As a team from a small school in a big league, they’ve managed to make a name for themselves on the field.
The men’s club lacrosse team competes in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, or MCLA. The MCLA is a league, split into two divisions, for universities who don’t offer varsity lacrosse specifically. After four years on the team, senior Kyle O’Rourke thinks of it as a fun, but dedicated group.
“It’s a good group of guys,” O’Rourke said. “Basically, we go out there to have fun but we also take it seriously.”
Unlike other club sports, the MCLA provides the men’s lacrosse team with a “virtual varsity” experience, with rules and a structure similar to the NCAA. Eligibility regulations, national tournaments, mandatory practices, and a paid coaching staff set this team apart from other organizations on campus.
“It’s definitely much more of a commitment than I think a lot of people understand when they hear the term ‘club sport,’” said club president Conor Brody.
The team moved up from Division II to Division I in the league last year, which meant bigger competition and higher stakes.
“Our schedule is littered with big-time universities around the country and it’s fun for a school like Elon, where we have 6,000 students, to be able to compete on a national level,” Brody said.
Likewise, junior Luke Pacella enjoys playing those bigger universities even with a team whose school has the lowest undergraduate enrollment in their conference.
“It’s kind of fun when you play teams like South Carolina and Clemson,” Pacella said. “You go to these huge schools where they have massive football programs, and we’re playing them as just a small Elon school, you know, it’s just a different atmosphere, and it’s actually really cool to compete with teams like that and be competitive.”
Pacella transferred after his freshman year from the State University of New York at Cortland, where he played lacrosse for their NCAA Division III team. While he admitted there are big differences between varsity and club, the talent on Elon’s team still stacks up well against top-ranked schools.
In the words of freshman Thomas O’Connor, he feels like the team goes into every game with a “chip on its shoulder.”
“I don’t think they expect anything from us,” O’Connor said. “I think right off the gate, they learn really fast that we can actually play, we can compete and actually beat them.”
Throughout the season, the team spent nights and even whole weekends away from Elon as they took on teams in Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina. Although the travel proved difficult when it came to school work, O’Connor believes it strengthened their team chemistry.
“You’re spending so much time with them,” O’Connor said. “You get to know each other, and I think it was rewarding. If you want to be good on the field, you have to have an off-field relationship as well.”
With the amount of commitment and talent on this team, questions arise over why Elon doesn’t already offer a varsity program.
According to the NCAA, in order for Elon to be in compliance with Title IX mandates, the university must provide the same amount of scholarships for both men’s and women’s sports. Due to the number of football scholarships, which take up more than half of the available scholarships for men, there are limited ways to accommodate a men’s lacrosse team without contributing to women’s athletics as well, which would cost the school even more money.
Although O’Rourke would like to see Elon generate a varsity team in the future, he understands the complications behind such actions.
“There would have to be a lot more female teams added and a lot more scholarships given out to women in order for them to make room for a men’s lacrosse team to come in,” O’Rourke said.
In the meantime, the team is enjoying the competition within the MCLA. Although they ended their season with 5-6 record, the players hope the program will continue to flourish.
As for the future of student involvement, Brody believes the program as is it right now appeals greatly to prospective students, and will ultimately draw more participation from within the university as well.
“More and more kids will see that we’re an MCLA DI program when they’re looking at colleges and considering to play college lacrosse,” Brody said. “Even though it’s at the club level, they’ll think of Elon as an opportunity for them to obviously continue their education, but also play a high quality of lacrosse that’s not a varsity commitment.”