It's fall ball season. Hope springs eternal. Everyone is 0-0 and in the hunt for the natty.
As such, we're checking in with programs across the country and divisions to see what's happening. We're continuing with Florida coach, Garrett Hanrahan.
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The gap between Florida’s final regular season game and the SELC tourney loss to Georgia Tech was 14 days. The gap between that game and the national tournament loss to BYU was 16 days. How much of a factor do you think that played in how the season finished? Were there other factors, or was it just a matter of running up against good teams?
Garrett Hanrahan: Downtime presents its own unique challenges, but that is no different than the fact that a quick turnaround also presents challenges. The hurdles are simply different.
Had we lost those same games on relatively short rest, I'm sure there would've been questions about recovery time, player health, scouting reports, etc. Ultimately, you have to attack the challenge that's in front of you and not make excuses. We had time to get healthy and prepare for both games, we played our hardest, and we came up short against two seasoned, storied programs that have top-notch teams year after year.
BYU and Georgia Tech have been winning in the postseason for many, many years. We are still one of the newer teams on that block, and everybody up and down our organization is learning what it takes to be successful in April and May. Our job is to learn from those experiences so we can get a better postseason result in 2024.
You graduated a really talented senior class, but there are a lot of guys who played impactful roles for you in '23 like Ethan Gerber, Dylan Weinberg and Jamison McDivitt. What do you expect out of those guys and who are some other names we should get used to seeing in '24?
GH: You're spot on about last year's senior class. Not just a talented group, but a very committed group. They were tone-setters for us from a cultural standpoint, and I believe they were the largest senior class I've coached to date, which speaks to their dedication and persistence. They are missed.
Though we lost some significant on-field contributors in terms of production, we return the lion's share of our production on both sides of the ball. The three guys you mentioned – Gerber, Weinberg and McDivitt – two of whom had All-American campaigns as sophomores, are all back after combining for 100 points in 2023. They'll surpass that mark collectively this season.
At attack, Ethan Heim is a junior who has played some meaningful minutes for us through two seasons and is poised to be a major contributor in his junior campaign. He’s done nothing but put his nose to the grindstone for two years and is always a team-first guy, I am excited to see him get his chances.
Ryan Gochar is a graduate student who played at the Coast Guard Academy from 2017-20 and I expect he'll make the most of his extra year of eligibility and be an impactful player for us in 2024. His maturity and passion for the game are of tremendous value to our team.
At midfield, Will Asher is a seasoned veteran for us who can shoot the rock. Colin Russell, who was a major contributor as a freshman in 2022 but battled injury in 2023, is seeking a return to form this spring. Stefan Mostovych – a First Team All-American and SELC Specialty Player of the Year – and Chase McNeill have been mainstays for us at short-stick defensive middie the past two seasons, but they both look prepared to contribute on offense as well in 2024.
There are a lot of new faces on offense that we’re excited about. I expect at least a few of them to make a name for themselves before season’s end, both at attack and at midfield.
On defense, we return two starting close defenders in Second Team All-American Cole Fox and all-SELC pick Liam Storkerson. Zach Mintz, a freshman last season, gained a ton of experience in 2023 and is poised to take on a bigger role at close defense in his sophomore spring.
Dionee Cortes and Cole Woods also return for us with a ton of LSM experience between the two of them, and I expect they’ll play some minutes at close defense. Beyond those known names, there are some new names you may see making contributions for us. Kellen Reilly and Andrew Kassnove are both juniors now, and they've each been models of incremental improvement in their time with our program. They are ready to help us on game day. Alex Thomas and Phil Bouressa are two new members of our team that have been impactful through fall ball thus far.
Between the pipes, we’ve got a really competitive position battle emerging. Senior Jadon Terzi returns with a season’s worth of starting experience under his belt, but sophomore Kyle Iamsuri, sophomore Brandon Anderson and freshman Paul Pilgrim are all doing their best to earn some starting minutes for themselves this spring. We’ve been enjoying that battle as coaches, and we’re certainly eager to see how it unfolds but also really proud of how that position group has handled the battle with maturity and a team-first mindset.
Other than the trip to Round Rock, the Gators didn't really leave the Southeast. Any travel plans this spring? What's the non-conference schedule look like?
GH: I'm glad you asked this, mostly because I'm still confused as to how ‘Florida doesn't travel’ somehow became a talking point last season. It is, for the record, a totally erroneous talking point. I'd be glad to put our travel tendencies since my tenure began in the spring of 2017 up for scrutiny against those of any other MCLA D-I team. I'm sure we don't travel the most, but we travel plenty.
To start, it is important to explain a standard operating procedure for our program. Under normal circumstances, we travel every other year for spring break. This gives our players a balanced, four-year experience relative to spring break, and it also helps alleviate strain on the budget and, by extension, on our players' share of the financial burden each year.
We believe both these considerations are critically important to our efforts to remain true to the MCLA experience that our guys signed up for. So, every other year, the practicality of us flying somewhere during the regular season is quite limited, meaning our regular season travel is restricted to regions that are accessible to us by charter bus.
We routinely take 14-to-18 hour round trip bus rides. If the tournament selection committee publishes some kind of requirements that conflict with our current way of doing things, then we will adjust as needed. As of now, that isn't the case.
In 2023, we opened the season with an out-of-conference road trip to Clemson – a 16-hour bus ride, round trip. We stopped and played UGA, a non-mandatory conference game, on our way back. A few weeks later, we traveled by bus to play a mandatory in-region game at Auburn – a 12-hour bus ride, round trip. Both those trips occurred in February and involved hotel stays.
In March, we bussed to Pensacola, Florida – an 11-hour bus ride, round trip – to play out-of-conference games against TCU and Western Michigan. TCU chose the location and invited Florida and Western Michigan to participate.
We were fortunate that in 2023, as in most years, quality out-of-conference opponents asked to play at UF. Boston College, Colorado State and Colorado all asked to come to our place in 2023, and I'm not aware of any program in the country that would turn down those home games if they were offered.
We are grateful to be located in such a desirable travel destination, and we understand that other schools do not have that same luxury. Simultaneously, we won't apologize for the fact that teams want to come to Florida.
As for 2024, we have some exciting trips planned. In February, we will bus up to Blacksburg, Virginia, for an out-of-conference match up with the Hokies. On our way home, we will stop in Columbia, South Carolina, to play the Gamecocks.
2024 is also an ‘on-year’ for spring break travel, so we'll be flying to Southern California to play Chapman and UCLA. Once again, we are lucky to have some great out-of-conference opponents traveling into our state as well. We'll host West Virginia and Texas A&M in Gainesville, and we'll play both Liberty and BYU in Jacksonville for a neutral-site round robin.
One of the more tired questions asked about the MCLA is "When is Team X going NCAA?" You undoubtedly get the question all the time due to the nature of your institution and location. How do you respond? What do people need to understand about the function of the MCLA?
GH: My short answer is usually something like, “Our program is not actively pursuing a transition to NCAA. We believe strongly in the MCLA experience, and we are focused on becoming a championship-caliber MCLA team.”
Most people who ask this question do not ask it with any ill will. The question is usually asked from a position of benign ignorance about what the MCLA offers.
In more in-depth conversations on the topic, I usually try to poke holes in people’s presuppositions about the nature of college sports. Are NCAA sports the only ‘real’ college sports? Men’s rowing is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport, but it is still a ‘real’ sport at many universities. What about NAIA? What about the nature of the amateurism model itself? Is Power 5 college football a ‘college sport’ anymore given the amount of money at stake for some players?
These types of questions are simply intended to show people that, maybe, their ingrained idea about what college sports are is fundamentally flawed or narrow.
When highlighting what the MCLA has to offer, I simply explain to people that it offers an opportunity to play competitive men’s lacrosse at the collegiate level, mostly at institutions where there is no scholarship-level men’s lacrosse. It is highly organized and offers intense, meaningful competition while usually allowing for a more balanced college experience than your typical NCAA sport. For a lot of guys, the MCLA is the reason they can go to their dream school and still play college lacrosse at a high level.
One of the beautiful aspects of college athletics is there is always a new season awaiting with its own players, expectations and personality. When do you turn the page from the past season to the one upcoming? What recharges you for another year of coaching?
GH: I’m not sure there is a single ‘turn the page’ moment. Schedules for the next season are already being worked on in April of the current season. Thoughts and discussions around what the roster may look like based on expected new players and attrition – both expected and unexpected – are common at all phases of the calendar.
It is certainly an exercise in compartmentalization to give the current team and the current moment its due while also having the long-term vision and strategy necessary to both sustain and improve a program year after year.
All that said, I truly turn the page in early August once we begin prepping for our fall kickoff meeting, which precedes the start of skill evaluations each fall semester. That’s when the dawn of a new season starts to feel real.
For me, the keys to recharging are sort of a mixed bag between things that are related and unrelated to lacrosse. First and foremost, spending more time with my family during the offseason, especially my wife and kids. They make so many sacrifices throughout the year to allow me to be a coach, so it’s really important to me that I try to balance that out by being very present with them during the offseason. It’s easy to do because they are really fun, they’re my favorite people.
I also get to play the guitar a lot more during the offseason and that means a lot to me and is very therapeutic. I also watch a lot of lacrosse, whether it’s the end of the NCAA season or the PLL season. I love having PLL games on all summer. It’s fun to be a fan of the game and to just be a sponge watching the best in the world play and coach the game.
During the season, you become very focused just on your team. That focus is necessary, but it’s a nice change of pace to be able to enjoy the game more broadly and to learn about the game outside the context of your own team’s pursuits. I always come into fall ball with some new ideas to test out based on what I watched that summer.
I’ll close by agreeing with your first statement about each new season having its own unique identity. That’s the fun of this whole thing! Each year is a new puzzle – some pieces you’re familiar with, many pieces that are new, and a whole bunch of problems that need to be solved.
It is fun, meaningful work, and I enjoy the heck out of it. I am awestruck every year by the people that I get to work with. Our coaches are generous with their time, and their enthusiasm for what we do is infectious. Our players wow me year after year – these guys are incredible. They are successful academically and socially, they are mature for their age, they are wholly decent young men. On top of all that, they are sick lacrosse players and excellent teammates. We are privileged to work with them day after day.
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