by Dave Franklin | MCLA.us
Ever since Mario Enea landed in Norman, the Oklahoma men's lacrosse team has improved. Heading into a season that holds plenty of promise, Enea took the time out for a quick Q&A.
Dave Franklin: What exactly brought you to Norman, Oklahoma?
Mario Enea: My wife had had enough of the foggy Fourth of July weekends in Carmel, Calif., and wanted to take my son and I to Grand Lake, Oklahoma, to celebrate America's Independence Day. I was able to plan a Nike Lacrosse Camp at OU and hired some Sooners as camp staff. We had a great week of camp and before long I was being recruited to be Oklahoma's head coach.
My wife and I prayed for direction. Were we really going to move from Carmel to Norman? About twenty different things fells into place and here we are! I love being the Sooners coach and I know we can build something special here. That's why we extended my contract through 2023.
DF: Do your experiences as a player at a small NCAA D-III school (Drew) and a large MCLA school (Cal) affect the way you coach, recruit or simply view the landscape of the sport at the collegiate level?
ME: Drew University in Madison, N.J., was a great experience both on and off the field. I made life-long friendships, experienced the East Coast and played lacrosse at a competitive Division III level against schools like Middlebury and Gettysburg. However, it was too small of an environment for me and I wanted to experience a large college atmosphere with larger class sizes, a greek system and big time football.
At UC Berkeley, we had West Coast rivals like Stanford and UCLA, but also had a huge budget to travel east to play schools like Holy Cross and Boston College. I think we can build a "Cal of the Midwest" here at Oklahoma.
DF: You graduated 160 points from last years' roster. What is the hardest part of replacing players like Eddy Arnold, Austen Sanchez, Jackson Buell and Robb Bell?
ME: I don't think you will ever replace back-to-back LSA Offense Players of the Year like Matt Hammond ('17) and Eddy Arnold ('18), both from Flower Mound, TX. Previous coach Terry Cole and current coach Brendan Carney are doing great things down there.
The good news is we have restocked with another Arnold! Eddy's younger brother -- freshman, Evan Arnold -- is looking great. He also brought two friends, Zane Torres and Brooks Anderson from Flower Mound with him.
The second thing we did was hire Austen Sanchez to help coach the offense. Buell and Bell both had stellar senior seasons, and wish they had another year of eligibility.
Senior Attack Bray O'Connor (Avon Old Farms, CT) was on track to have 75 points last season before breaking his collar bone versus Minnesota. He is returning in great shape and is at 100 percent, so he will quarterback the offense.
Senior Midfielder Kyle Fronckiewicz is returning for his senior season after posting 45 points (23g, 22a) in 2018. Sterling Coker (Dallas Jesuit, TX) is also returning at attack and looking very good. New recruits Conor Stone (Highland Park, TX) and Hank Clements (Dallas, Jesuit, TX) will also see plenty of playing time this season.
Our offense is solid, but we all know its the defense that wins championships.
DF: Would you say Texas, Colorado and California are your prioritized recruiting territories?
ME: Yes, 80 percent of the team hails from the great state of Texas. Sprinkled on our roster are a couple players from California and Colorado. We will be attending the top recruiting showcases, tournaments and camps this summer to increase awareness of Sooners Lacrosse.
DF: After a loss to Alabama last year, you'd go on to win nine straight games all the way up to your conference championship game. Was that Alabama game a definitive turning point for last years' team?
ME: Yes. It was the first time that the senior class had lost at home in four years. We ran into a hot goalie that day; he was incredible with over 20 saves. We had the "Sooner magic" going late in the game and it would have been an epic comeback. Unfortunately we just ran out of time.
DF: What was the biggest change you made to avenge your regular season loss to Texas with an OT victory over the Horns in the LSA semifinals?
ME: We have played Texas three times in my short two-year tenure. Each game has been better than the previous one. I thought Cal versus Stanford was a big rivalry but nothing compares to OU versus Texas. These guys are born and raised to hate each other and it is always a circled date on the schedule.
The first time we played them in Austin, we slipped up at the very end and lost in the last 30 seconds. That was a long bus ride back to Norman.
The second time we played them was an incredible experience at the Patriot Cup. It was an inspiring atmosphere at "The Star" in Frisco where the Dallas Cowboys practice and where the Dallas Rattlers play their home games. We were too focused on "beating Texas" rather than playing "our game."
They had an incredible 10-man ride and it was only our third game of the season. We literally turned the ball over 25 times in that game and somehow made it to a halftime tied 5-5 before losing 12-7.
Last season, facing them again in Austin at the LSA Final Four was one of the best games in my 30 plus years of coaching and playing lacrosse. The stars were aligned that night, for a "third time's a charm" for the Sooners. Hundreds of Texas fans rolled into the field after the Texas spring football game ended.
They were treated to a spectacular fourth quarter that needed overtime to secure a win. That was the only thing I wanted for my birthday. I thought it was the senior's first time beating Texas, but found out after that it was actually the first win over UT in the history of Oklahoma lacrosse. Coach Bokmeyer and his players are doing it the right way, they are a first class program.
DF: What are you biggest take-aways from the fourth quarter of your conference championship game against Texas A&M last year? Do you think any members of your staff or your players are bringing angst from that loss into 2019?
ME: That was a really tough loss for us. I really thought if we could just get by Texas, that we would have enough gas in the tank to finish the season and get to travel to Utah for the MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour. Further, A&M also needed overtime to beat SMU, which I thought would play in our favor.
Ryan McCabe and Robb Bell sustained injuries versus Texas and were out for the A&M game. I felt trailing by one goal heading into the fourth quarter, was a great position to be in. However, there was a period of twenty seconds that we missed first-time ground balls that resulted in two goals and sealed the deal for A&M.
Tony Scazzero has done a great job for several decades and he had a lot of depth and some very talented offensive players that got loose, beating us 5-0 in the fourth quarter.
DF: You beat Arizona in Texas last year. What are your expectations for your trip to Arizona to play the Wildcats and the ASU Sun Devils this year?
ME: I have no doubt that Matt Blamey and Casey Connor will have their programs ready for our showdown in the desert. I expect a fabulous opportunity to gauge our Sooners against top MCLA talent in what will be outstanding competition.