Men’s Club Lacrosse in pursuit of National Championship

Sophomore John Grady, a midfielder and the captain of the squad, took over a struggling Club Lacrosse program and turned it into a legitimate national title contender within a year. (Dr. Scott Wilander)

The George Mason Lacrosse Club team, currently ranked 20th in the nation, will be competing on Friday against George Washington in a play-in game to earn a berth into the nationwide 16-team playoff field.

The team finished second in the Division II Capitol Conference with a record of 9-5, finishing only behind Johns Hopkins University. George Washington finished third in the conference. GW and Mason split their regular season series with one win apiece.

The National Club Lacrosse League consists of 13 leagues, each with at least five teams. The Capitol Conference is one of the strongest in the country.

Although Mason has won the National Championship three times previously, the squad is in a rebuilding year and has made major improvements since last season.

“From what I understand, it’s a complete turnaround,” sophomore first-year player Joe Kinney said. “They didn’t play many games had trouble even getting players out last season.”

Kinney attributes the resurgence to one thing: a change in leadership.

The new leadership revolves around sophomore midfielder John Grady, one of just three sophomores who played on the team both years. He is the club’s captain, coach and president. He has been playing the sport for nine years, and has been able to elevate the level of play of his teammates. About half of the team has been playing for years like Grady, and half are beginners.

Not only has he provided leadership on the field, but he also served as the primary recruiter for players.

“We recruit on campus the first couple of weeks of school in front of the JC [Johnson Center], and get a list of people who are interested,” Grady said. “And we use them to get their friends to come too.”

Kinney is one of Grady’s recruits. One year ago, Kinney had never played the game, and now he is a major contributor.

“He [Grady] is my roommate, so he would help me throw around when I first picked up a lacrosse stick and he really taught me how to play,” Kinney said.

Kinney is slated to be the club’s Vice-President next season.

“I ended up helping with a lot of stuff this season because he [Grady] needed more help,” Kinney said. “So next year I’ll be dealing mainly with treasury and organizing events.”

The club’s season runs both in the fall and spring. In the fall, they play just a small number of tournaments, usually just one or two, and then have a longer season in the spring. A standard spring is anywhere from 12-15 games.

This spring has been their most successful in recent memory.

Last year, the leadership changed hands midway through the season, forcing the new guys into a difficult situation. They only played a small number of games and did not win a single one.

“I’ve been here all year so it’s been more stable this year, and I’ve been able to figure things out on the run,” Grady said.

If the team wins on Friday, they move on to face Baltimore University in the round of 16, a team that finished fourth in the Capitol Conference during the regular season. Baltimore took down Johns Hopkins in an upset in their play-in game, setting the stage for a matchup with the winner of Mason’s game.

“I think we have a very good shot to be a dark horse in the tournament and make a run to the championship, pull a Mason basketball if you will,” Grady said.

Due to the focus placed on recruiting by Grady’s new leadership, the club is full of first-year players.

In addition to Kinney, junior roommates Phil Harsh and Ben Heflin both joined the squad this year as well. Just like Kinney, both Harsh and Heflin were new to the sport. They grew up playing other sports, but were enticed by what the club lacrosse team had to offer.

“To be honest I am kind of a bench role guy, but being on a team and just having fun is great,” Harsh said. “I like joking around with the guys and not taking it so seriously.”

Harsh attributes the team’s newfound success to the growth in chemistry.

“In the beginning we had guys who got in each other’s face and wanted to be more competitive,” he said. “But once it got to the point that we all just relaxed and started having more fun, we started playing better.”

Just like Harsh, Heflin believes the team has gradually gelled over the course of the fall and spring seasons. He even recalled a specific moment when he felt the transition beginning.

“It was the game against Howard University because the team played with really good chemistry, and we were having fun and playing well, so it was just a combination of everything,” Heflin said.

Both Harsh and Heflin have enjoyed their time with the club and hope to return to the squad next semester if their senior schedules permit. They both also recommend that anybody who likes sports come out for the team next year, regardless of experience level with lacrosse.

“There’s no Division I lacrosse here for guys so it’s kind of like we are the Division I team,” Harsh said.

As Mason’s one and only men’s lacrosse team, the players are truly representing the University, and the uses this fact to attract new players. With this years’ success to go along with the returning leadership of Grady and Kinney, the current players are optimistic for the future as well.

“Next year we are reloading,” Grady said. “We return all but three players and pick up at least two very good players who are transferring in. So we will still be as good next year, maybe even better.”



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