It would be fair to assume that unless you’re living in a non-traditional lacrosse area, you probably don’t pay much attention to the MCLA. If you do, it’s probably because you’ve recognized that there is some very good college field lacrosse played in all corners of the United States as well as Canada. Outside the wealth of lacrosse in New York state, and other bubbles along the eastern seaboard, opportunities to play lacrosse beyond high school have historically been few and far between. Community colleges that field lacrosse programs are almost strictly located in the Northeast and teams competing in any division of NCAA lacrosse rarely plant their roots west of the Mississippi river.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen lacrosse booming at a rapid pace across the globe, not just in the United States, creating a demand for more lacrosse to be played than ever before, and the college club level has been booming ever since.
If you’re not acquainted with college club lacrosse, here’s an introduction. From Maine to British Columbia, Southern California to the tip of Florida, 97 Division 1 club teams join another 101 from Division 2 to constitute the current Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA). Started in 2006, the purpose has been to found competitive collegiate lacrosse clubs at colleges where NCAA lacrosse is not present. When you read “club”, don’t think old schools intramurals!
More and more players are making the decision to forgo NCAA lacrosse to compete in the MCLA, all for good reason.
Not only can the MCLA programs offer the chance to pursue specific educational paths, live closer to home, or the ability to go to school and play lacrosse away from the East Coast, but it’s also a chance to play the game at an elite level, compete for a National Championship (which comes with rings), and even open the doors to move on to higher competition.
Since the very beginning, constant connections have been made between club lacrosse and the MLL, NLL and NCAA. In 2006, Colorado State became the first program to feature alumni playing professional lacrosse when Alex Smith became a goalie for the Outlaws. Kevin Crowley played at SFU before Stony Brook, now he plays NLL and MLL. A number of MCLA players have also seen time in the pro box leagues. In 2008, Michigan’s Brekan Kohlitz was the first MCLA player drafted to the MLL, and then Chapman’s Connor Martin entered the scene in 2010 and helped put the club division on everyone’s map.
Speaking of Michigan, Coach John Paul operated the club under the school’s model for NCAA sports and created the blueprint for building a D1 program from scratch. After three-straight MCLA titles and a perfect season, the school transitioned Coach Paul’s club into an actual varsity sport, making him the first coach to lead MCLA and NCAA teams on the field. He’s not the only current NCAA coach with MCLA roots. The hot new team on the block, Cleveland State, sports a skipper whose entire playing career was at the club level. A three-time All-American from Claremont McKenna College, Dylan Sheridan became another NCAA head coach coming out of the MCLA when his Vikings hosted the Michigan Wolverines to kick off the 2017 season.
Of course MCLA to NCAA is not the only way. This isn’t a one way street! In fact, some high-profile lacrosse names have chosen to take the opposite path out in Utah. The Utes have been a typical middle of the road MCLA school for a couple years, but they recruited in four power players to help take lacrosse in Salt Lake City (and beyond) to the next level. Former North Carolina Tarheel assistant Brian Holman took over the club last summer and brought along three MLL stars to lend a hand: his son, Marcus; world-class goaltender, Adam Ghitelman; and another offensive superstar, Will Manny.
While many programs are really loading up on talented coaches and recruits, as well as focusing on winning a title, there still exists a large range of opportunity at MCLA schools. At some programs, kids who have never played lacrosse before can still make the team, and earn their way on to the field eventually. At other schools, it’s a challenge to make the team even if you played in high school, because so many kids want to play the game, and so many of them are good!
Schools like Chapman, Colorado State, Simon Fraser, Grand Canyon and a variety of others are really not too far off from operating like NCAA programs. Their efforts on recruiting, top-notch facilities, travel budgets, and growing fan bases are continuing to rival those of NCAA lacrosse programs anywhere. Strict bylaws and hefty team fees put the pressure on college lacrosse clubs to take matters into their own hands when it comes to building longevity and treating the entire body of the MCLA with respect. This is especially true when it comes to preparation and performance.
If the chance to win a shiny new ring isn’t good enough, then the opportunity to attend an amazing school, play against other major universities, travel the country, and compete in one of lacrosse’s largest tournaments helps add to the appeal of the MCLA for more and more high school athletes.
The talent level has never been higher. The players, teams, and coaches have never been more dedicated. School support for MCLA programs has never been better. Once they’re in uniform with the matching gear, the differences between NCAA and MCLA teams blur even further. This is great lacrosse, and it is well worth your time as a player, or a fan.
For more great MCLA content check out our Field Exploration Blog, and Inside Lacrosse’s MCLA features, brought to you by Powell Lacrosse.
We believe in the MCLA, and we really think you should too! What’s not to love about great lacrosse, being played for the right reasons?
Header photo courtesy of www.laxallstars.com