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 Loyola Marymount coach, Kelton Clarke.
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Early last season, LMU ran into a five-game losing streak but rebounded with a relatively strong end to the campaign. What did you and your team learn about yourselves and how can the experience be useful this spring?
Kelton Clarke: As a first-year coach with a pretty young team that at times lacked depth, we certainly had to ask ourselves a lot of questions about what direction we wanted to take the program. We had to figure out how each individual would contribute to the team. Learning how to keep everyone accountable was important, and the message within the squad was be a better player for your teammates and your friends.
That experience of dropping five games during a stretch of our toughest opponents left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, so this summer and fall we’ve been putting together a plan that we think will elevate this program to the next level.
Our returners are already setting the tempo on and off the field, keeping the new players engaged off the field and setting the tempo in practice. Returning 22 out of 25 players from the spring of 2023 certainly means there will be a lot of competition and opportunity to help develop the next class of Lions
What are the impact players that are returning this year? Any exciting newcomers?
KC: Our player retention and recruitment over the last year has been crucial to the growth the Lions are seeing this fall. We bring back 85% of our roster from this past spring, including 8 starters, and have an incoming class of 17 players – 15 freshmen, one junior and one senior.
Our senior class is really strong, and will be led by the likes of middie Dominic Atwell goalie Anthony Steele, defenseman Brandon Tanjuaquio, attackman Henry Frandsen and middie Ben Taylor. Junior UC Santa Cruz transfer Carter Esparza is already making an impact on the roster at his true position in the midfield.
Defenders Rob Atlass and Miles Gibson will look to compete in a loaded defensemen group, and will certainly excel at the MCLA level. Attackman James Prado and midfielder David Whitley will add a spark to the offense, and our face-off crew is getting a stud out of Max Malone.
What’s the schedule look like?
KC: The spring will certainly be busy for the Lions as we have 13 games currently on the schedule, seven of which will be at LMU. We start off the season with SLC North opponents Biola and Cal State Fullerton before the Lions head east to New Orleans to take on Tulane and Washington (Mo.).
From there, we’ll take on the likes of Cal State San Marcos, Northern Arizona, UC Davis, MSU-Denver, along with five other SLC opponents. Stacking multiple games across several weeks during the spring will prepare the Lions for when the playoffs roll around, and playing three nationally ranked teams from the final 2023 poll ought to put us in a good position for our own future rankings.
What are the benefits of having a lacrosse program in Los Angeles? What are some of the obstacles?
KC:From a beautiful campus that is only a couple of miles from the beach, great weather all the time, which gives you the ability to play year-round on a beautiful turf field in the middle of campus, and attending a top university in Southern California – recently named a US News Top 100 Best College in the Nation – there are so many benefits that attending Loyola Marymount University has to offer outside of just playing lacrosse.
The players are putting together beach sessions on the weekends to toss around and play lacrosse, and attendance has been really good so far, having only been back on campus for a month. Not too many programs have the ability to say they have the ability to do that on a regular basis.
We’re really excited about the program that is being built here in Los Angeles, and with all that Loyola Marymount University has to offer, it’s a perfect fit for a lot of great prospects.
An obstacle the program faces is with LMU being a private university in Los Angeles. There are some financial burdens some potential recruits may encounter when looking to attend Loyola Marymount. The school is also pretty selective, as about 2,000 kids attend LMU each year.
While there aren’t scholarship opportunities we can offer for academics, our fundraising efforts and extensive alumni network provide us with the ability to allow some students to play on the team at a reduced rate or even cost free. We try to allow all interested players the ability to come out for the team and compete for the Lions.
LMU has qualified for the SLC tournament the past two seasons but you’ve eventually run up against San Marcos or UCSD in the playoffs. What’s it going to do to make the jump to their level? What’s your blueprint for getting the Lions to nationals?
KC: Like we mentioned before, the slump that we went through isn’t one that this group wants to experience, so between the chip on their shoulder and a revamped coaching staff, our ambitions can take us anywhere.
Along with myself and defensive coordinator Gordon Waldman, we’ve added offensive coordinator Chris Tibbetts. Also, former head coach Ryan Kelly has rejoined the staff as an assistant coach. The experience between the four of us that we’ll be using in practice and during games, paired with the skill of the returners and the spark that the new joiners will add, we feel there is a lot riding on the Lions.
Our returners have already made it clear in practice what is to be expected of the team. Senior Henry Frandsen is leading the offense in a commanding way, and sophomore Jack Davenport is ready to make the jump to be a first-team all-conference defenseman. Many others will follow suit, so the preparation we will be putting in this fall will hopefully take us to a nationals appearance.
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