This week, the Saint Louis University Men’s Club Lacrosse team began practice for their fall exhibition season. Club lacrosse plays their regular season in the springtime, but the condensed fall schedule offers teams the opportunity for additional practice time and more game experience.
Lacrosse has seen a spike in popularity and participation throughout the country in the last decade. Unlike sports with widespread popularity such as football and baseball, most people have a very limited understanding of the intricacies in the game of lacrosse. Each team has ten players on the field: one goalie, three defenders, three midfielders, and three attackers. Attackers and midfielders use short poles which are more effective for ball movement and scoring, whereas defenders use long poles which maximize reach and defensive effectiveness.
Club lacrosse teams around the country play in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association. The MCLA is made up of more than 200 non-NCAA lacrosse programs and features two divisions and 10 conferences. The SLU Men’s Club Lacrosse team is a member of the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference, which features 13 Division I and 14 Division II teams from primarily the Midwest.
SLU is currently a Division II team in the GRLC South Division, along with Washington University St. Louis, Missouri State and Lindenwood. SLU’s lacrosse team will once again be under the direction of head coach Jimmy Greene and assistant coach Austin Holman. This will be Greene’s second year as the head coach of the Billikens. He was formerly the head coach of the O’Fallon Township High School lacrosse team. The Billikens will return almost all of their players from a season ago. The team stumbled to a disappointing 2-7 record last spring, including a 0-3 record in conference play. The combination of inexperience and injuries proved costly for the Billikens who were trying to establish an identity under Coach Greene in his first season at the helm.
Last season’s win and loss total does not reflect the level of talent on this team. This year’s squad will boast a strong senior class. The group includes attacker Rich Mehan, midfielder Corey Hendershot and long stick midfielders (LSM) Denis English and Eric Levenhagen. Outside of the senior class, the squad is led by club president James Nawalaniec who has been a standout midfielder in his first two seasons with the team.
Despite their record, the Billikens roster features a number of players who have been recognized for their strong performances in the past. In 2012, Denis English was named Third Team All-Conference LSM in his sophomore season. Jake Warren, now a junior, was 2012 Honorable Mention All-Conference on defense as well. Junior Matt Hurley and sophomore Jack Fitzgibbons were Honorable Mention All-Conference selections a season ago, Hurley at LSM and Fitzgibbons on defense. Nawalaniec, too, was a Second Team All-Conference midfielder. Last season he scored 28 goals and added 13 assists, leading the team in each category.
Individual accolades and awards are not the main focus of the SLU Men’s Club Lacrosse team.
“Our primary goal is to win conference” said English, “and we want to qualify for nationals,” which will be held in southern California for the first time.
These goals are within reach for the Billikens, who are poised to improve upon their spring season. The SLU Men’s Club Lacrosse team will play three exhibition games this fall. Keep a close eye on this Billikens squad; this spring they will be shooting for their first winning season since 2008.