May 16, 2011
By Dan Bonebright ‘11
It's not easy being a member of the Saint John's lacrosse team.
They practice late, put in long hours outside of practice and do it all because they love the game. While this is undoubtedly the case for many club sports programs, there's something different about the team from Collegeville-something special.
Tuesday, May 17, will mark the Johnnies' seventh straight appearance in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) Division II National Championships in Denver. For head coach Derek Daehn, in his third season with SJU, his team's national success has a key ingredient, one that makes all the difference.
"We focus on three main things," Daehn said. "It's family first, school is second and lacrosse is third."
Although family is rightfully ahead of lacrosse on Daehn's list, the Johnnie lacrosse players consider them one in the same. They do everything together from "fall ball" to club fundraisers, which has brought them closer than ever.
"We're kind of a family, as we like to say," senior captain Sam Gondeck said. "We get along really well, and we start from the ground up."
Perhaps the most important factor in developing team chemistry is the inclusion of every player, regardless of age or ability. One of the most difficult things for first-year players in any sport is fitting in and feeling comfortable around upperclassmen.
Not a problem for the Johnnies.
"I think that we have really strong senior leadership, but at the same time, we don't set ourselves apart from the underclassmen," senior captain Patrick Johnson said. "We really try and engage all of the underclassmen in everything that we do whether it's on the field or off the field."
Just ask first-year standout Jake Helmer. He couldn't agree more.
"The seniors include us in everything," Helmer said. "We do a lot of activities together, and that really brings us together as a team."
Another crucial element of team chemistry is self-motivation. This is especially true for club sports, many of which demand hours of additional work outside an already limited practice schedule.
"Practice time is pretty scarce, and when we do practice it's a short practice and late hours, so we really need to get down to business," Johnson said. "We can't spend a lot of time focusing on really developing the fundamental skills, so we try and push each other to get better outside of practice."
For SJU, it's all part of getting better while growing closer.
"We have a different dynamic than some other teams, and I think, for the most part, it helps because it gets guys following each other," Daehn said. "It definitely brings us in as a tighter group."
The Johnnie lacrosse team's "family first" mentality is stronger than ever, and as it looks to bring home its first MCLA championship, confidence and cohesiveness are all that matter.
"It's being more constructive with our criticism, being more of a family," Gondeck said. "That kind of confidence will give us the ability to win the national championship, and that's our goal."
Follow the team at nationals on the lacross team's website.