The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams will begin play this week. AU’s newest sports programs were first announced back in 2015 as a part of the school’s development initiative to the athletic department. They began play in 2017 as a club team and will now begin their first full season as a school sponsored sport.
As with any new sport, the players and coaches are excited to be a part of the first team in school history. AU hired Jacob Ashton to coach the men’s team and Colin McSharar to lead the women’s team.
Ashton was a college lacrosse player at James Madison University and has been an assistant coach at several schools in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“To be able to start something like this and watch it all come together is pretty neat,” said Ashton. “This most likely will be a once in a lifetime opportunity: being able to build something from the ground up and watch it grow. Despite being mostly freshmen and low on depth, I know that once we come together as a team and continue to trust one another, we will begin to really flourish.”
McSharar grew up in Indiana and was an All-Conference player at Mount St. Joseph. He also spent time as the head women’s lacrosse coach at Franklin College and an assistant for Butler’s men’s club team.
“My lacrosse experience both as a player and as a coach has only been in start-up programs,” said McSharar. “I spent all last year traveling the country trying to find a very diverse group of leaders to help lay the foundation for future years. It was fun being able to hand-pick my team. I made sure I was honest with recruits on what the first few years would be like, and what our mission is.”
Both coaches had a big task ahead of them after accepting their jobs. They had to assemble brand new teams from scratch, while paying attention to the culture and morals that line up with AU’s beliefs.
“Culture is paramount,” added McSharar. “I turned away a lot of players who would have been a great talent on the team, but not necessarily the best for the culture. As a result, the first ever recruiting class has been fantastic. They’re small but mighty and they’re all here for the long-haul. Everyone has a role. They’ve bought into the process. So far, this group is coming along way better and faster than any team I have been a part of.”
The men will play their first game tonight at home against Earlham, while the women will begin play Saturday against Monmouth. The programs will begin with 29 players between the two rosters. Most of the players are freshman, but the men have some experienced players as well, with six upperclassmen on their team.
Jon Orloff, a freshman attack for the men’s team, is excited about being a part of the first team in the program’s history.
“I think that being able to set the standards for future lacrosse teams here at AU and being able to teach Anderson about the great game of lacrosse is the most exciting part about being on the first team,” said Orloff.
The lone senior on the women’s roster is CJ Pinyot. She suffered four concussions in her athletic career and was told she most likely wouldn’t be able to play sports again. Despite the adversity, she is taking advantage of the new program for one last year of college sports.
“Coming from years of competitive lacrosse programs, having the opportunity to set expectations and place goals for future athletes is something very special,” said Pinyot. “I am personally viewing this season as a blessing and going in with no expectations but to enjoy every second. For our team, I expect it to be a year of growth and experience. I have full faith in my teammates. They have already made this the best last year of lacrosse.”
“We’ve been really focusing on fundamentals and developing lacrosse IQ,” said McSharar. “We have a lot of newcomers on the team who have never played lacrosse before. So getting those new players up to speed both in conditioning, stick skills and accustomed to the rules of the game have been the central focus for us the first few weeks of practice.”
The season won’t be without it challenges. The men were picked to finish fourth out of five teams in the HCAC preseason poll and the women were selected to finish sixth out of seven.
“We will face inexperience, low numbers and lack of accountability,” said Ashton. “Once the team begins to understand what supporting one another really looks like, we will surprise some opponents with how much heart and talent we truly have.”
“The biggest challenge for me so far is managing players who are polar opposites in ability,” added McSharar. “We’ve been spending a lot of time trying to help the newcomers learn how to catch and throw, but I also need to make sure I’m not neglecting our experienced players. Also, we have a pretty thin roster this year. Lacrosse is a very fast-paced game that requires a lot of conditioning. We’ve been making plans on how to give certain players rest during the game so that we don’t run out of gas towards the end.”
McSharar also said that the team is filled with leaders who have helped the players with no lacrosse experience get ready for the season. Both teams have a mix of experience and youth, with several players beginning their first ever season of lacrosse.
This will be an exciting season for both programs, but it is just the beginning in the eyes of the coaches. They will continue to recruit, develop their players and build their programs as the years go on, starting as early as the 2019-20 season.
“The 2019 recruiting class is going to be large,” said McSharar. “The future of AU lacrosse is bright.”