We’ve done Fall Interviews with one of the big boys of D1 and one of the newcomers the D1 lax and now we’re shifting gears yet again to check in with a NCAA Division III program in Wesleyan University. We got the chance to speak with Coach John Raba, and he filled us in on what’s going on in Middletown, CT.
What are the expectations for Wesleyan Men’s Lacrosse in 2012? The NESCAC is looking tough again with a lot of talented teams, so where does Wesleyan hope to fit in?
John Raba: We hope to be near the top of the heap. We have a tremendous group of returners and everyone is working very hard. Our goal every year is to work hard every single day, and progress throughout the season. If we can do that we usually can compete with anyone at the end of the season when it really counts.
The NESCAC has consistently put a good number of teams into the NCAAs over the last couple of years. Some people say the league gets too many teams. Should there be a cap placed on the number of teams per conference that can qualify for the NCAAs?
John Raba: No way! To be honest, there should be even more teams from our conference in the tournament.
The tournament should be expanded, and they should try to make it a tournament for the best 28 teams in the country. I don’t like some of the wasted matchups that are seen in some of the first round games. I can’t take the 25 –5 first round game score anymore. Especially not while good teams are sitting home. But that’s just my feeling. I would just like to see every tournament game be a good one.
Division III lacrosse has really exploded over the last decade or so. Where has all this growth come from and why haven’t we seen as much at the D1 level?
John Raba: I am not sure why it is taking Division 1 lacrosse so long to increase the number of teams, especially with demand being at an all time high, and on both the male and female side. I understand there are a lot of equity and financial issues to deal with, but we are getting to a point where so many kids play the sport, Colleges and Universities won’t be able to ignore it.
I will say this; because of the lack of D1 expansion, Division 3 lacrosse is extremely competitive.
When you recruit kids, do you gravitate towards full-time lax guys, or multi-sport athletes? Could the increased fall, winter and summer seasons of lacrosse being played actually hurt some of these young players? Should kids play more than just one sport?
John Raba: I love two sport athletes. I like when High School players have another sport or two that they play for their school. Playing football, soccer or basketball gives those guys a great advantage over guys who are just lacrosse players. They are able to take so much more away from having different athletic components that they learned from playing two or more sports. We even have a couple of two-sport guys, and I haven’t seen too much burn out at our level because the NESCAC rules really help our student athletes maintain balance. (EN: The NESCAC heavily regulates out of season sports practices and mandatory participation)
Seeing as you’re a Farmingdale (Long Island) guy, I know you’ve got a lot of love for The Island. But as the game expands, can areas like Upstate, LI and Baltimore hold on to their shared status as the top dogs in lax? What areas across the country seem ripe for rapid growth to you?
John Raba: The South and West are catching up quickly. There seem to be great athletes all over the place and the weather really helps for development when you live in Texas, Florida, and California. I will always start my pool with Long Island and New England kids first, but we do indeed look outside and, as of late, it has been paying off.
Wesleyan is known for their zone defense… If you had to quickly sum up how a good zone defense works, how would you do it?
John Raba: Communication, anticipation, and good angles and leverage points are all essential to having a great zone defense.
The NESCAC doesn’t allow its Spring sports teams to start practice until February 15th. This means no organized fall ball, no pre-season practices and a strict limit on what can be done out of season. Yet NESCAC teams still dominate in both Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse, as well as a number of other sports. What does this tell you about how some other teams are using all that extra time? Could schools do something differently and see more success?
John Raba: I think it’s more simple than that actually. It allows our players to work on becoming better athletes and focus on individual stick work. The pressure to work must be self-applied, and this requires discipline. Self-discipline is good!
You have been at Wesleyan as the Head Lacrosse Coach for 15 years now, what changes have you seen from my days (EN: CW went to Wesleyan and coached under Raba there for two years), to now, in the program? What about the school?
John Raba: The school has grown in many ways. I think we have a real sense of wanting to be competitive in everything we do, and this includes all of our sports. Regardless of it being on the field, on the stage, or in the classroom, our administration and student-athletes simply want to succeed.
I think 15 years ago people were just happy if you just ran a solid program. If you won, great, but if not, well, that was ok to. However, like in life, people want to be the best, and winning and losing means a lot more to more people around here now. Lacrosse-wise, we have reached the point where we are simply not happy if we don’t reach the NESCAC Final Four weekend. We always want to have a chance to win a NESCAC championship and an opportunity to go to the NCAAs. The culture here is tremendous and we have a lot of really good players on the bottom half of our roster.
We all know you were a terror on the football field at the University of New Haven back in the day, so Coach, you can be honest with us, which sport do you prefer? Football or Lacrosse?
John Raba: To be honest I love both, but I received a full scholarship to play football and there wasn’t a lot of money out there for lacrosse. However, I truly loved shifting gears from football to lacrosse. I love football when it is football season, and I love lacrosse when it is lacrosse season.
Coach, I’d demand that you pick one or the other, but I know you’ve been studying up on your MMA moves, so I’ll hold my tongue. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to LAS about the Wesleyan Lacrosse Program. Best of luck in 2012!