by Simon Gondeck | MCLA.us
As part of his continuing coverage of the association for MCLA.us, Simon Gondeck caught up with Utah assistant and MLL champion Marcus Holman for a Q&A session about the Utes and other topics. Want to cover an MCLA conference for the site? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SG: How has the season been so far?
MH: It’s been great. It’s 'Year 2' and one of the positive things to take away from our fall ball is we have a solid core group of guys that returned from last year's team. We have 13 guys back who really understand the culture we’re trying to create; the discipline and the workload. It’s been cool to see returning players emerge as leaders because last year they were all new to what we're trying to do.
There were some times last year where it was uncomfortable, but the guys that came back have set the tone for what we’re looking for and where we want to be with our program. The returning guys worked out all summer and came back in shape, making it easy for the 30 new guys to look to the returners as the leaders. That’s been a positive thing.
SG: How have you scrimmages gone?
MH: We scrimmaged Westminster a few Saturdays ago and that was a good, competitive run for us. Westminster is NCAA D-II now and they’ve got some good athletes on their team and play a pretty fast style. It was good to play someone else and compete against a different-colored jersey.
We’re getting for a big scrimmage against Marquette in San Francisco next Saturday. [The scrimmage was this past weekend]
SG: Are there any other teams at the scrimmage with Marquette?
MH: We’re playing Marquette and also the Scottish National Team. Marquette has a standard of winning, having won the Big East two years in a row. It’s going to be a good test for us. It’s unrealistic to focus on the scoreboard in that scrimmage. It’ll be a good test for our guys to go up against NCAA D-I athletes and their speed of play. We’re looking forward to that.
SG: You were an All-American at North Carolina and an MLL champion with the Ohio Machine. What do you think is the biggest difference between MCLA and NCAA?
MH: The level of athletes. The stick skills I see in some of the players in the MCLA are similar to an NCAA D-I player, but the difference could be an MCLA player is 5-foot-7, 160 pounds and runs a 4.9 forty as opposed to the NCAA guy who is 5-foot-11, 195 and runs a 4.5. I think you have to start there with the size and speed of the athletes and then the pace of play goes along with that.
When everyone is bigger and faster at every position around the field, the pace of play increases. With the amount of time a NCAA D-I team spends on the practice field and in the weight room, they’re going to see a quicker increase in their ability.
SG: Do you guys have your own locker room?
MH: We still don’t have our own locker room, but we have access to the Olympic weight room where baseball, women’s basketball and all other teams train besides football and men's basketball. Also, we have access to strength coach Parker Teagle, who is a graduate student here and has been instrumental in us having guys reach their potential in physical ability.
SG: Are you guys trying to target talent from Salt Lake City or across the country?
MH: We want to establish and help Salt Lake City lacrosse and the state of Utah lacrosse as a whole. For example, we just got a commitment from a 2019 high school graduate who’s a local kid. However, I don’t think in our upcoming class there are any players from the state of Utah. It just depends, because talent is talent. It would be nice to have local guys on our roster to build up that community aspect.
SG: Utah Lacrosse had success last year beating Chapman in the opening game and getting to the MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour. What are your goals this year?
MH: We’ve brought in some guys and our overall talent level is higher than our team last year. At the end of the day, it’s building a culture of hard work, discipline and doing the little things right. Yes, that means we’re pushing these guys really hard. We’re trying to build up this program to get it to a NCAA D-I level.
In terms of winning and losing, ideally we would want to win every game on the schedule. We will be competitive in our conference and want to compete for a national championship this year. I definitely think we can do it with the players we have. It takes making the little things happen. Our coaching staff has a better feel for the competition we’re facing this year.
SG: What is it like working with your dad?
MH: It’s a dream come true. When he accepted this [job at Utah], we would have phone conversations and he would say, "When I go, you're coming with me, right?" I kept saying I would, and then it finally happened. I’ve been so fortunate to be a player at UNC and have him there when he was a volunteer assistant and have the support there. Anyone that has met my dad or played for him understands what he brings to the table from the motivation and inspirational standpoint.
His strengths as a coach are his motivational tactics, his leadership, his passion for the sport and developing character in young men. He has a great ability to bring the best out of his players and relate to them on a broader scale -- for life after lacrosse and what it takes to be a successful human being. I’m very fortunate to coach with him and it does create that family atmosphere for our program. It really is a blessing.
SG: How do you balance pro lacrosse and coaching?
MH: My summers are very hectic. I’m flying somewhere just about every weekend. It’s a lot of lacrosse, but at the same time it’s nice to have the different aspects of it in my life. When I’m playing, I can focus on just playing and being one of the guys in the locker room. When school starts up, I love to be on the field coaching and leading our guys here at Utah.
I’m fortunate to do both and I'm going to try to do both as long as I can. We’ll see how my body holds up. I just finished my fifth year in the MLL and got a championship ring, which was super exciting and keeps me hungry for more.
SG: What's your typical summer schedule?
MH: I fly in Friday to wherever we're playing that weekend, then have a practice Friday night and then play Saturday night. On Sunday, I fly to either a recruiting tournament or work a camp somewhere. It’s hectic, but it’s fun and I love it.
SG: There's been a lot of discussion about how Utah and some of the top MCLA teams compare to NCAA D-III, D-II, and low-end D-I programs?
MH: The higher-end teams in the MCLA could compete with the bottom five in NCAA D-I. That’s just my opinion having coaching against teams like BYU, Arizona State, Colorado and Cal, just to name a few. Top MCLA teams have big athletes who handle their sticks well. The athleticism is the piece that makes it an uneven playing field. The high-end teams in the MCLA have those athletes. I don’t think the gap is too broad, but if you started talking about a Top 20 NCAA D-I team versus the top team in MCLA, that's when I think the gap would widen.
SG: What were you most surprised about regarding MCLA lacrosse coming from a NCAA background?
MH: The passion. With no other Pac 12 teams or any other NCAA D-I teams out here besides Denver and Air Force, I was excited to see how passionate and serious the players take this league. It’s fun to be apart of. The games are really competitive and there’s a lot of travel.
SG: What is one thing that the MCLA is missing?
MH: Coaching is a piece that could be improved. The teams that win more in the MCLA have some of the better coaches. It would be cool to see more guys take the jump from being a volunteer assistant at maybe a lower level NCAA D-I program and come out and be a head coach in the MCLA.
SG: Five years from now...where is University of Utah lacrosse?
MH: Hopefully we have a national championship trophy in our locker room. But at the same time, If you make winning the end all and be all, you won’t enjoy the journey. It’s more fun to enjoy every day and develop life-lasting relationships, because only one team wins every year. There’s a lot of teams that don’t achieve that ultimate goal of winning a national championship.
In five years, we hope that Utah is on the national scene and kids are deciding between North Carolina, Duke, Maryland and other top programs while giving Utah serious consideration due to the culture we built and the success we’ve had with our individual players. I’m really excited and it’s huge for the sport to be the most western school. We have a chance to build something here and I’m just lucky to be a part of it.
SG: Ten years from now...is there a Pac 12 conference?
MH: I hope so. I really do. If you look at the women’s side of things and the success western teams have had, it would be a no-brainer for a school to commit to it. You’ve already seen those schools have success. It’s leaning that way.