This is not stuff for history books.
Thirteen straight losses with zero wins. Seven losses with deficits of 20 or more. Last in almost every statistical category in the NCAC: Goals scored, assists, points totaled, shots totaled, man-up scoring, man-down scoring, last in turnovers, last in total penalty minutes (although some might call first in total penalty minutes). All in all, it has been a tough inaugural season for the DePauw Men’s Lacrosse team.
“It’s certainly hard,” junior attack Sam Johnson said. “There is a rational part of me that’s saying, ‘we’re playing established teams with a lot of talent and we’re not going to win,’ but it’s hard to lose no matter what. No matter how much you prepare yourself, it’s hard to lose.”
Johnson is one of the many players that has been a part of the men’s lacrosse team’s first season as a varsity program at DePauw. The team, which existed on campus as a club sport in the past, meaning university funded, but not NCAA affiliated, learned in August 2011 that the program would make the jump after a $1 million donation from DePauw Board of Trustee member and lacrosse enthusiast Steve Trulaske ’79. From there the team has seen the hiring of its first-ever head coach, Carl Haas, along with a $5 million donation to fund the multi-purpose athletic stadium for both the men and women’s lacrosse and soccer stadiums.
So the money and administrative steps have been made, what the men’s team is waiting for next, is the success.
Haas, who has over 20 years of lacrosse experience as a player and coach, most recently as the head coach at Saint Vincent College (Pa.), said he knew coming in that it would be difficult. He arrived on campus in the spring of 2012 to begin work with the then club team.
“(When they told me I would coach club at first), I thought, ‘that’s fine, I’ve never done that before, but sure, sounds good,'” Haas said. “It gave me an opportunity to implement the things that we want to do a year ahead of time. As far as not having a year to recruit, that became much more apparent and obviously it turned out to be a lot tougher than I thought it would be this year.”
The result is a team that has seen the growing pains of becoming a varsity sport in such short time. One doesn’t have to be a lacrosse expert to watch and know these games are lop-sided affairs. But even with the amount of struggle the team has had, there is still a strong level of commitment from Haas and the players. And the improvements are there, even if they are very hard to spot.
“We see it in guys all the time,” Haas said. “(They) might have what I would call a hitch in their throwing motion or how they catch, and then all of the sudden, in an instant in a game, I’ve turned to (assistant coach Jamie Hasser) or (assistant coach Gregory Shandor Devonshire) and say, ‘hey did you just see that? Did you see how he caught the ball?’ I can see that (improvement). I can see how that goes.”
What some see as losing, Haas calls a process. In practice many times he can be overheard telling his players about the little things. How to throw the ball properly, how to hold the stick, how to field ground balls. It’s about making the small improvements. The team even spends time after each game telling each other what aspects of their game they excelled at.
Haas said that all of this is to make the players understand “what may have worked before on one level is not going to work the same on a higher level. And we have to get better at what we do, have to get better at how we do it.”
The idea is to improve now to make something better in the future. Freshman fogo (face off get off) John Zupancic was not recruited but chose DePauw because he learned about its future program. For him, he saw it as an opportunity to be a part of something bigger.
“It’s not many times you get to start something like that,” Zupancic said. “I played football and lacrosse in high school…the football team was there for 60 or 70 years, so you’re part of something someone else built. But one of the things coach said at the beginning of the year was that when people look back, we’re it. We start the tradition. We start what we want. The program is what we want it to be. You don’t have many chances where you’re going to start something like that.”
Haas, Johnson and Zupancic all talk about laying a foundation. Haas calls it “creating a culture.” And right now that culture may not be fully formed, but there is hope.
“None of us want to lose,” Zupancic said. “But in the when the games are over and we lose 20-2, we’ll come back in a couple of years and we’ll beat them 20-2.”
At least 22 recruits have committed to play lacrosse at DePauw next year, a number that would double the total roster of the team and give some needed relief to a team that is small by any normal standards. The team will play their last game of the season Wednesday, May 4 against Olivet at home. It’s the team’s last chance for a win this season. Regardless of the outcome, Haas and the rest of the gang will be looking forward. As he said, “You have to start somewhere.”
“We have a lot of great kids on the team, a lot of great guys, a lot of characters,” Haas said. “I would not want to trade any kind of part for what we have, but it’s been tough. It’s been tough and we’ve had to have a baptism by fire and I only hope guys can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel… we can be a team to be reckoned with.”
This is not stuff for history books.