The westernmost lacrosse program in Division 1 is in good hands. Andrew McMinn is coming up on his one-year anniversary of being named the Utah Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach.
McMinn and the Utes had a successful year one. Utah went 10-4, knocking off top programs Vermont and Jacksonville. They won the inaugural ASUN regular season championship and lost in the ASUN tournament finals to Robert Morris.
The loss against Robert Morris had to be bittersweet for McMinn. He had spent the previous 15 years on the Colonials staff, the last ten as their head coach. I had the chance to talk with Coach McMinn this week about his first season at Utah and what lies ahead in 2023 for the Utes lacrosse program.
Taking the Utah Job
You are coming up on the one-year anniversary of being hired as Utah’s head coach. You had been at Robert Morris for 15 years previously, what was it about Utah that made it the right time for you to make your move?
“Utah is an incredible place and the University and athletic department provide an opportunity to compete for national championships. When the opportunity arose, my family and I felt it was something that could not be passed up. It is the most unique place to play Division 1 lacrosse as it offers something different than anywhere else in the country. Once you get here and spend time in the sun and mountains, you realize it’s a hard place to beat!“
Recruiting and Growth of the Game
You played on the East Coast at Providence and coached for a long time in the Midwest. You are now coaching at the westernmost school in Division 1. Your playing and coaching career illustrate the growth of the game. Can you talk about the game’s growth from a recruiting perspective?
“The game has continued to spread throughout the country and there are now talented lacrosse players pretty much everywhere. You no longer have to target traditional hotbed areas for recruiting. You can now have a lot more flexibility with where you get kids from. For us specifically, we want our team identity to include having kids from all throughout the country.“
How have you seen the game grow in your 17 years as a coach?
“Numbers are growing at all levels underneath us and the sport has continued to increase in popularity. The professional game and what the PLL is doing is unprecedented in the way that they are operating. The NLL is filling up and selling out of NHL arenas. Additionally, getting lacrosse into the Olympics should be an enormous push for international popularity.“
What did you learn about the recruiting scene on the West Coast that you may not have been aware of prior to coming to Utah?
“I knew there was talent but there is a lot more than I realized! Everyone talks about California and Colorado but there is talent all throughout the West in the likes of Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona.“
Breaking Down the Two-Way Midfielder Scheme
You have an interesting and unique system for Division 1. Coach Danowski, spoke of the challenges of preparing for your two-way midfielders. What are some of the schematic advantages you have with having the two-way guys?
“We want to play a fun brand of lacrosse and we feel the most exciting parts of the game are the speed and number advantages. By playing two-way guys, we are able to create more uneven number advantages through straight transition or by having more opportunities to then play with the sub game.”
How much did you work to install last year in the fall/spring versus blending some of the systems the guys may have already been familiar with?
“There was definitely a mix of both sides. As a staff, we wanted to make the effort to match as much of the previously used terminology as possible. It’s obviously easier to have four staff members learn some new terminology versus asking the entire team to do so. Schematically, we really focused on getting in our own systems as we play with a very strong identity on both sides of the ball and we wanted to make sure we started infusing that immediately.”
How does that system influence the type of kids you are recruiting? So many guys now are strictly on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
“It mainly only influences the way that we recruit midfielders and defensemen. We certainly want long sticks that can be involved in the run and gun and have the stickwork to do so. With midfielders, it can be more difficult to find the guys we want as we ideally want guys that are showing the ability to play on both sides of the ball. We, therefore, pass on some talented offensive kids that don’t show the buy-in to play defense and in between the lines. For midfielders, we want grinders!”
The ASUN Conference
What were the biggest takeaways from your first year at Utah and the ASUN? You had a very successful season with some big wins and made the conference tournament game against your old team.
“First and foremost, my biggest takeaway is that Utah is an unbelievable place and University! A year in, we are still finding more reasons to love it here as we’ve settled in with our family. The ASUN stepping up to support some of the previously independent teams in D1 lacrosse is obviously huge for not only us but the growth of the game. Every team in the country now has a chance to get to the NCAA tournament through a conference championship.”
The ASUN welcomes Jacksonville in from the SoCon and Queens and Lindenwood from Division 2. It is the one conference that touches every part of the D1 lacrosse landscape. Can you discuss the challenges or opportunities of playing in the ASUN?
“Being the westernmost team, we don’t look at the geographic makeup as a challenge because we are typically going to fly regardless of who we play. To be honest, I’ll take the flights for seven games a year over some of the 10+ hour bus rides I had done previously in my career! We definitely look at going to 9 other cities throughout the country and being able to spread our brand as more of an opportunity than a challenge.”
Looking Ahead to 2023
Finally, what are you looking forward to most in 2023?
“Generally speaking, I’m most looking forward to continuing to build the relationships with our guys, keep pushing forward as a program and continuing to enjoy everything that Utah has to offer!”
“In year one, you naturally spend a lot of time trying to get on page with how things have worked within the team, athletic department, and university. On the other end, you are also trying to get the team on the same page and bought into everything new that we are implementing and who we want to be culturally and as an organization. We felt that we formed a strong foundation for year 1 as a staff, but we are very excited about the potential we have to make big strides moving into this coming season and beyond!”