The University of Maine men’s club lacrosse team returns to Morse Field this weekend for their first home game since 2008. The Black Bears will host Central Connecticut State University on Friday and the University of New Haven on Saturday.
The club lacrosse squad has come a long way since being kicked from the league in 2008 for “bad leadership.” The former president of the club didn’t do what he needed to do with scheduling. Now, the team is only a few wins away from a playoff berth.
“It’s great to be back, the program’s in full swing,” said Ralph Nelson, the team’s current president.
“It feels good to be back,” said Collin Spillane, the team’s treasurer. “My freshman year we got booted from the league, my sophomore year we didn’t have a season, and my junior year we got back into the league with just scrimmages only. So it’s good to have official games now.”
Nelson and Spillane have been working on getting the club back to where it was before they were removed from the league. They took the initiative to get the program back to where it needs to be.
“When the team got kicked out of the league, we were in a tough spot,” Nelson said. “I just tried to rally 20 to 30 guys who wanted to play lacrosse and keep the team going.”
“After my sophomore year, me and Ralph got together and said, ‘We got to turn this team around,’ which led to us getting back in the league playing in scrimmages my junior year,” Spillane said.
Although last year the team could only schedule scrimmages, they went a long way in preparing them for this year.
“We ended up going 4-2 in conference play last year and although it was just scrimmages, we still made a lot of noise by beating some good teams and showing them we can play,” Spillane said.
“We showed that we’re committed and confident and it definitely helped us to get back where we needed to be this year,” Nelson said.
The team has also played Division I club teams such as Boston College and the University of Connecticut this year, losing to both. The Eagles were third in the nation at the time. The outcomes may not have been ideal, but being able to play such high-caliber teams will help the Black Bears in the long run.
“We’ve had a hard schedule,” Nelson said. “Playing D-I teams can be hard since they’re playing teams all over the country. They were character-building games. They had 40-plus people on their sidelines and are definitely at a spot where we’d like to be in the future.”
Although the team is only 2-4 on the season, they’re 1-1 in Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League, and a win in Friday’s conference game against Central Connecticut would be huge for the team in their hunt for a playoff spot.
“We’ve been away all year but it feels good to finally be able to get a home game,” Spillane said. “No one wants to come three hours up to Maine to play an uncompetitive team, so it’s good that teams want to come play now.”
The team’s only loss in conference play came at the hands of Stonehill College in a 12-11 overtime thriller. Their win in conference play came against Worcester Polytechnical Institute in a decisive 14-8 victory.
With wins in their final two conference games, one on Friday and one on April 28 against Bridgewater State University, the Black Bears could find themselves in the playoffs.
“Our closest league competitor is five and a half hours of travel,” Spillane said, “so it’s nice to have the football field and be able to practice on it and take advantage of the facilities offered here.”
Another important aspect of the team being home is the growth of the sport itself. Lacrosse isn’t very popular in Maine compared to other sports, being more prevalent out of state. But Nelson, Spillane and the rest of the team are looking to change all that.
“Lacrosse is barely at high schools around here,” Spillane said. “So I think it’s great to have a home game to help spread the sport and show that we can compete with these out-of-state teams. It’s great for the state and the university and allows younger kids to see the sport played at a high level.”
The club lacrosse team’s coach, Tim Taylor — who also owns the Old Town bar Kingman’s — has been a huge part in reviving the team, despite having his own job and working for free.
“Coach Taylor has a full-time job yet still puts in a full-time commitment to the team,” Nelson said. “He volunteers and understands that the club has other financial obligations and still puts his all into the team.”
Goalie Cullen Finn has also been keeping the team together, owning the best save percentage in the conference and 11th in all of Division II.
“He’s the catalyst for our defense,” Nelson said. “He played in New York and it’s a different game there. There’s been times when we probably should have lost by more or won by less but didn’t because of him.”
With the leadership of Nelson and Spillane and the commitment of Taylor and Finn, there’s no reason why this team can’t earn a playoff spot this year. It would be a big step up from years’ past. Playing at home will help the team in their games as well as in getting their names out there locally.
The club lacrosse team plays this Friday against Central Connecticut and Saturday against New Haven, both at 7 p.m. at Morse Field.