The North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) is gearing up to begin the 2023 Men’s Lacrosse season. The league is home to ten DIII universities in Ohio and Indiana.
This year the league will welcome two new coaches. Wooster brings in Eric Seideman from Mount Saint Mary College (NY) and Hiram brings in Brian Welch from Lake Erie College. I caught up with a number of the coaches to get a recap and the fall ball and look ahead to the 2023 season.
Denison welcomed Eric Koch as their new head coach in 2022. He led them to an undefeated regular season, a regular season and conference tournament championship, and an appearance in the Sweet 16. Koch is a longtime DIII assistant known for his defensive prowess served for five years at Stevens Institute of Technology before returning to his alma mater, Washington and Lee, for seven years. I sat down with Coach Koch to learn about what drew him to Denison and to look ahead to the 2023 season.
You are beginning your second year at Denison after serving at your alma mater, Washington and Lee, for seven years as an assistant coach. What was it about Denison that you know it was the right to make your move?
I’ve been very fortunate to have been a longtime assistant coach for a few very good coaches who were willing to keep me around for as long as they did. I was able to establish my philosophy and my style over time.
It was probably around year four or year five back at Washington and Lee, I had a young family. You start thinking okay, is this where I want to be forever? Or what would the next move be?
Dennison was one that you always circle. There are jobs that all of us as coaches circle with that job ever opens up. Having played against them, knowing the tradition of excellence, I applied. The more I got to know about Denison it clicked and I felt like it was a place that would be good for my family. A place that was going to challenge me to grow professionally, but then also gives me all the resources that I felt I needed in an institution and an athletic department to be successful.
Your staff has some pretty impressive credentials. Ryan Rohde coached with you at Washington and Lee but also played at Salisbury where he won 3 National Championships. Maia Bartlett came from Europe where she was the head coach of the Luxembourg Men’s National team. What made these two the right fit when you were putting your first staff together?
My philosophy is we’ve got to get to work well together. We’re gonna be able to teach each other,. We’re going to be able to fill in kind of the gaps of each other. Having staff harmony, especially in year one, taking over an established program from a legendary coach. I felt that that was really the key piece to putting together what I want to be a successful staff.
My familiarity with Ryan and working with him for two years at Washington and Lee. We don’t see the game exactly the same, but the foundations of how we approach lacrosse are very similar. We both like a simple style. The fact that he’s got the championship pedigree of having played at Saulsbury, winning three national championships. He’s a guy that understands how you can push a DIII athlete. Most importantly, he knows and understands the type of kids we need to recruit, to compete at the national level.
Maiah’s father and I were neighbors, for the last few years that I lived in Lexington. He’s the former head coach at VMI. During the pandemic, he’d walk his dog and I was at home with my kids. So we would talk. I was aware that Maiah was overseas coaching and that she had a desire to get into the men’s game when she came back. And then and then when I got offered the Denison job, I said “I’d like for her to go apply or if she’s interested, maybe we can sit down and have coffee, to get to know each other a little bit. And so we did that in Lexington before I made the move out to Granville. And it was just really impressive, her energy, her desire to learn. I was incredibly impressed with her. Looking at resumes and talking about applicants she rose to the top as someone that I thought would really round out and balance our staff.
This fall was your second fall ball at Denison following a successful inaugural season. Did you make any changes or modifications to your schedule based on learnings from your first year?
Last year we got to the Sweet 16. Every team’s excellent. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve been humbled by a team in NCAA Tournament games to finish the season. Understanding who we’re competing against, the level we want to you know, the company we want to be considered in, you know, challenged us to take a step back not necessarily go back to the drawing board, but think about where our gaps were. I think for us, we needed more of a focus on team bonding this fall. We have a great senior class that did a great job of getting everyone on the same page.
From a lacrosse standpoint, having the familiarity of the systems of our expectations of what we’re looking for, allowed us to come together faster on the field, which then accelerates the connection off the field.
There was one time last year, we had a freshman defenseman turn to Joe Rocky, a senior two-time captain for us last year and ask: What’s coach talking about? Joe’s like, Yeah, I heard that for the first time to man, I’m not sure what he’s talking about.
There was an understanding gap where there wasn’t that we as coaches have to rely on is that like, top-down coaching, where seniors get it, juniors get it, you know, like everybody kind of can help decipher the message. We didn’t have that last year until close to the end of the regular season. It wasn’t so much about doing things holistically different. It was about finding those little things that I think will give us an advantage down the road.
You have coached some great defenses in your time as an assistant and now as a head coach. Can you share with us some of your defensive philosophies?
I think the defensive mindset is tough. It’s something we talked about, we’re like, listen, people only understand when we do something wrong, people aren’t gonna understand when we do things right. As a coach I really trying to focus on when guys are doing like the quiet things, right. And compliment them on it. I think that goes a long way. It’s a blue collar position in lacrosse, you got to show up every day with with your lunch pail, and just be a tough, gritty guy, that loves a challenge.
It’s about being simple. It’s being consistent. We’ve got to be prepared to react. Everyone is on the same page, and not making the right reads or arguing.
We’ve got a big saying no going rogue. It’s the guys that go rogue and make a snap decision that they’ve never done before that guys can’t anticipate that makes it really hard for the five guys to anticipate,read, and react to that in a fast and efficient manner to cover that
It’s trying to find the group of guys, that’s the best unit. That maybe goes against some, some philosophies are like, Hey, we’re gonna put our most talented guys out there. We’re just gonna kind of try and let them figure it out. Where I’m like, hopefully, it’s the most talented guys, but I got I think, guys that work well together, you know, better a strong unit. It’s about putting that together and getting the buy-in, that the guys care about the stop getting the ball back more than they care about. Who gets the stop in who gets the ball?
Fall Ball Recap
I was able to get a hold of six other coaches in the league to check in on their progress from this fall. Here are a few snipnets of our conversations.
My coaching staff and I were pleased with the growth and development our players demonstrated throughout Fall Ball. Our team leaders did a great job setting the tone early in the semester and the focus carried through. After a 14-4 season in ‘22 which included our second straight conference title game appearance, the team is excited to get back to work together in January. I find that every season is its own unique journey. Our guys are looking forward to the challenge of continuing our rise in 2023.– Doug Misarti
Last year was a solid year, we lost two or three games by one goal. I felt like those were definitely games that we could have won. A lot of our offseason was trying to figure out how we can get on the other end of those closer games.
Anytime you have a big senior class that graduates and those guys play for you, you have different roles for guys on the team. So you have guys that may have been underclassmen last year who are in a reserve role for the year and now have to take a major role on your team. So as a coach, you’re identifying which of those guys are going to be, who you want those guys to be, and which guys are actually going to take that mantle on. I really liked what I saw on our team this fall, I think our freshman class is a pretty strong one. I love the attitudes of the guys on our team, everybody seems, you know, hungry to kind of get back out there on the field and get started once our practices get going.– Mike Plantholt
Feeling confident coming out of Fall Ball. Our goal isn’t to recreate the wheel and throw a ton at our guys during the fall. We focus on teaching our guys how to compete, balance academics & athletics and to have fun. The fall is an opportunity for our older guys to show the young guys the way and to allow for players to make early impressions on the coaching staff. We want those two hours at practice to be the highlight of their day. We showed progress each week and competed at a high level at our Fall Play Day which is all we could ask for.– Ryan Polak
We are feeling good coming out of the fall. We were very young last year and ended the season playing fairly well. I am excited where we are, but we play a difficult schedule so if we do not come to play you can end up on the losing end very easily. We will be very solid defensively, but do not have any super stars. It will be total team effort on that end of the field. We are pretty talented on offense.– Jay Owen
I am brand new here at Wooster. I just started in July. We had a wonderful fall semester. Whole new style of play, team atmosphere, enthusiasm, and excitement. My predecessor did an excellent job of recruiting a talented roster, and I am excited to continue to work with our players next month.– Eric Seideman
I feel like we have taken steps forward. Last year was our first year together as a team and staff. Growing pains in understanding the staff, student-athletes, and the institution were our biggest hurdles. This year we have the mission to compete and fight until the end. We developed a mentality that we want our opponents to earn everything. We are young and hungry, so this fall we improved on many things but the biggest is our mentality.– Chris Burke
Players to Watch
Here are some of the players to watch in the NCAC this season. All of these players earned First, Second, or Honorable Mention Team honors during the 2022 season.
|Dublin, OH/Dublin Coffman
|Denver, CO/Colorado Academy
|Powell, OH/Olentangy Liberty
|Hunting Valley, OH/University School
|Hightstown, NJ/Peddie School
|Alexandria, VA/St. Stephens & St. Agnes
|Louisville, KY/Louisville Collegiate School
|Arlington, VA/Georgetown Prep
|Minneapolis, MN/The Blake Schoo
|Towson, MD/Boy’s Latin School
|Dublin, OH/Dublin Coffman
|Toledo, OH/Ottawa Hills
|Rolling Hills Estates, CA/Palos Verdes Peninsula
|Providence, RI/Moses Brown School
|Mountain View, CA/Los Altos HS
|Upper Arlington, OH/Upper Arlington