Lacrosse program growing strong after absence

The TCU club lacrosse team huddles under the stadium lights at Fort Worth Country Day High School after a 19-6 win over the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. The players are bruised, panting and sweaty as they come together, but they are jumping and screaming with excitement. After the players breaks for the night, they gather smelly bags full of pads and equipment and head to Buffalo Bros., a local restaurant. They spend hours laughing, eating and celebrating their win – and their sport.

But it wasn’t always that way.

The university’s club lacrosse program was founded in 1983 and continued successfully for almost two decades. However, the program lost campus support after a road trip to Louisiana and was removed from TCU. Current team members and coaches don’t know all the details that led to the program’s removal, but senior lacrosse player Charley Lloyd attributed the punishment of the team to players’ “rowdy behavior” while in New Orleans.

The team returned to campus two years later, but without strong leadership and very small in number.

In 2005, Mark Miller came to the university to get his master’s degree and work as the graduate assistant in the equipment room for the athletics department. He had played lacrosse in high school and college and was eager to get back into the sport, he said. When he noticed old and tattered lacrosse cages on campus, he sought out members of the team.

After meeting with the struggling president of the club team at the time, Miller decided to help out and coach.

Miller eagerly anticipated his first day of practice with the team and was so excited when he showed up – until he counted the players, all 10 of them.

“That was kind of a funny event because I’m used to a team of 30 guys working hard for two or more hours a day,” Miller said. “I showed up the first day to 10 guys for about 45 minutes.”

Lloyd, who entered his freshman season during Miller’s second year as head coach, said the team had just enough members to play. During his four years at the university and on the team, Lloyd has seen the program grow enormously, he said.

“When we were freshmen, the people who were dedicated didn’t love lacrosse. They played and just stepped up because no one else would,” Lloyd said. “As my class grew up, we not only had leaders, we had lacrosse players.”

Now, five years since that first practice, Miller has an assistant coach in former TCU goalie Matthew Patyk, a roster of 23 players and nationally ranked opponents on the schedule. The team also progressed from Division II to Division I in the Men’s Club Lacrosse Association under his leadership.

During spring break, the LAX Frogs – the team’s self-proclaimed nickname – made their second trip to southern California where they competed against Santa Clara University and Stanford University.

The trip resulted in two losses, but junior defensive player Shea Pearson said it was a good trip and the team returned to Texas hopeful for the remainder of the season and conference play.

Last year, the team went into the trip expecting to come out beaten up, but excited for the opportunity as it faced Claremont University, ranked No. 24 by the MCLA at the time, Pearson said.

TCU rallied to beat Claremont 12-11, a feat that Miller said really boosted the confidence of the team.

“It’s a great feeling,” Miller said. “It was a pretty big ego boost actually. We were really working hard on and off the field. The hardest thing for a young program is getting the guys to believe that they are capable of achieving at the next level, of beating those better teams.”

The message apparently sank in. The team boasts a 6-5 record this season with only one loss in their division.

Success for this team means more than just winning games. Miller said he is continuing to make efforts in the community to gain recognition for the program at TCU.

“One of the things I’m trying to do in the area is bring a Youth Lacrosse camp to TCU,” Miller said.” We’re going to have a camp this summer with about 150 guys.”

Miller added that Max Seibald, who is regarded, as Miller put it, as the Heisman winner of the lacrosse world, is scheduled to help at the camp.

The publicity and growth of the TCU lacrosse program would not have been possible, Miller said, without the support of the university.

Every game, more and more viewers are lining up to watch the team play on the campus intramural fields in every kind of weather. Close to 100 fans came out for the February home game against Texas Tech University, bundled in blankets and rain coats to keep from freezing. The Frogs rallied to beat Tech 6-5.

“The support level we get at TCU is fantastic,” Miller said. “I think a lot of people like to see success. Whenever you get to put TCU on a jersey and a player gets to put that on, people want to cheer for them. We definitely feel like we are such a part of the university. We’ve got fans, we’ve got the support we just need to keep growing and getting the guys in here that are going to make a difference.”

Lloyd said the growth of the program during his career at the university has also added to the camaraderie and attitude of the team. He also said that Miller’s coaching is a key component to the development and advancement of the team over the past few years.

“I think as we’ve grown as a team, he’s grown as a coach,” Lloyd said. “He has gained a lot more respect from the team because he does so much.”

Miller and Lloyd agreed that the program still has a long way to go but that the popularity and support has helped the program become more competitive and attractive to potential players.

“My plan is to try to put TCU on the map over the next few years,” Miller said. “We’ve already laid a great foundation, and now we have to raise our level each day at every practice.”