Founded in 1963, Stanford is home to one of the senior college lacrosse clubs in the country. But as many know, age doesn’t necessarily mean stability in the MCLA. Due to location, resources, and various other circumstances, coaching staff turnover can be a common trend. At Stanford, they seemed to have stability through the recent decade, but after the 2016 season, it was time to make a change. The Cardinal program went on the hunt and in November it would be graduate student, and MLL All-Star, Brian Karalunas throwing his name in the ring for the gig. The most decorated Villanova Wildcat of all-time, Karalunas has been his summers causing havoc as an Ohio Machine long pole, but the rest of the year working on a law degree from Stanford. Hungry to spend more time around the game, he jumped at the opportunity to take over the role and start piecing together a staff.
Immediately Karalunas paired with recent Brown graduate, and Denver Outlaws attackman, Bailey Tills. Working in the area, Tills was eager to takeover the offensive side of things and they were able to bring in fellow grad-student Sean Rosenberg to focus on the goaltending. Having a strong foundation, focus turned to unifying the team and creating progress between the lines. With a roster of nineteen guys, one down to injury, and a single goalie to work with, Coach Karalunas wasn’t blessed with quantity, but quality. What they lacks in numbers, the team makes up for in heart, hustle, and dedication. Coming into uncharted waters, Karalunas was incredibly impressed with the entire team’s competitiveness and dedication to the team. Leadership from within played a huge role in keeping the team bound together. Team president Tommy Walker caught the eye of his coaching staff, going above and beyond for the club, on and off of the field, to keep things moving forward.
This is a whole new world for Karalunas, a product of NCAA Division 1 lacrosse. For all MCLA programs, scheduling amongst other schools and within their own program always raises some issues. Luckily for Stanford, the club sports department makes sure to help the lacrosse program as far along as resources will allow, including turf to practice on two hours a day. When it comes to time together, this is the biggest gap Karalunas recognizes between the NCAA and MCLA. He compares the MCLA more closely to the MLL. To him, both can be described as maintenance leagues. The players are expected to lift and study film on their own time. Like the pro leagues, the effort put in when the team isn’t together is what will reap the rewards on gameday. Karalunas believes the small, but focused, program has taken the initiative to do it on their own. They’ve put their pride on the line and have built the culture of a team willing to do what it takes to win.
“Their work ethic has been truly phenomenal. I’ve been so impressed with their competitiveness and the amount of dedication and time they’ve put into the team.” – Coach Brian Karalunas
To Karalunas, there is no difference between the level of competitiveness of the NCAA and MCLA. He feels that the athletes want to win equally as bad, they just don’t have the access to the same resources. The culture they’re building is starting to become contagious and a real college lacrosse atmosphere is growing around campus. Thanks to a group of dedicated supporters, the sidelines are filled with hecklers zeroed in on the visitors of the week. Karalunas and his squad feed off the cheers and boos coming from the far side of the field. The focus is to keep it going through the coming years. Although he only has a year left before obtaining his degree, Karalunas hopes to stay with the program and keep the sights set on the school’s first MCLA Championship. For now, they’re sitting pretty with their only losses coming to top-ranked opponents. Although they’ve recently fallen from the Coaches Poll, Stanford rests atop the WCLL at 3-0. They’ll have another big conference showdown this weekend with #5 Cal Poly, but the real make or break game should be the final week of the season against rival #2 Cal. For the rookie coach’s group, focus is staying on one game at a time to maintaining their flawless conference run.
All Photos by Robert White