Bates College lacrosse coaches Peter Lasagna, left, Tom Fournier and Trevar Haefele celebrate their 13-0 regular season after the Bobcats beat Colby 24-10 on Wednesday.
To some, to see the Bates men’s lacrosse team as the No. 1 Division III team and currently 14-0 in the nation maybe a surprise. From 2008 to 2012 the Bobcats didn’t have a winning season as they had a 3-10 season and three 4-9 seasons in that stretch. They only reached as far the ECAC or NESCAC semifinals in the programs history.
Things started to turn around at the start of the new decade when the Class of 2015 got on campus. They started to get the ball rolling as sophomores they were apart of the team that finished 7-7 in 2013 and their first NESCAC tournament appearance since 2006. The 2014 season was a minor bump in road as the Bobcats suffered their fifth 4-9 season in the past six seasons.
As seniors, all the hard work paid off with a 11-6 record and reaching the NCAA Tournament as an at large berth. They took care of Keene State in the first round 16-11 before bowing out to NESCAC rivals Tufts 13-8 in the second round.
“If you are going to draw a straight line, I would say our 2015 seniors which were the group that led up to a real great win-loss record in a long time after a very disappointing 2014 season,” Bates coach Peter Lasagna said. “They are the people that helped us get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. They get a bow as well. But remember the current seniors were sophomores on that team. They were very well mentored by that group, but they played a pivotal role in our success.”
Charlie Fay was a second team All-American that season, midfielder Kyle Weber and defenseman Fred Ulbrick played all 17 games that season as sophomores. Weber was third on the team in goals with 23 and added 11 assists.
Some of the key seniors in 2015 were attacker Jack Strain, midfielders Conor Henrie and Evan Chen.
Those 2015 seniors practice habits shaped the younger players and the coaching staff has taken notice. They going to the gym in between classes just to work on their shot. Those seniors two years ago also showed how important work in the offseason is.
“We have done a better job or we upped the strength and conditioning component of it and hired Mike Seltzer as the strength and conditioning coach,” Bates assistant coach Tom Fournier said. “He has done a good job. So in the offseason, they are working much harder in conditioning. We’ve seen less injuries then in the past years. Again another small component, but it adds up.”
2015 was a good year overall for the athletic program as the men’s basketball team made a NCAA Tournament appearance as well leading up to the lacrosse season. They won the first two round games before losing to NESCAC rival Trinity College in the Section Semifinals.
When one team is winning it spreads to other programs around the campus.
“It broke somewhat of a glass ceiling for us if you will,” Bates Athletic Director said Kevin McHugh said. “It’s the same thing that happened in basketball, we had two program the first time ever get in the NCAA’s, the first time ever lacrosse hosting a NCAA event here. It wasn’t only important for those programs and it was also important for our department and also important to the college. When we hosted that lacrosse (game), I still have an image in my mind of the President dancing with fans in the stands and the atmosphere around it. It energized the campus in a way that this place hadn’t really seen.”
Going on the recruiting trail
Lasagna said: “you are only as good as your senior class.”
Well to have a good senior class, you have to hit on recruiting. Lasagna said he hasn’t really changed his recruiting methods.
“We’ve always been trying to get the smartest people all over the country, who’s also a fit for Bates College,” he said. “I feel I have been trying to do that forever, but has our National success and as our success in our league maybe have caused some players from high profile programs that maybe wouldn’t include Bates in their search previously? Do they now think I really need to look at Bates? Yeah, I think that absolutely could be true.”
Lasagna has a few examples.
“I think we have another outstanding class coming in next fall,” Lasagna said. “Frank Spitz of Haverford (Gladwyne, Pa.), Haverford is one of the best high school lacrosse programs in the country annually. We have never gotten a player from Haverford before. Again there’s a guy instantly contributing as a freshman. Next year we have the best player from Falmouth, Jack Scribner is coming here next fall. We’ve also got a young man from Bergen Catholic from New Jersey, a school I have never successfully recruited a player.”
Lacrosse is no longer a regional sport that’s just played in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states anymore. Weber, the second leading scorer on this year’s team is from Ohio along with Clarke Jones. There are players from California, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon.
Part of assistant coach Trevar Haefele’s duties is to go to camps all across the country during the summer. Driving across across the country is a grind and you have to have the will power to do it.
“Ultimately, it really comes down to getting on the road, the willingness to do it,” Haefele said. “That was also was a learning curve. But it comes down to the willingess to give up your time. That’s where you figure out if you love the game. I mean, I love the game and being around all this stuff. It works out pretty nicely, it’s something I love. You got to love being on the road.”
Support from the administration and alumni on updating facilities
Something that goes hand and hand with recruiting is a shiny new toy or updated facilities and that’s what Bates did in 2010 as they made improvements to Garcelon Field which was first built in 1899. The field received new FieldTurf surface, Musco lights, grandstand, press box, and scoreboard.
Their first season on the new surface was in 2011.
Those improvements were brought by donations from the alumni lacrosse and football teams.
“Kevin McHugh support and the support staff has always been there,” Lasagna said. “Kevin has been here for ten years and the support has always been great. For Garcelon Field specifically, yes, the upper level of administration, former President Elaine Hansen and board of trustees had to be on board. They were, they were strongly on board or that project wouldn’t have happened. The funds were 100 percent donor based. Football alumni and parents and lacrosse alumni and parents funded that renovation.”
The lacrosse team isn’t the only team that’s having success on the new field.
“That’s also reflected on the success our football team has had,” McHugh said. “I mean it’s somewhat relative, the last couple of years we have been (Colby-Bates-Bowdoin) champs, but not the 5-3 we were a couple of years ago. We had broken a 30 year streak where we hadn’t had a winning season. I don’t think that was coincidental. Having the facility, the support of parents to make that happen. Being able to use that as part of an indicator of where our programs were aspiring to go.”
The location of the field also helps as it sits in the middle of the campus and the center of the city also helps. Some NESCAC schools fields sit outside of campus where it makes difficult for the student body to get out to games.
Familiarity among the coaching staff
Any successful head coach has very good assistant coaches. For Lasagna he has been around his assistants in some shape or form since he arrived at Bates in 2001. Tom Fournier wnt to Peter when he first arrived to see if he would go in front of the Lewiston School Board to help Fournier start the lacrosse program at Lewiston High School. Lasagna did and Fournier begun coaching at Lewiston. He joined Lasagna staff in 2007 until 2012. He rejoined Bates coaching staff last season. Haefele has been around the Bates lacrosse team since he was a little kid as his father is David Haefele who’s an equipment manager for the athletic program. He played lacrosse growing up and attended St. Dom’s going against Fournier when he was coaching Lewiston.
The only time Haefele hasn’t been around the Bates program is when he played lacrosse at Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. and a year of being an assistant coach at St. Dom’s.
“Trust me, none of them are doing it to get rich because they are committed to Bates Lacrosse and the students at Bates,” Lasagna said of Fournier and Haefele. “This year we added Mike Lebel who did an amazing job building up the Falmouth High School program and he was available. He wanted to come to work with us. There are no coincidences. We are having the best year we ever had and we have the most complete, deepest in terms of age and experience on our staff that we ever had.”
The friendship between Lasagna, Fournier and Haefele helps them professional.
“There’s a comfort level, obviously we get along well professionally but there’s a comfort level when we like to hangout together,” Fournier said. “That’s fun too.”
They have been together so much the past 17 years together, the bond is much more than professionals or friends.
“It’s a certain level of comfort, I am sure many programs don’t have,” Haefele said. “It’ something I think about all the time, it’s honestly much (about) family than anything. I think that relates into our culture we are trying to create here. The family atmosphere where we are willing to talk to each other and listen to each other. I think it comes through to the team.”
Bates’ Charlie Fay and Andrew Melvin celebrate after Melvin’s goal.The rain falls on Bates College midfielder Andrew Small before Wednesday’s matchup against Colby College.Head coach Peter Lasagna and the Bates Bobcats finish the regular season 13-0.Falmouth native Charlie Fay scored a career high six goals against Colby on Wednesday.Members of the Auburn Recreation Lacrosse Program line up to congratulate the Bates Bobcats after Bates beat Colby 24-10 on Wednesday. The Auburn coaches canceled practice Wednesday so that the kids could come watch Bates finish a perfect regular season.