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 Northwest Nazarene coach, Tom Blanchard.
PREVIOUS CHECK INS: Virginia Tech | Montana | California | Florida Atlantic | Kansas State | Dayton | Air Force | UNC-Charlotte | Rhode Island | Long Beach State | Pittsburgh | Utah Valley | San Marcos | Loyola Marymount | Western Washington | Utah | Florida Gulf Coast | Florida
What is the most satisfying part about being a coach at the collegiate level? What are the aspects that get you out of bed in the morning? What are some of the things that are a little bit more challenging?
Tom Blanchard: Coaching at the college level has been really enjoyable for me, initially there was an adjustment period but I feel very comfortable in my role. For me the most satisfying part of coaching at the collegiate level is the freedom and empowerment to grow the men's lacrosse program here at NNU.
I am really fortunate to work with an outstanding administration team over in our athletic department, they have been extremely supportive of my efforts in growing the program.
Probably the thing I enjoy most when I get up each day and put my time into building the program is the challenge, I enjoy taking moments here and there and looking back to see how far we've come as a program, it's rewarding for me to see the efforts of so many pay dividends.
Treasure Valley high school lacrosse has produced a bunch of MCLA and NCAA talent. If you were to describe the prototypical Boise-area prep player, what qualities do they have and how do you try and tap into that pipeline? Where else does NNU recruit?
Prior to starting the NNU program back in 2019, I had a 15-year run as a varsity head coach for a couple of the top programs here in Idaho - Timberline and Rocky Mountain. We've always had great talent here, we just didn't have a means to showcasing that talent until the club lacrosse scene got better developed.
In recent years, Idaho has sent out some really strong players who are doing great things both in the NCAA and MCLA. If we would have had this type of club lacrosse experience 20 years ago, Idaho would have produced a lot more quality college players. We just didn't have those opportunities years back.
TB: True Idaho has been a long-standing club lacrosse program here in Idaho and they have done a really solid job in establishing themselves within the community and getting our players to the right tournaments to be seen.
Fortunately, for us here at NNU, we've really invested into that relationship, many of their coaches over at True were either guys I coached with at the high school level or players who I coached when I was at the high school level. In fact, this offseason we hired one of my former players who has been coaching with True for a number of years and he's been a tremendous addition to our coaching staff.
The relationships we've built with True over these past four years have started to be fruitful in that we are starting to see some of our local talent making the decision to come and play for us here at NNU and that's been a goal of mine since day one to keep some of our local talent here in the valley.
Local recruiting aside, I'll recruit from just about anywhere, but I would say over the years we have had a ton of success in recruiting Washington State and Oregon. Those will continue to be a big focus for us, but we've also started to see some recent success in recruiting California, which has some great talent spread out throughout that state.
I'm always recruiting the best talent regardless of where it's at. We just want to get the right kind of players who fit our culture. If we can continue to do that, then it's just a matter of time before we are in the conversation as one of those contending teams for a national championship.
Montana and College of Idaho have been the gold standard in the PNCLL for the last couple of years. The NNU brand is growing, but what have you been doing with your program to get the Nighthawks in the same conversation with those two?
TB: I agree that Montana and College of Idaho have been the standard for the PNCLL for a number of years and typically it's been a two-team race for the PNCLL championship. This year, both Western Washington and us are going to be in the mix to compete for the PNCLL championship.
Recruiting is, without a doubt, the top priority in building a program that can compete with those teams. I can't even track the number of hours I spend monthly recruiting. All I can say is it's a lot. To your point, I do think that our brand is growing and I think recruits are seeing what we can offer and they get a glimpse through social media of what we are doing with our guys and that interests them.
I would say fundraising has been another part in this process. We have the full support of our university, which is a blessing, but if we want to elevate the program to the level that I have envisioned, we have to go out and raise additional funds above our budget to add extra coaches, take extra trips or purchase extra gear.
All those extra efforts help showcase to recruits that we have our stuff together and that we run a legit program. We put a premium on taking care of each of our players. We are very generous in providing our players with the best equipment and I genuinely believe those extra details are proof to our recruits that we mean what we say when we recruit them.
In a previous Fall Check In with Western Washington, a PNCLL opponent of NNU's, the coach talked about needing a decent record to leverage when trying to schedule ranked opponents. What has been your experience in this matter? What does your schedule look like this year?
TB: I do agree to an extent that having a strong record the previous season and being a nationally ranked team helps open some doors in securing those high-level games, but I also think that if you're willing to travel to those teams and give them a home game that those teams will certainly schedule with you.
Budgets are usually the determining factor in how many of those trips you can make so it's not always as cut and dry as it may seem. One aspect that gets overlooked when scheduling is relationships with coaches. I'm intentional about developing relationships with coaches from other conferences so that we can work towards building games with those teams every year or every other year.
With respect to our spring schedule, I'm excited for who we have on the schedule so far, but we still have some gaps in our schedule that I'm working to fill. We had a 13-game schedule finalized in the early part of August, but unfortunately, we had some teams pull out of those games due to various reasons.
It was tough to lose our home game against Montana State. Montana State coach Chris Kelley and I have been talking for a few seasons about getting this game scheduled, but they ran into some budget issues, which led to them having to pull out. Eventually we will get a game scheduled with them.
All is not lost though. We've put together a very strong schedule that we hope puts us on the selection committee's radar in late April. We've got a late-February trip planned for San Diego, playing two really solid programs in Cal State San Marcos and UC San Diego.
After that we've got another quick trip over to Logan, Utah, to pick up a game against Northern Arizona. We've got our sights set on another trip to either Northern California or possibly Colorado. We’re just working through some budget things before we can figure out where that last trip will be.
Northwest Nazarene has steadily been building year after year, who are the guys who will be difference-makers for you on the field this spring?
TB: We are essentially returning all our key contributors from last year's team, which is really exciting considering that our incoming freshman class is the most talented recruiting class we have had to date. The potential of this team is, high but it's still early in the fall and we still have a lot of work to do leading up to the spring to reach our full potential.
We have four seniors on our team who have been with us since the start of the program and their leadership has been extremely valuable from the start of the program. Hayden Diggins, Bryden Dodson, Hunter Roberge and Hunter Stratford all deserve recognition for what they have done to help us get to this point as a program.
On the offensive side of the ball, we are returning first team all-PNCLL attackman Keaton Bean, who I wholeheartedly believe is the best attackman in the PNCLL. Last season, Keaton hurt his ankle in the first game of the season against UCSD and it took nearly two months to get back to being fully healthy, but he still managed to find ways to help the team and ultimately finished the season with 59 points.
Keaton will have an incredible supporting cast on the offense with returning players such as Kolsen Hawker, C.J. Runner, Josh Johnson, Hayden Diggins, Hunter Roberge, Bryden Dodson. The offense will also see the additions of two NCAA D-II transfers in Brayden Reinsch from Adams State and Caleb Johnson from North Greenville.
On the defensive side of the ball, we are returning all-conference defender Hunter Stratford and all-conference goalie Josh Vaughan. Our defensive unit will return Connor Ruybalid and Connor Chalberg.
We also return all-conference faceoff specialist Rayce Neill. The work ethic of this guy is like none other. He is constantly taking reps and always looking to develop his game. He plays with such intensity and it shows when he's out on the field. Last season Rayce got an honorable mention nod for being an All-American. A case could have been made for him to be on one of those teams, but this year he's just excited to get back on the field and continue to do what he does for our team. Through that, I'm sure he'll earn the respect of the coaches who vote on these awards.
Finally, as I mentioned before our freshman class is really talented and I believe that all of our freshmen have the potential to be key contributors for us this season, but there are three guys in particular that are going to play a big part in our program taking the next step: goalie Rayden Allianic, attackman Bodie Jones and defenseman Landon Klug. All three of these guys have a legit chance of winning PNCLL Freshman of the Year. They are all going to be difference-makers on the field for us this year.
[Want to participate in the "Fall Check In" series as a coach or player? Email [email protected] to request your five questions]