On the Growth of LacrosseWhile the majority of MLL players hail from Division I schools, the League has seen tremendous growth in Division II and Division III players who are establishing successful pro lacrosse careers. Players like Ohio Machine defenseman Kyle Hartzell, Charlotte Hounds midfielder Stephen Berger and Charlotte Hounds midfielder Justin Smith are former Division III athletes and have found notable success in the league.
“Without question, there are some really good players in Division III and, unfortunately, they don’t get a chance to get on TV and be seen by MLL coaches as often,” says Coach Cottle. “On our team right now we have three Division III players. There are plenty of talented guys out there that just need the opportunity to be seen, and the NCAA Championship Weekend supplies a vehicle for coaches to see those teams and players.”
This rising talent at the collegiate level can be seen with the growth of Loyola’s men’s lacrosse program. Originally a Division II team, the Greyhounds moved up to Division I in 1982, the year before Cottle took over as head coach. During his 19 seasons with the team, he brought the program national recognition with 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, two NCAA Final Four appearances, and a NCAA Runner-Up title in 1990. Coach Cottle enjoys seeing the continued success of the program and believes they really have a chance to win the title this year.
“I saw the Loyola-Duke game earlier this season and there wasn’t a big difference in size or athleticism between the two teams,” he says. “It was very evident for me that this Loyola team is very different from Loyola teams of the past ten years. It’s good to see them back in the playoff chase and it’s exciting to see your former players that have a love for the university be successful.”
Lasting Bonds with MLL PlayersIf Loyola wins its Final Four match-up, it has the potential to face Cottle’s former Maryland team that includes players he recruited and coached before joining the Bayhawks organization in 2010. Cottle admits he is more invested in this Maryland team than any other team that will play this weekend. He attributes this to the relationships he forged with the players and their families in the recruiting and coaching process; relationships that often continue past their college experience into their professional careers. Jeff Reynolds is one of those players who has maintained a relationship with Cottle over the years. Reynolds played for Cottle at Maryland and is now a Chesapeake Bayhawk.
“To me, that is what’s special in MLL; the relationships that you have with the guys that are not only on your team, but those that you’ve had over the years with the guys on other teams. As a coach, I’ve watched these guys,” explains Cottle. “I may not have coached them as they’ve grown up and matured from boys to men, but I’ve played against them. And to see what these guys are made of now and how competitive they are and how hard they work is a real treasure to me.”
Despite the limited time MLL players spend together, Cottle explains that players put a lot of effort into trying to establish the feelings and relationships that they experienced in college.
“I think the teams that develop the best chemistry are the ones that, despite their limited opportunities to be together, really enjoy that time together and really enjoy establishing relationships,” says Cottle. “One of things I’ve come to appreciate more is how much the guys care about where they went to college. They are very loyal to their programs and those little differences and former rivalries are what forge their friendships now.”
Breaking MLL StereotypesAccording to Cottle, the expectation of a lot of the players coming into the pros is that their experience is going to be a lot different from college. He explains that the biggest misnomer he hears is that the professional players have “individual focuses” rather than team mindsets. He says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“They want to play well. They want to be successful and they want to enjoy the relationships that they have in the team or they wouldn’t be playing,” he explains. “Last year, after our loss in the MLL playoffs, I told the guys that I never knew I would have a relationship with another group of guys like I had with my college team. Those guys in that locker room last year cared about each other.”
Cottle recounts a post-game e-mail from Bayhawks defenseman Bray Malphrus, which he believes exemplifies the universal mindset of MLL players. Malphrus said he didn’t believe the MLL camaraderie would measure up to the friendships he forged during his collegiate career, but as he was walking away from the season, he noted how deeply he cared about his teammates and the Bayhawks organization.
“The care and passion not just for the sport, but for their teams, are what we’re trying to get across to our fans,” Cottle said. “They sacrifice a lot of their personal time to be in the league and the players would not be in MLL if it wasn’t for their love of the game and for their teammates.”
Look for MLL stars this weekend at the 2012 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. They will be signing autographs and showing fans their pro tips on the demo field in the fan zone.