Marty Ward is the head men’s lacrosse coach at Florida Southern College and has been involved with Division II lax for nearly two decades. He has witnessed the growth of Division II lacrosse firsthand since his playing days and now into his coaching career.
We’re fortunate and proud to be welcoming new contributors to our platform! You can expect to see Marty’s expertise on Lax All Stars on a bi-weekly basis moving forward.
Division II Lacrosse Growth Through the Years
When I graduated from Corcoran High School in Syracuse, New York, in 2003, many of my fellow teammates and competitors were committing to schools in the Northeast or as far south as Maryland. Private and public (SUNYs) Division III’s ate up the bulk of talent from Upstate NY that year, and of course, DI colleges and universities had there pick of the litter. Duke, UNC, Loyola, Syracuse, Maryland, and others highlighted the signing day ceremonies across the NYS thruway. Division II was not in the conversations among friends. People didn’t really even think of Division II, even with a rising power like Lemoyne in our own backyard.
I remember getting a letter from C.W. Post and being excited as they were a notable name in the lacrosse world, but outside of Long Island schools like C.W. Post, Adelphi, and NYIT, the visibility of Division II in a high school player’s eyes was limited. One school, Limestone College, a small school in Gaffney, South Carolina, had my interest in the process; Limestone assistant coach Judd Lattimore was a product of Auburn, New York, and a former All-American attackman at UNC. He first reached out, and head coach T.W. Johnson made sure to get me committed to The Rock in the spring of my senior season. Coming off of a national championship in 2002, I had to take the opportunity to play in the warm South Carolina sun, a big difference between playing in the spring season in Upstate NY. A deciding factor was the geography of the school. I had never imagined traveling to South Carolina for college.
The Division II lacrosse landscape has changed significantly since that spring of 2003. At the time, the southern-most school in the NCAA was Limestone, and the western-most was Wheeling Jesuit. Now, you can look all the way to Florida and as far west as Utah for an opportunity to play Division II at the next level. Do you want to play for a nationally ranked DII program? You can do that in places like Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, and across the Carolinas. You can literally find a home to play Division II play in any area of the country now. The competitiveness across the division continues to rise with the growth of the game in nontraditional hot bed areas. These spots are full of talented student-athletes looking to play lacrosse at the next level. A lot of players get overlooked, and DII programs benefit from the late bloomers who rise into their game in the senior year of high school. JUCO has also been very kind to the division over the years, with many of the best junior college players taking their talent Division II.
The major difference is the visibility of Division II lacrosse for prospects. The tournament has expanded to 12 teams from two teams with a north and south representative in the late 90s and early 2000s, which has added exposure. The other change in 2003 was the opportunity for the national championship to be played on the same field as the DI and DIII title games. In prior years it was held off the main field. This fostered another level of growth for the division and its recruiting landscape.
As the player talent in Division II continues to rise, so does the coaching talent within the division. Programs are full of quality coaches who not only care about the product on the field but the players’ overall experience and success, too. Now, with competitive recruiting, institutional support, committed coaches, and an expanded tournament field, Division II isn’t just an afterthought for recruits; it is now a serious option to consider when making your college list.
Want to learn more about Division II lacrosse?
-Attend a Florida Southern prospect day and be coached by Coach Ward.
-Listen to Coach Ward talk about Division II lacrosse and the options people have on the Going Offsides podcast.