The 2022 season was another great year for NAIA lacrosse. Let’s take a look back at some of the best moments, not so great moments, and ways we can improve the league moving forward.
The best thing about this season had to be the overall parity in play this year. We had three different No.1 ranked teams throughout the year featuring Reinhardt, St. Ambrose, and Indiana Tech. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time in at least three years we have had more than two teams ranked No.1 throughout the season. Each conference sent at least two teams to nationals which shows the talent level is disperse throughout the NAIA.
The chase for the last spot in nationals was another one of my favorite things to watch this season. With about two weeks left in the season it became apparent to most of us that unless total chaos happened inside of the conference tournaments, that Webber, Siena Heights, and Benedictine would be fighting for the 8th and final spot at nationals. Webber made a very appealing Twitter campaign showing their strength of schedule. Siena Heights made a very impressive run to the WHAC Championship game upsetting a ranked Aquinas team in the semifinals, before falling to Indiana Tech. Benedictine took matters into their own hands and won the KCAC tournament knocking off the No.1 nationally ranked team St. Ambrose.
A team that many fans fell in love with this season was the Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs. A team of 17 scrappy players and one coach determined to see his team succeed. The Dawgs had a fantastic 13-4 season that saw them make the NAIA tournament and finish the regular season as Co-AAC champs. The most entertaining part of their season came in the span of a week. From March 24th to March 30th, TWU pulled off three of the biggest upsets in the season defeating No.4 Keiser, No.7 Webber, and No.3 Cumberlands.
Not So Great Moments
It can’t all be good all the time and the NAIA was no exception to this rule.
The worst part of the season by far was due to programs folding or not starting when they expected too. Morningside folded midseason after a rough start the past few years. Cleary University also cut both their Men’s and Women’s programs as the season concluded. Multnomah and Westcliff were both scheduled to launch programs this season, but neither were able to field teams. Westcliff recruited well bringing in 20+ athletes but ended up losing their Head Coach and most of the players due to undisclosed reasons. Multnomah is in better shape but only has 7 players currently on their roster. This is a trend that has to change going forward.
The NAIA media accounts have to step their game up. The official NAIA men’s lacrosse twitter hasn’t posted since 12/31/2021. Not one post this entire season. When they do acknowledge lacrosse on the general NAIA account they frequently make mistakes, such as the ones we saw announcing incorrect teams had advanced in the National Tournament. We have to do a better job if we want national respect.
Things to Improve
The main area I think the league could improve is marketing. I think if we scheduled the National Tournament to take place in lacrosse hotbeds (Maryland, New York, etc.) we could draw more attention to the league. Locals in these areas are much more likely to come to the games than the locals in areas where the tournament has previously been hosted. If we added more venders at the tournaments and had pop-up shops / food trucks and invited local youth teams, I think more families would attend the tournament. Another idea would be to hire a company to do strategic online advertisements before next year’s National Tournament.
We could definitely grow the brand with some key partnerships. If the NAIA officially partnered with Lacrosse All Stars I think it would go a long way for the league. Lacrosse All Stars has four former/current NAIA players and coaches who write or manage for them. We clearly are the most passionate big lacrosse publication in terms of NAIA coverage. A partnership here makes all the sense in the world. It could be something as simple as having us interview the Player of the Week, or as extensive as reporting the conference tournaments. This would add a lot of eyes to the quality games that the NAIA produces.
My final suggestion is to address the issue of expansion and travel. As much as I love the idea of NAIA lacrosse on the West Coast, I think we need to further reinforce our already decently fortified areas. If we could add another team in Florida or Georgia, I think we could drastically improve traveling issues for the southern teams. Adding another program in Ohio, or northern Kentucky could serve as a midway point to host WHAC vs AAC games. The KCAC / Heart have some powerhouse athletic programs that have yet to add lacrosse. Hopefully with the Heart of America sponsoring lacrosse we are able to see some of those programs add lacrosse in the near future.