Grow the Game®

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

What Are the Chances Michigan State Lacrosse Going Division 1?

It’s been 25 years since Michigan State has fielded a Division 1 lacrosse team. The university may have cut the program, but it couldn’t remove the sport from the campus. The team has been one of the most successful club teams in the state culminating with their 2018 MCLA National Championship.

The program received great news recently. They are not coming back to Division 1 quite yet, but the university did announce that they were building a lacrosse-only facility.

We caught up with Spartan alum and head coach Matt Holtz on the state of the program and what the future holds for lacrosse in East Lansing.

Can you give us an overview of the Michigan State Lacrosse program? 

We have pretty strong numbers coming back next year. We graduated a Third Team All-Conference goalie and a First Team All-Conference midfielder.

Goalie: We have two young backups who will be working on earning a spot. I have faith in both of them but we graduated our Third Team All-Conference goalie.

Defense: We have three of the four man rotation returning including Honorable Mention All-American Mathias Biland.

LSM: We have a three person rotation and one of those three graduated. It would be good to go here with a lot of experience.

SSDM: We are returning the Third Team All-Conference SSDM. We should be solid here.

FOGO: We have the best FOGO in the MCLA, hands down. Last year as a freshman he was an Honorable Mention All American. He was never below 50% in a game and went 65% against the Second Team All-Conference FOGO from the UMLC. He is completely dominant at that spot.

O-Mid: We graduated our top O-Mid but are returning Hank Shaban (15g, 13a) and Ryan Murphy (14g, 4a)

Attack: Returning all of our attack that saw any significant time including Second Team All-Conference Connor Hamilton (16g,16a) and Honorable Mention All-Conference Jon Bickford (13g. 16a)

Last month, I spoke with Dylan Sheridan and John Paul about the growth of the game outside of traditional hotbeds like Long Island and Baltimore. You have been coaching for almost 25 years now. Can you point to the growth of lacrosse in the Midwest since you first started out?

I first started playing in Michigan in 1988. Back then we played 14 games a year, seven home and seven away games with each of the other teams in the state. My sophomore year saw the beginning of the real expansion when Ann Arbor Pioneer and Ann Arbor Huron were added as well as East Grand Rapids and Forest Hills Central.

When I started coaching in the late 90s most of the really talented players came from the original eight or that first group of expansions in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. Seeing legitimate D1 caliber players coming out of schools like Hartland, Brighton, Midland and Okemos is the real sign that the lacrosse scene in Michigan has gotten to a pretty good place. I’d like to see more of the bigger city public schools from Detroit, Flint, etc. starting up programs but that will come with time.

The MHSAA (well at least the coaches) is looking for a place to host the State Championship. Michigan State already hosts the MHSAA Baseball Championship, do you foresee a potential partnership with programs in Michigan and possibly the Midwest?

The seating at our new facility may not be up to what the MHSAA is looking for at this time. We are working to make that change in the hopefully near future. I believe MSU also hosts the state basketball championship. The reality is the area is at the intersection of I-96, I-69, and US 127 making it very accessible from all over the state. I’d love to see something like that happen.

You had great success bringing another Michigan program into Division 1 while earning a tournament bid and making the Irish uneasy in that first round game. Can you talk about that transition from going to a D1 program, to winning the MAAC?

I still have strong memories of the Denver airport after the 11th straight loss ending season one. The next year we won three games. The year after that we made the MAAC championships. Detroit was in a great place with easy access to the best programs in Michigan. It is a Catholic school that had a lot of appeal with Detroit Catholic Central and Brother Rice. I got good at finding talent across the river in Ontario and Chris Kolon got good on Long Island. Those factors lead to a great end of the 2013 season.

Can you give us an overview of the new lacrosse facilities? How did it come about? Funding? Where will it be located?

The new facilities are a long time in the making. The funding comes from the IM/Rec sports department which our MCLA team reports up through. A few years back the new president decided our IM/Rec sports facilities needed a major update. Previously the IM department was funded primarily by selling weight room access to students. The University decided to drop those fees to use the weight room and instead put a rec sports fee on every student’s bill.

This is driving our new facilities and also the building of a new IM building on campus. The new facility will have two full-size turf fields lined for Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse as well as soccer. There will be permanent restrooms, a storage facility for the Lax programs as well as a classroom on site (aka our locker room). The field is being run by the club sports director who I have known since my time as a player back in the mid-90s.

How will the new facilities impact the future of Michigan State lacrosse in the next 5-10 years?

Short term it solves a pretty large problem of field space. Previously we were sharing the field hockey stadium with the women. We didn’t get access until 7:00pm so a couple of nights a week we were practicing from 9:00-11:00pm which is tough on the coaches who have to be up in the morning for work. Most people don’t know that MSU has a second club Lacrosse team that competes in the GLLL. They would practice from 11:00pm-1:00am. That’s rough.

In the long term, I don’t see how it can’t be a draw for those players who are thinking of going lower level D1 but may choose us over schools like Detroit or Cleveland State because they want to have that Power 5 school feel. A lot of players transfer to MSU from schools like that. It’s a ton of fun to be at a school with potential big-time conference championships in football and basketball. This facility will make that decision just a bit easier for those top-level players.

Michigan State had a Division 1 lacrosse program up until it was cut by the university in 1997. Can you discuss the challenges and potential opportunities of bringing the Spartans back to Division 1 lacrosse?

That was rough. I had just graduated. That whole process was botched and the players felt a ton of resentment towards the school. It’s been years of coaxing and working with that era of players to get them back on board and supporting the program. I spoke with John Paul about this in the past. A school like MSU needs three things to start up a men’s lacrosse program.

  • A sister program, for most big-time schools that program is women’s lacrosse. For us, it may be Women’s Ice Hockey if we ever get to that point. The hockey program at MSU is well funded and organized as the men’s lacrosse program.
  • A willing AD. There is a lot on the minds of the athletics department right now including the changing landscape of big-time college conferences, and quite honestly, dealing with the fallout from Larry Nassar. They are not in a position right now to even entertain the idea. I do have friends in that department and my wife is on the faculty athletics counsel so we have the right ears. Also, Mel Tucker’s son is a pretty solid lacrosse player so maybe we can get some pull from that.
  • Lastly is money, we are blessed to probably have one of the best nest eggs in all of the MCLA. We have a high six-figure endowment that provides us five figures of revenue from the interest every year. The reality is that we have to take that from a high six-figure to a low eight-figure number. Michigan did it with some really deep-pocketed donors. We don’t quite have that yet but we are working on it. Shameless plug, if you are looking to help grow the Michigan State Men’s Lacrosse program you can go to our website at and click on the donate link.