Aggie lacrosse looking to improve program
Two times a week, a group of 34 athletes gather together on the brand new turf of the Stan Laub Indoor Training Facility. They are not getting scholarships for being there, but rather, they are paying to play. They, like the USU football team, are in a rebuilding era, trying to tap into their full potential and be the best they can be. They are the men's club lacrosse team.
The USU lacrosse team is on the upswing after a rough few years. This year, they have brought in a whole staff of coaches and managers, who are set on turning the program around.
Jonathan Atwood spent the last nine years coaching the lacrosse team he co-founded at Sky View High School. While he was there, he led the Bobcats to three consecutive conference championships and in his last three years there, took them to an overall record of 32-11.
"In 2002 we started with 30 kids who had never played lacrosse before," he said. "Now we have over 100 players from our varsity team down to our fourth-through-sixth grade team."
The Aggies are now the lucky ones, and have brought Atwood in as their head coach.
Kyle Hardy is the captain of the USU team, and vice president of the club. He played a huge part in bringing Atwood to the team.
"In doing the interviews I just really liked his excitement and energy," he said. "You can tell he's organized and that he's committed, more than anything, in making the program succeed."
Before coaching at Sky View, Atwood played lacrosse for USU, so coming back to coach the team was a great opportunity for him.
"I loved playing at Utah State," he said. "It was a lot of fun, but seeing the program dive was hard. I hate watching something that did well go so downhill."
Atwood has jumped in feet-first, and is ready to get the season going and build the program into something excellent.
"We advertised and put the word out that there was a new coaching staff, and then we had a meeting. After the meeting we started having practice," he said. "Once we had our first practice, guys started showing up."
Clark Walker, a junior, said he is already noticing a difference in the structure of the team. He said he thinks the level of organization and management is going to make a huge difference.
"The coaches really know what they're talking about. They have experience. They have winning records. They have resumes," he said.
Hardy said he thinks having a full coaching staff is key.
"All the coaches and the managers have such a connection to the Valley," he said. "They bring that connection which allows the team to grow and get bigger."
The whole coaching staff is from Cache Valley. They live, coach and have gone to school here. They have connections all over the valley and that plays a huge part in recruiting.
"He's good at recruiting and bringing in kids from the Valley," Walker said.
That recruiting is what will play a huge part in the future success of the team.
One of the biggest changes Hardy and Walker would like to see in the team is an increase in the level of commitment.
"We need everyone to treat it like a team, where as in the past it's been more of a selfish kind of game," Hardy said. "We're a team, we're a brotherhood here, not just a bunch of guys who get together. We're actually a team that functions together and works together for the common purpose of building this program."
Walker said conditioning is a huge part of improving the team and each player's commitment.
"Being in the best shape possible and just continually improving is important," he said. "It's a sport where you just keep getting better and better, you don't plateau in this sport."
Hardy said, "Commitment to condition yourself to be a good athlete is really what it takes."
Atwood said conditioning is huge. They have hired conditioning coaches and have mandatory workouts twice a week. This is something new to the USU program that has never been done in a formal setting.
"We are just trying to do our fundamentals," he said. "We have tried to get a core group of guys who know the fundamentals of lacrosse and who can execute them on the field."
As a club team, lacrosse does not garner the same amount of support or funding as varsity university-sponsored sports do. There is not the same amount of organization and responsibility. However, Walker said, "We all just love our sport."
"We want to see it become another great club sport on campus," he said. "Hockey gets a lot of fans and a lot of credit, and I'd love to see the lacrosse team get that same credit."
Most Utah high schools don't recognize Utah State as being a part of competitive lacrosse, Hardy said.
"We're trying to make it recognizable for these athletes that are coming out of high school to come play for us," he said. "We want to give them options comparable to The U, BYU and Westminster. We want to be THE school."
"We want to be the program that's cooler than the rest," Walker said.
The team is looking forward to a season of progression and improvement, but they don't want it to be something they focus on for now, but rather, a permanent mindset.
"It's not one of those things that I expect will get to a peak and then digress," Hardy said. "I expect it to continue to grow and to become the best program in the state."12
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