Thursday, April 17, 2008

Goin' Clubbing: Men's Lacrosse

Goin’ Clubbing is a regular feature on Gobbler Country. Each edition is an in-depth look at a different club sport at Virginia Tech. While these athletes aren’t on scholarship, they are still proud to play and represent the university.

It would make sense for Virginia Tech to have a men's lacrosse team. Lacrosse has a long been established in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic and its popularity around the country is growing. Tech also already sponsors a women’s team.

However, the Hokies do not participate in the men’s game. A lot of this has to do with Title IX, which requires athletic programs to provide equal athletic opportunities for men and women. Therefore, in order for Tech to add a men’s sport, it would have to cut a men’s sport or add a on female counterpart.

While there is one main reason Tech doesn’t have a men’s lacrosse team, there are plenty of reasons it should. The sport is popular in the area. And the Hokies play in the ACC, which boasts four tradition-rich lacrosse programs: Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and UVa.

While many fans would like to be able to cheer for a varsity men’s lacrosse team, the current option isn’t bad. The men’s lacrosse club team is one of the best in the nation, is annually ranked in the Top 25 and has made several trips to the national tournament. The Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association is large and well-organized, giving Virginia Tech quality competition.

That strong competition brings in many fans to the club’s games. The support is strong, even if it isn't at the level many in the club think it should be.

“Whenever we have a home game under the lights, the hill always fills up,” said defenseman David Gouldey, a material sciences and engineering junior from Herndon, Va. “Our fans are always loud and supportive as well. I bet we get more people at our games than at the girl's varsity lax games.”

The Hokies didn’t always play a schedule made up of only club lacrosse teams. In fact, Tech could have very easily had a varsity men’s lacrosse team.

The Hokies celebrate a win over FSU this season.

History Lesson

Lacrosse didn’t become an NCAA sport until 1970. When it became an NCAA sponsored sport, several teams that didn’t join the NCAA, including Tech, were granted associate member status. These teams continued to play varsity schedules despite being club teams.

“This was intended to foster the growth of the varsity teams and in some cases, it worked,” head coach Joel Nachlas said. “Both Duke and North Carolina were given the same ‘associate’ designation and evolved into varsity teams.”

Tech did not, but continued to play varsity teams through 1994. After that season, the NCAA barred varsity programs from playing club teams. Club lacrosse started to blossom and become better organized from that point on, Nachlas said.

Nachlas has been Virginia Tech's head coach for all but six years since 1974. He said he has seen the level of play of club lacrosse teams grow exponentially since 1994 and has enjoyed the success of his club. However, he has no interest in men’s lacrosse becoming a varsity sport at Virginia Tech.

“Not to be too critical of varsity programs, but it is my view that college sports should be for the students to play rather than watch,” Nachlas said. “The traditional model of the strong student who enhances his or her college experience with serious athletic achievement is what club sports provide.”

For the Students, By the Students

Nachlas’ reasoning for not wanting Tech to field a varsity men’s lacrosse team is simple. He feels the current team best represents Virginia Tech.

Almost all the players on the club team are from the general student body. They came to Tech for an education first and choose to play lacrosse as well. Not the other way around. Nachlas said 30 percent of the players are in the college of engineering with another 40 percent in the college of business. The Baltimore, Md., native himself is an associate professor in the college of engineering.

“We are true to the tradition of the scholar athlete and to the traditional academic values of Virginia Tech,” Nachlas said. “I believe that the program we have is too beneficial to the students to convert it to something else.”

Nachlas doesn’t recruit high school players. However, he listens when a prospective student inquires about the lacrosse team. He lets the university’s status do the recruiting for him by attracting players that love lacrosse, but also want a quality education.

The results have been remarkable. Several players on the team passed up the opportunity to play for DII and DIII teams in the NCAA and instead came to Tech to be students first and lacrosse players second.

“A lot of the schools I talked to were very small in size and weren’t really what I was looking for,” said attack Tim Tyrrell, a marketing senior from Glen Mills, Pa. “I always imagined coming to a big school with a big time football program, so I decided to come to Tech and play club.”

Freshman midfielder Nick Perkins, from Fairfax, Va., came to Tech despite being recruited by smaller school to play varsity lacrosse. Perkins said he chose to attend Tech because he didn’t want to go to a college that was smaller than his high school. He said he would have been a Hokie even if there wasn’t a club lacrosse team to play for.

It was the same for Gouldey. He grew up watching UVa’s lacrosse team and dreaming of playing DI. However, he quickly realized he wanted to go to school in Blacksburg.

“It came to the decision of whether I'd play varsity lax or go to the school I loved,” he said. “Still there needs to be someone to challenge UVa for the best lax team in the state, and I would still love to get the varsity experience.”

“The Perfect Environment”

However, not all members of the club believe there shouldn’t be varsity lacrosse at Virginia Tech. Gouldey said joining the NCAA ranks is not only necessary for Tech, but for the NCAA and the sport as well.

“Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in high school, yet the college level hasn't kept up with the growth,” he said. “We already have plenty of enthusiasm down here for lacrosse. Virginia Tech would be the perfect environment for a varsity lacrosse team, as plenty of kids come here from the lacrosse hotbed regions of Northern Virginia and Maryland. Plus, we can't have UVa continue to dominate DI.”

The desire to compete with ACC rivals in varsity lacrosse is strong amongst Tech players. The ACC only has four member schools playing lacrosse, but those four are among the strongest in the NCAA. Last year, Duke made the NCAA championship game before falling to Johns Hopkins. An ACC school has made it to the championship game in four of the last five years.

However, there is always room for improvement.

“The ACC is already a great conference for lacrosse, but it’s lacking teams,” Tyrrell said. “I think Virginia Tech should start taking steps to move towards varsity in the near future. I would love to come back and watch men’s lacrosse as a varsity program.”

The debate rages on, both for and against a varsity men’s team at Virginia Tech. However, Perkins has a simple compromise. He said there should be a varsity team to compete against NCAA opponents as well as a club team for players who desire a more relaxed lacrosse environment as well as those who attend Tech and don’t want to give up the sport.

While Virginia Tech does not field a team to compete with ACC rivals in men’s lacrosse, the school is not bereft of a good team. Virginia Tech has established itself as a club lacrosse powerhouse. Even if there is never an NCAA team for Hokie fans to watch, they still have plenty to cheer for.

The players for the men's club lacrosse team at Tech aren't on scholarship. But they have the talent, drive and focus as if they were.

“If someone sees our team or other club teams like ours, they will think they are looking at a varsity program,” Nachlas said. “The quality of play is high. What really matters, however, is the experiences of the team members. Each of the members of the VT men’s lacrosse team is a serious student. Some are stronger than others but all are successful or they cannot continue on the team.”

More resources
Men’s Lacrosse Web site
Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association
Southeastern Lacrosse Conference
Schedule and Results
MCLA National Tournament

The team completed its regular season at 13-1. The SELC Tournament is April 18-20 in Atlanta. The Hokies face either Auburn or Florida at 5 p.m. April 19 at Atlanta's Northview High School in the SELC semifinal. The MCLA national tournament is May 13-17 in Dallas, Texas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If VT went D1 it would take it 20 years or more to be on the same level as the rest of the ACC. VT scrimages Roanoke College (one of the most storied programs in the south along with W&L, uva, and unc) every year and they get dominated. I made the trip to watch them play last year and the score was something like 35-3. The NCAA lacrosse opportunity has passed vt by.