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Fireside Chat with Coach Mike Brand

More good news from the Sportsman’s Paradise. Knox sits down with Centenary’s Head Coach.

In another one of my attempts to prove to the world that Louisiana lacrosse is the real deal, I caught up with Centenary College’s head lacrosse coach.

Check out our little chat:

Coach Brand and team

Lacrosse All Stars: Before we begin, tell our readers who don’t know much about Centenary about the school. Where is it located? Core curriculum offered? Est. # of students enrolled?
Coach Mike Brand: Centenary College of Louisiana (not to be confused with Centenary College of New Jersey) is located in Shreveport in Northwest Louisiana (the heel of the boot as I tell my Yank friends). Centenary is a liberal arts and sciences college with 21 majors and 9 minors.

Most of my players are biology, chemistry, poly sci or business majors. Right now we are right around 900 students which fluctuates every school year. Not only are we currently the smallest D1 school in the country but we are also the smallest MCLA team in the league. We don’t hide the fact that we are a small school – we promote it.

So tell me about the history Centenary’s lacrosse program. How long has it been around? How long have you been around? What brought you here?

Mike Brand: We just completed our second season in the MCLA but Gents lacrosse had been around a few years before I arrived as an independent club team.

I was finishing my masters at Misericordia University as well as assistant coaching their D3 team in the spring of 2008 and a friend of mine, who is a D1 head coach, forwarded me a job posting. I applied, came down for a visit, and liked what I saw.

I have coached in some pretty obscure places. Going from Buffalo to Bath, England, to Dallas, Pennsylvania I have seen it on all levels. The way kids from new lacrosse areas want to learn has always appealed to me. It is a sport that isn’t pressured on kids the way that football or baseball is so they always have a great attitude.

I obviously knew the weather would be better and I knew the caliber of athlete the South had to offer so I saw it as a great opportunity to develop the area.

Describe Centenary’s facilities – practice field? Game field? Training facility? What do you do when weather sucks?

Mike Brand:We have two flood lit Bermuda grass fields. Our practice field is on the main campus right next to the dorms and we play our games on Mayo field which also hosts the soccer teams. Jones-Rice, our practice field, is great because it has a softball backstop in one corner which helps out the dorm windows.

Mayo field is a very intimate setting tucked behind our beautiful Shehee baseball stadium and the iconic Gold Dome arena. Classmates can be found on couches colorfully helping our defense with words of wisdom for our opponents.

Tell me about your players/practices – how is the turnout? How committed are the players? Who are some of your stud players that we should look out for?
Mike Brand:Well most of my guys are local guys who played in high school. I do also have a handful of guys who are from Texas, Arkansas and New Hampshire. Turnout for practice is night and day compared to last season. I think it took the guys a year to see the importance of practice and to build their pride in their club. I overheard someone on campus talking to a friend who said “Did you see the lacrosse team practicing? We like have a real lacrosse team now.”

Of course it’s not to the point where we need to be, but considering we’re a club and my players are extremely diversified when it comes to clubs and activities, we get a lot done at practice even if we have to make adjustments often.

Our goalie, Daniel Ewing, is our MVP. We’ve been so thankful for great goalie play. It is vital in games to not only have a shot stopper but a quarterback for clears and another coach on the field directing players through our D.

Rob Grand and Michael Hiller are our “do everything” middies right now. They can face, play O and play D. At defense Alex Tan is our leader. He brings an attitude and toughness that can change games. Our leading scorer this year, Colton Cowley, had a breakout Freshman season setting a school record with 7 goals against Austin College.

Do you actively try to recruit?
Mike Brand:I am constantly recruiting.  We are a young program so our results will have to do the recruiting for us and when prospective student athletes see the campus, it is a great recruiting tool.  Centenary is always growing and giving it’s students new options for clubs and activities.

As we all know the average lacrosse player is a true student-athlete.  As the commercial says, we’ll be going professional in something other than sports. These are the type of young adults we want on campus.  There’s a reason why the Ivy League can still compete with Big East teams in lacrosse.  As new high school programs pop up and our record improves we’ll look to bring in more and more guys.

(Writer’s note: I have to say, having grown up in Shreveport and been around Centenary more times than I can count, the campus is absolutely gorgeous for being such a small school.)

What have been your biggest successes at Centenary? Challenges/Set backs?
Mike Brand:I think my biggest success has been to show the game to kids who wouldn’t have even heard the word “lacrosse” in their life had I never came.  I also coach Caddo Magnet’s varsity team as well as the Shreveport Storm club so my goal is to constantly get new kids in pads.

The void of a contact sport on [Caddo Magnet] campus has really made us a popular team with the student body.  Probably the biggest thing we have done as a club is our partnership with the YMCA.  Their youth program was dormant and to help not only my college players but also my high school kids obtain required service hours, we kick started the league with a great turnout.  It was held right on our practice field and we had even more kids than we anticipated.

As for setbacks I think the amount of activities my players have can interfere with lacrosse as I mentioned above.  At first I was very frustrated but when the guys saw how much fun practices and games were, their commitment grew.

I have realized the importance extra curricular activities are to the school and students.  We have four fraternities and I have three frat presidents on the team.  Majority of my guys are in frats and I have student government officials, college ambassadors, and RA’s.  Our team GPA is pretty high up there, so lacrosse isn’t their first priority and it shouldn’t be.

Where do you see the future of Centenary’s program going? Maybe some D3 action?
Mike Brand:Considering the top team in our conference (Southwestern 2009 and Sam Houston 2010) has left the conference last two seasons, our future is bright.

Our goal next year is to win the conference and get to the national tournament.  We should be the conference pre-season pick next year, but unfortunately the LSA D2 may not have an AQ due to only having five teams at the moment.

Our school has repositioned itself to Division 3 athletics as a whole so the chances of us making the jump as well are good.  It is something we are exploring and something I would welcome.

So assuming you guys make the jump in the near future, what impact do you think that will have on lacrosse in Louisiana as a whole? Who would you play?
Mike Brand:I think it would be a momentous step for Louisiana lacrosse. To be the first school in the state to have NCAA lacrosse would be an honor. With the great in state aid Louisiana gives to college students and the growth of Louisiana high school lacrosse, we could bring in the best LA laxers to represent the state on a national scale.

Considering the weather here, I know I could bring in some northerners who won’t have to tape their ear holes or wear plastic shopping bags over their socks like I had to.

As for who we would play I think if we could make a great hybrid NCAA/MCLA schedule.

Hendrix College 193 mi
University of Dallas 199 mi
Millsaps College 209 mi
Southwestern University 302 mi
Rhodes College 348 mi
Birmingham Southern 450 mi
Sewanee College 486 mi

Stephen F Austin 101 mi
SMU 178 mi
Sam Houston State 181 mi
North Texas 203 mi
TCU 210 mi
LSU 210 mi

I saw you guys did/do a summer camp? How was/will be the turnout? Who directs the camp? Is it reasonably priced?
Mike Brand:Well last year we ran a camp and it as great.  We couldn’t predict the turnout so we had all ages.

This year we are going to do one session of high school boys and one session of middle school and younger.  We are hoping to get about 60 kids for each session.  I am the camp director but we have head coaches coming in from Medaille, Herkimer, Misericordia, and University of Dallas.

We also have college players from Johns Hopkins, North Carolina and Cortland on staff.  The high school camp is only $300 and the middle school session is $250.

You can sign up on our website

Strawn’s strawberry pie – anything better?
Mike Brand:Yes actually. Wings from anywhere in Buffalo!

Thanks, Coach, for taking the time to hook us up with this interview. Big news! Potentially a D3 team coming to Louisiana!

This has been another Lax All Stars Fireside Chat. Stay tuned to the LAS Network for more interviews and see our full list of interviews here.

About the author: Knox is a 24 year old High School Head Coach in a small area east of Baton Rouge. He played High School ball for four years, and college ball for about 1 week until he realized his collegiate priorities rested with more important things like partying and eventually trying to get his grades up. He enjoys things that most Louisiana people do – eating boiled crawfish and alligator, a cold Abita Amber, anything LSU, his dog, and his beautiful girlfriend, Audrey. Lacrosse is not listed because most Louisiana people have no idea what lacrosse is.

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