Walking out to the field as fans eagerly await the match that is soon to be played, sounds of cleats on the pavement rise above the roaring crowds. Fans cheer with excitement, confident in the Whittier Men’s Lacrosse team’s ability to win against their opponent. While the screaming fans seem to deafen the stadium and months of drills and practices to prepare for moments as such, a church bell rings through Memorial Stadium’s speakers as a signal for the start of the warm-ups.
The head coach of the Men’s Lacrosse Team, Nick Marks, has now entered his second full season at the reins of the team and is aiming for dominant performance this season. As the season currently stands, they boast an impressive ten wins and one loss. They are currently tied with the College’s record of most wins in a single season and look to keep adding to their total. After last year’s disappointing season when they missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, the Poets are determined to get back to the championship conversation.
“We want to compete like a Top 25 program,” said Marks. “That’s where we are trying to build the program.” This is the first recruiting class that Marks has had the chance to create. The team welcomes 17 first-year players to the team, with a majority coming from California and Oregon. One of the team’s new players, First-year Attackman Ronan Dooney, one of Coach Marks’ new recruits, has made a huge impact on the field. Sitting atop the stat sheet as the leading scorer, with 40 points on the season, “When he recruited me, [Coach Marks] told me his four-year plan and it’s going pretty much in that direction,” said Dooney.
That plan started last year during Marks’ first year at the college and is being carried over this year, not only by the coaching staff but the veterans too. A winning culture takes time to grow from the locker room, to the field of play. Marks has found the secret formula quickly, with talented players to the head coaches from the past and present to put together a potential championship team.
“Our success right now is really evident [in] how hard our staff is working and how hard the returners have been working and ingraining these new guys into our program,” said Marks. “The [first-years] are having a lot of success, but it’s a huge credit to the [fourth-years] and [third-years] for bringing them in, taking them under the fold, and keeping us all with one heartbeat.”
The juniors and seniors that are on the team have been through the highs and lows of the program in the short time frame of four years. The 2016 season saw the Poets enter the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. The next year they lost the tournament spot to the Locker-Stabler Cup rival, Colorado College. The Poets then had a losing season the following year while on the downhill turn. Through all of this, the team had to adapt to the change in coaching staff, playbook, and attitude that come from a change of that magnitude.
Fourth-year Jared Holguin Attackman, has experienced first-hand the trials and tribulations that the team has gone through as well as his own struggles. Having missed his second and third seasons due to a knee injury, Holguin has extremely high expectations for this season and the first-year class who will lead the team into future success. “So far, we’re meeting those expectations,” said Jared. “Transitioning from coaches is always tough, and last year we didn’t have the season we wanted, but clearly this season you can tell our program will continue to get better and better. Our coaches have been nothing but helpful to this program.”
The Poets’ 2019 campaign is not done yet. The attitude the team has is set only on glory, hoping to win out the season and end with an overall record of 15 wins and only one loss. First-year Attackman Sergei Jacobs said, “We accomplished a lot this year and we’re not even done.”
It is difficult to not think about the success the team has already amassed throughout the season, but Coach Marks is trying to keep humble and maintain focus towards their next challenge. “We are just focusing on what’s in front of our face every day,” said Marks. “We try not to think too far forward.” The Poets will take one more road trip down the East Coast before ending out the season, as well as one last home game on March 28, where they will face Oberlin College. With all the accomplishments left to achieve before the end of the season, they are almost certainly going to get a ticket to this year’s NCAA National Championship Tournament.Even if the team doesn’t make it, Coach Marks is still satisfied with how his team has played and how they had the chance to play in California, saying, “We’ll play in a parking lot; we’ll play in an alley; we just want to play lacrosse out here.”
Despite trying to keep to Coach Marks’ wisdom, Jared Holguin has high hopes for the new class and the future of Whittier’s Lacrosse program. “I expect these freshman this year — when they’re seniors — to get to the final four. Mark my words on that.”