by Dave Franklin | Special to MCLA.us
ST. PAUL, Minn. – St. Thomas has won six MCLA Division II championships and the program has moved onto its third head coach in the recent era. Like Brian Gross, Jason King was a player under Pete Moosbrugger and was personally part of the first two championship teams for the Tommies.
After winning two more rings as an assistant coach, King takes over for Gross as head coach. In his new role, King has a chance to become only the second person in MCLA history to win a fist full of rings with experience as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach.
Dave Franklin: How would you describe the atmosphere around the program coming off last years' title, the coaching transition and the opening of the 2020 season?
Jason King: It has been a fun, exciting, and focused atmosphere since fall ball started in September. Having 14 freshmen on the team this year, it was important to have our veteran players take them in and immerse them in our culture of family.
The coaching transition has been as smooth as I could have hoped for thanks to Brain Gross, Pete Moosbrugger and Jim Reilly. I can go to these three at any time and they are always there to provide guidance.
DF: Your season opening loss to Minnesota in D-I is ultimately going to be inconsequential, but it's not often that St. Thomas drops a season opener. What did you see and learn in that contest?
JK: We were very happy how our schedule played out this year with the U of M as our first game. They are skilled, play fast and physical, so it was a great introduction to college lacrosse for our freshmen.
We learned a lot in this game, specifically adjustments we needed to make for our clear. For those who watched the game, it was fitting we lost on a failed clear.
DF: Were there any special sentiments when you got your first official head coaching victory against Montana or was it just another Tommies win for you?
JK: Honestly, it was just another win in a competitive lacrosse game until I started to receive congratulatory texts and calls after the game from my family, people who have impacted my lacrosse career as a player and coach, and Tommie alumni.
Then I started to reflect more on the journey that got me here and how lucky I am to have the support system that I do.
DF: What was the key to the hot start and 12-0 first half against Montana State?
JK: I think a few things were key to our hot start. First, I would credit our older and younger players starting to build chemistry as they continue to grow together and learn each other’s tendencies. This led to more free-flowing, multiple-dodge possessions on offense to get the best possible looks.
Second, I would credit our effort on the ride. We were able to apply a lot of pressure on our ride that created turnovers and extra possessions.
DF: Your next set of games in Nashville has you paired up against UMLC foe Dayton before a double header against two out of conference tournament contenders. How do you prepare for that?
JK: We have seven practices between playing the Montana schools and traveling to Nashville. To prepare, we have a list of things we are looking to refine and install. Along with the obvious of staying and getting healthy, the coaching staff will also be strategizing on how we can maximize our depth for the trip since we will be playing three games in two days.
DF: What kind of a role does Riley Baumgartner inherit being the senior leader of such a young offensive group?
JK: Riley is being asked to do it all this year - play attack, O-mid, D-Mid, faceoff wing play, etc. So far Riley has really stepped up to the challenge. He is the type of person that leads with his actions. He shows the young players how to work hard starting in the classroom and translates that right into practice and games.
DF: Your NCAA sports teams were forced out of your Division III conference due to an over-consistency of excellence. What has it been like at the school this year with the other sports moving to D-I and has there been any thoughts or sentiments about the future of St. Thomas Lacrosse's divisional affiliation in the MCLA?
JK: Everything on campus has been the same as the past for the lacrosse team. With that said, there has not been any thought about changing divisions within the MCLA.
Although we have had success, that has not come easy. As a player-funded organization and being a university in the state of Minnesota, we have multiple national championship competitors just a short drive away also competing in Division II.
DF: What are each of these teams best at:
St. John's: SJU does a great job creating mismatches with their best athletes on the offensive end.
North Dakota State: The entire team sells out in their systems. They run the 10 man ride better than any other team I have played or coached against.
Dayton: Dayton always seems to have phenomenal shooters.
Minn.-Duluth: Go to any UMD game and tell me which team is more excited to be there. Every player on their team, no matter the role, gives everything they have for 60 minutes. That's tough to beat.
While we are talking UMD, shout out to Jared Johnson, fellow Mahtomedi alumni and current UMD senior attackman. I had the honor of coaching Jared during his high school career and it has been such a pleasure to see him thrive at the next level. Congrats on a great college career, Jared!