Bates College lacrosse player Matt Chlastawa prior to a recent practice at Bates College in Lewiston. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

 

LEWISTON — The bruised heel and bruised ribs that held Matt Chlastawa out of practice Wednesday are the price he pays for being one of the top Division-III lacrosse players in the nation.

The Bates College junior attack spent Wednesday the way he’d spent Monday and Tuesday, watching practice as the rest of the Bobcats prepared for Saturday’s home NESCAC game against Hamilton, their first conference tilt since Williams handed them their first NESCAC loss last Saturday.

The quarterback of the 6-2 Bobcats (3-1 in NESCAC) high-speed attack just shrugs off the physical toll as part of the nature of the game.

“It all depends on what the defense is throwing at us,” he said. “If I end up hanging behind the net, it’s good, but sometimes I have to dodge, sometimes I have to take a hit to take that extra step.”

Bates coach Peter Lasagna has asked the 5-foot-7, 165-pound Chlastawa (pronounced lah-Stah-vah) to do a lot of dodging and take a lot of punishment over the past two years, so a little down time has been in order this week as Bates heads into the stretch drive of its brutal conference schedule.

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The Bobcats’ leading scorer this season and last, Chlastawa has fearlessly taken on more and more of the goal-scoring load over the past two years after establishing himself as one of the top distributors in NESCAC as early as his freshman year.

“He is putting himself in harm’s way,” Lasagna said. “You could have his gifts as a feeder and just choose to hang out behind the goal and throw the ball to other people and you’re not going to get hit. He chooses not to do that.”

“You either are that person or you’re not,” Lasagna said. “Your coach and your teammates can’t convince you, I don’t care how big or small you are, to go beat your defender and then run into an area of the field where you’re absolutely going to get knocked down every single time.”

Bates College lacrosse player Matt Chlastawa prior to a recent practice at Bates College in Lewiston. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

Chlastawa has gotten better at keeping his head up, recognizing when defenders are sliding to him and finding an open teammate or firing off a shot before he takes a hit from an opponent, Lasagna said. But Chlastawa knows it comes with the territory around and in front of the net.

“That’s kind of how it’s always been, just kind of growing up through high school and stuff like that. Everyone wants to hit the small guy,” Chlastawa said.

A Westfield, Massachusetts native, Chlastawa’s first passion was hockey. He also played soccer and and dabbled in baseball before falling in love with lacrosse as a teenager.

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Growing up in a lacrosse hotbed like western Massachusetts, he was able to develop quickly while playing on travel teams for some of the top coaches in New England, such as Greg Cannella of the University of Massachusetts and John Klepacki of Western New England. Bill Mason, a former Bates assistant coach who is now the head coach at Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts, knew him from a young age and recruited him to Bates.

Blessed with the speed and quickness to separate from defenders and a knack for getting his hands free in traffic, Chlastawa was a perfect fit for Bates’ up-tempo offense and made an immediate impact as a freshman. He finished second on the team with 85 points (53 goals, 32 assists) while helping Bates ascend to No. 1 in the D-III polls and reach the NCAA championship quarterfinals in 2017.

“That season kind of flew by,” Chlastawa said. “But winning is always a good time.”

Skeptics wondered if he could continue to be so prolific as a sophomore after all-Americans Charlie Fay and Kyle Weber graduated. Chlastawa erased all doubts by taking on more of the goal-scoring and playmaking responsibilities, netting 48 goals and dealing out 49 assists to finish fifth in the nation in assists per game (3.06) and points per game (6.06).

“He carried much more of the load, as a sophomore, because he had to,” Lasagna said. “He was exactly evenly distributed between goals and assists and he scored 12 more points.”

Chlastawa fed off of the doubters, of himself and the Bobcats.

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“Whenever you come off a year like that and you lose a lot of players, you’re kind of disrespected in the rankings, and that kind of chip on our shoulder is something our whole team tries to embody,” he said.

Chlastawa’s earned national honors and recognition, being named all-New England last year and honorable mention All-America the past two years.

He became a viral star last spring when he and teammate Brendan Mullally hooked up on a highlight reel play in a game against Keene State.

Chlastawa made a behind-the-back pass over his left shoulder in front of the net to Mullally, who made a behind-the-back shot for a goal. The highlight went global when it earned No. 1 on ESPN Sportcenter’s daily “Top 10.”

The play wasn’t out of character for Chlastawa, a co-captain who plays the game with flair and has his coach’s whole-hearted support.

“If you have done wall work every day of your life to acquire the really high level of stick skills that Matt has, you’ve got to be able to have some fun with it,” Lasagna said. “He has created the player that he is. Every day since he’s been at Bates, I’ve seen him put work in. He is a lacrosse junkie. He is watching other people all of the time.”

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Lasagna and Chlastawa agree that the flair gives him and the Bobcats a boost but also may increase the size of the target on his back.

“I think if you’re having fun, it takes a lot of the stress away from playing,” Chlastawa said. “And if an opponent sees you’re having fun and you’re playing well, then they’re probably not going to be having fun. But I think it’s more about focusing on ourselves than trying to get into (opponents’) heads.”

The Bobcats have already shown if they put their minds to it they can beat anyone, having already defeated defending national champion and top-ranked Wesleyan, 15-12, at Garcelon Field earlier this month behind Chlastawa’s five goals and five assists.

“We’re probably going to win on most days that Matt Chlastawa is five-and-five,” Lasagna said.

Chlastawa sees no reason to take that for granted in a conference full of strong lacrosse programs.

“Anyone can beat anyone in the NESCAC,” said Chlastawa, a rhetoric major and history minor. “You can’t really sleep on anyone in this league, and that’s why we love it.”


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