When Joe Walters buried an outside shot to give Redwoods LC an 11-10 lead with just 1:36 remaining, he put the Redwoods on the verge of a PLL championship. In front of a packed crowd at Talen Energy Stadium, the Redwoods pulled off an improbable comeback and were just minutes away from winnng the inaugural PLL title. Yet, the final moments of the game would end in heartbreak for the Redwoods, as they watched league MVP Matt Rambo tie the game with 21 seconds remaining in regulation and win the game for the Whipsnakes in the opening seconds of overtime. It was a crushing defeat for the Redwoods and no one took the loss harder than Redwoods LC Head Coach Nat St. Laurent.
“Watching that ball go in, was like the slowest motion thing I had seen in my life,” Nat St. Laurent said when reflecting on the heartbreaking championship loss. “It was just a feeling of devastation, not for me, but to give Jack Near a hug and Matt Landis a hug as he walks off the field and how deflating it was for them.”
For Nat St. Laurent, the loss still stings even deep into the offseason.
“I struggle with this one because I always felt that in a one-goal game, [a loss] is on the coach and I’ve taken this one very personally. Looking back, I could have done a much better job in that first half,” St. Laurent said. “For me it was devastating because there are so many Notre Dame guys on that team that haven’t won a championship and they deserve it… it was just gut-wrenching.”
For Nat St. Laurent lacrosse never stops and the end of the PLL season meant the start of the NCAA season. Splitting his duties between the Redwoods in the PLL and Division III Ohio Northern University, he finds himself with very little downtime, and almost no break between responsibilities. But for St. Laurent, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s been a blessing, playing for the championship and then literally turning around that next Monday having our first fall ball,” said St. Laurent.
For St. Laurent, his family is what makes his dedication to the sport easy. “My family is my biggest concern, and they’re all in, man. My son’s out there reenacting all of Ryder Garnsey’s goals, begging me for Myles Jones’ t-shirt,” said St. Laurent.
Adding to St. Laurent’s busy offseason, was the cancellation of the NCAA season due to the COVID-19 pandemic that currently has a majority of the country sheltering in place. The cancellation brought an end to Ohio Northern’s promising season in which they started 4-2 and were about to start play in the Ohio Athletic Conference. For St. Laurent, this marked a low point in the offseason, and forced him into difficult conversations that had seemed nearly impossible to imagine only a week earlier.
“I literally found out 20 minutes before practice. Two days before they told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to keep moving forward with your season,'” said St. Laurent. “Trying to explain to the team, while I’m hugging one senior because he’s breaking down, it’s tough,” said St. Laurent.
But for St. Laurent, the work never stops. Shortly after the season was canceled, he was already exchanging messages with players whom he was targeting as potential additions for the Redwoods in the upcoming PLL College Draft, scheduled for April 21. For St. Laurent, he feels that his position as a head coach in the NCAA in addition to his role on the professional stage gives him a leg up over other coaches who don’t coach on the NCAA level.
“I think being a college coach allows me to keep my pulse on college lacrosse. Maybe more-so than some of the other coaches that are not. Because I’m in the thick of it, I’m in the know, I have access to all the college films,” St. Laurent said. “I’m in the day to day of it.”
Even as St. Laurent looks ahead towards the PLL College Draft, he has already had one of the busier offseasons among the original six PLL teams. Besides the entry draft, in which the Redwoods nabbed defenseman Finn Sullivan, and face-off specialist Greg Puskuldjian, St. Laurent was involved in the biggest trade the league has seen to date. Sending midfielder Sergio Salcido and a second-round pick to the Chaos, in exchange for midfielder Myles Jones.
St. Laurent feels that this is one of the rare trades where both sides can come away winners. “[I’m] absolutely thrilled to have Myles. He’s a guy that I’ve been able to develop a relationship coaching against over the last few years. And you know, it was interesting because everybody wanted to talk about who’s going to win this trade,” said St. Laurent. “I personally felt like both teams were getting a missing piece. I was extremely excited to have a guy like Myles join our team,” he added.
For St. Laurent, his relationship with Chaos coach Andy Towers made him a natural trading partner.
“Coach Towers and I are both high-intensity guys, and we get along great, one of my favorite human beings in this world,” said St. Laurent.
St. Laurent feels bringing Myles Jones onto the Redwoods is an obvious fit.
“I was extremely excited to have Myles join our team. Because we have so many great lefty finishers on our team, and he’s underrated as a passer. I think he has a great ability to share the ball,” said St. Laurent. “He feeds the ball well, he causes matchup issues, you kind of have to put a pole on him,” he added.
“Now, you put him on the field with the likes of a Joe Walters, who he has a great continuity with from when they were on the Bayhawks, you throw Brent Adams in there, who is arguably the best two-way middie in the league. We got this other big guy on our team, his name is Sergio Perkovic, and then you roll out the GOAT in Kyle Harrison. So we just felt like he made us a very difficult team to match up with,” said St. Laurent.
St. Laurent hope these matchups can address what he felt like was a missing piece for a team that came within one goal of taking home the inaugural PLL championship.
“I felt like we were missing another righty big dodging presence. I felt we had some great pieces, but that was an area we wanted to shore up,” said St. Laurent.
St. Laurent also cited Jones’s fit in the locker room as a big reason he felt comfortable adding the former Duke superstar.
“He’s a big name, he’s a superstar. But he doesn’t have a huge ego. Which is really important to our team,” said St. Laurent. “When you have veterans like we do on our team, it’s important that you don’t let egos get in the way,” he added.
St. Laurent is no stranger when it comes to making trades. The Redwoods coach has been involved in a number of trades since the PLL trade window opened initially in June of last year. Including trading for Jules Heningburg from the Whipsnakes, in what would end up marking a pivotal moment in the Redwoods 2019 campaign.
According to St. Laurent, his aggressiveness on the trade market is due to a win-now mindset that to him, is what he owes a roster full of big-name veterans.
“I try to win championships now. And I owe it to the guys on our team to provide the best locker room we possibly can, put the best team out there that’s going to win,” said St Laurent. “I think about Greg Gurenlian last year, I think about Kyle Harrison and Joe Walters. How much longer do they have?” he added. “I want to be aggressive, I live in the moment.”
St. Laurent’s win-now attitude nearly guided the Redwoods to a championship in 2019. Led in large part by contributions from young players such as Ryder Garnsey, Sergio Perkovic, and rookie of the year winner, Tim Troutner. According to St. Laurent, the success of his young players is due to their attitudes and willingness to adjust to help the team.
Perkovic made the transition to a primarily defensive-midfielder in 2019, after being one of the primary goal scorers at nearly every stop in his lacrosse career before joining the Redwoods. Many players would not take kindly to the adjustment in role, but St. Laurent says for Perkovic it was no problem.
“I had mentioned, do you think you could play d-middie? And he was like ‘absolutely’ I didn’t know if he’d ever had to consider that because he’s such a natural athlete and so good,” said St. Laurent. “In that same conversation he was like ‘I can take wings, I can play defense,” he added.
St. Laurent believes that for Perkovic, the ceiling is the limit due in large part to his attitude. “We’re actually talking right now about another way to evolve this kid for this upcoming season. Because I truly feel like he’s got the potential to be a top three or four midfielder in this league. So I’m really excited. He’s been outstanding with his approach,” said St. Laurent.
St. Laurent says that it was a similar attitude that allowed Tim Troutner, a fourth round pick, and Ryder Garnsey, an undrafted rookie, to become mainstays on the Redwoods during their run to the championship game.
“Timmy and Ryder, they’re great human beings. They’re so selfless, it’s not about them at all. So that helped, neither of them came in thinking they knew everything or thinking they were going to be the best player,” said St. Laurent. “Both of them came in with a chip to prove and both of them ended up becoming great stories,” he added.
As the Redwoods look to move forward from what was without a doubt a successful 2019 campaign, and begin to set their sights on the 2020 trophy, St. Laurent says the first challenge is moving past how last year ended.
“We have to remove ourselves from last year. And that’s going to be the biggest challenge. I think we’ve started to do that. Yes, we’re frustrated that we lost,” St. Laurent said. “But we are proud of what we’ve done, we’re excited about what we’ve done in the offseason,” he emphasized.
But much like the memory of a heartbreaking championship loss can prevent a season from seeing its potential, lofty preseason expectations can be do just as much damage early in the season.
“We have to be hungry, I think that’s the biggest thing right now. I think people are saying ‘hey you might be the favorite, you guys are the team that’s everybody’s going to be picking to get back to the championship this year,” said St. Laurent. “We just can’t read into any of that, it has to to be all about the Redwoods and what we’re doing to get better game in and game out,” he added.
“You can never be comfortable in this league, and that’s the approach that we’re taking.”