John Carroll, helped by a quartet of former club players who have laid the foundation.

"In the first year, you'd think you'd have the odds stacked against you, but these guys come to work every day," Small said. "They have a blue collar mentality. We all feed off each other very well. It's been one of the best environments I've been around since I've been playing lacrosse."


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