Before winter break, the men’s lacrosse team thought they had it all: a prestigious new coach ready to bring elements from his college National Championship to Tampa, a team made up of over 20 members, most with previous lacrosse experience and an opportunity to become a varsity sport in the coming years.
The team returned after the break, ready to hit the practice fields to prepare for the upcoming games. However, when the whole team met for a post-break meeting, they were faced with the worst news ever: their coach, Robert Mitchell, who recently underwent back surgery and suffered from a job change, would not be able to coach this year. Also, one of the leagues they planned to play in had folded.
The team faced immediate problems, and the miscommunication between some players and the coaching staff resulted in the disbanding of the team.
“I was really upset to find out that our program was terminated,” player Joe Solazzo said. “Lacrosse is a really fun sport and I think it would be really beneficial for the school. A lot of people would definitely come out and watch.”
However, a few players were unsatisfied and vowed to try and keep the team going. They decided their sport would not go down without a fight. The group of remaining players, mostly made up of freshmen has made it their goal to work with the school to bring lacrosse back on campus.
Their first step was to meet with Charles Yezak, the director of campus recreation. Yezak told the boys if they could get the team back together the athletic department would try to work out a budget and search for a new coach. Yezak also pointed out the fact that there was no league for the team.
“The Florida Lacrosse League (FLL) had their college division become defunct, leaving only an adult club division,” he said. “There was the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) but there is a long process to join.”
The team could also join the Deep South Conference, but Yezak said that would make it an NCAA varsity sport, something that he has no control over, and something the school did not have on its plans.
The boys got the word out that they would still be meeting to practice, however only about 10 guys came out. With lacrosse needing 10 players on the field at a time, the numbers did not look good, and Yezak decided it was not possible for the school to have a lacrosse team this season.
Practice was sparsely attended when the team still existed, according to Yezak.
“Only six, seven, eight, guys would show up,” he said Mitchell told him. “A lacrosse team needs about 20 active players, kind of like hockey. He (Mitchell) was unable to get good showing at practices.”
The deadline to get into the SELC or to fold the team crept up quickly on the young men.
“Things just didn’t get done,” freshman Chris Sacchinelli said. “By the time the freshmen decided we wanted to play and set it up it was just too late. We tried to hold practices, but we just didn’t get a good enough turn out. Coach even offered to come back but it was too late.”
Even freshmen who did not play organized lacrosse back at home volunteered to play. Zach Fournier dabbled in lacrosse while in high school and decided to commit to the team here, and worked to improve his skills.
“I really wanted to play here,” Fournier said. “I really hope we can get the team back together soon.”
Due to insurance reasons, the freshmen are not allowed to hold organized practices, but that will not stop them from throwing the ball around on the intramural field every night. With the hopes of getting the team back together next year and entering the SELC (Southeast Lacrosse Conference) in 2009, the boys are in desperate need of fundraising.
“If we can get back next year and get a lot of fundraising done we can go official soon,” Sacchinelli said. “This is our rebuilding time.”
Solazzo agreed with Sacchinelli that fundraising is key this semester.
“I certainly hope there will be a team next year,” Solazza said. “Fundraising is really important and I know that all the members will be willing to help out with it.”
Funding was another problem that Yezak pointed out.
“The SELC is a league that has a lot of games in various states,” he said. “A lot of funding would be needed. You don’t just pay your dues and get in. There’s a formal application process.”
For now, the boys are keeping their fingers crossed and keeping their eyes open for a new coach. They believe that once they fundraise and get the program back on its feet there will be a lot of interest from other students on campus, and will have the potential to seriously compete in the SELC, maybe becoming the University of Tampa’s newest National Champion.