By Andrew Alexander
Louisiana State University has a long, successful athletic tradition, with countless athletes and programs garnering glory on the field, court and diamond throughout the years.
The LSU Lacrosse Club seeks to join the ranks of elite teams that have donned the purple and gold.
On the surface, the game of lacrosse seems foreign to most sports fans in south Louisiana. Players in helmets and shoulder pads wield sticks of various lengths and hurl a tiny ball at blazing speeds across a grass field, while trying to score on the opposition’s goalie. Upon closer inspection, one will see the game of lacrosse has an air of familiarly about it, mashing various aspects of basketball, soccer and hockey together.
Whether foreign or familiar, the fast-paced nature of the lacrosse provides plenty of excitement for spectators in Baton Rouge.
After years of mediocrity since its premier season back in 1973, the LSU Lacrosse Club is determined to usher in a new era of prosperity this season. Already with a 3-1 record to open the campaign, the Tigers are looking to capture their first winning season since 2010.
“The whole program is different this season,” said LSU Lacrosse Club president David Escott.
A junior at LSU, Escott serves in dual-roles as club president and one of four team captains, along with seniors Roy Lambert, Andrew McHale and Jordan Ramirez.
The program makeover began during the 2013 campaign. Despite finishing with a 6-8 overall record, the Tigers managed a winning mark (4-2) for the first time within their division since before 2005.
The biggest change for LSU came in the offseason, when the Tigers hired former Catholic High School lacrosse coach Jeff Echols.
“They said they were looking for a coach who could take them to the next level, that would bring the structure that they were looking for to change their culture and play for a conference championship,” Echols said as he prepares his team for a 3 p.m. match against Texas-San Antonio at Olympia Stadium this Saturday.
Echols, a former college football player at Jacksonville State University, took up lacrosse in the early 1980s when he transferred to Texas A&M University after one year in northeast Alabama. He has loved the sport ever since, and took up coaching 14 years ago when he lived in New Jersey.
After serving as the lacrosse coach of Catholic High School the past three years, Echols pounced at the chance to coach at the collegiate level.
“It was always a bit of dream to coach at the college level, but I didn’t think that would ever come to pass because I never saw myself moving to the east coast,” Echols explained. “When LSU contacted me with the chance to coach at the college level, I was flattered.”
Echols’ approach to changing the culture of LSU lacrosse can be summed up in three simple principles: preparation, discipline and structure. He runs the team as if it was a varsity sport.
“Guys that have played lacrosse at LSU [in the past] just played for the fun of playing,” Echols said. “They haven’t played and challenged themselves to win a championship.”
“When we hired him we wanted someone who was going to be more disciplined and run it like a varsity program,” Escott said.
After instituting his style of play and protocol during offseason fall camp, Echols held a weeklong training camp in January with two-a-day practices to prepare his team for the upcoming season.
“When you’re faced with adversity and you’re doing it with your teammates, you tend to lean on one another,” Echols said. “There’s a bonding and unity on this team.”
“The accountability factor of each player is much higher this year than in previous years,” Escott explained. “In previous years, you were on the team and if you could show up you did, but it wasn’t a big deal if you missed. Now if you miss, you’re letting your teammates down, and there are consequences for missing.”
Both Echols and Escott agree that the Tigers’ personnel is this team’s greatest strength.
“Our talent level this year is much higher than last year,” Escott said. “We’re going to play smarter, more technical and more fundamentally solid lacrosse. We’re much more structured and technical this year.”
Echols added, “We’re gifted with talent at all positions, and I don’t think they understand how good they can be.”
Attackers Hunter Stinson and Thomas Brown have sparked the Tigers’ favorable start this season. Stinson leads the Tigers in scoring with seven goals and 11 points (goals plus assists) so far this season, while Brown has contributed four goals and eight points.
“Thomas is an attacker who likes to play behind the net and is real strong either right or left-handed,” Echols noted. “Hunter’s got a huge outside shot, but Thomas is real shifty and has great accuracy.”
“He [Stinson] sees the field very well, and he’s a very athletic kid,” Escott said. “He’s a threat to pass and to score. Whenever he’s on the field, the defense has to watch him and that takes the pressure off of everyone else.”
LSU’s lone defeat during its young season came at the hands of Southern Methodist University when the Mustangs beat LSU 13-10 two weeks ago in Houston, TX.
“It was a good test for us, but we didn’t quite play as well as we could have,” Escott said.
“We didn’t know a lot on them except a few of their key players,” Echols said of the first defeat of the season. “You don’t get a chance to scout a lot at this level because there’s not really any tape or video. If you’re lucky enough to come across it, then you utilize it.”
The lack of game tape makes LSU’s in-game adjustments even more crucial.
“Being able to assess what’s going on in a game, and be able to make a game change is just critical to us,” Echols said.
With SMU in the rearview mirror, the Tigers look ahead to conquering division foes Texas and Texas State later this season.
“Both of those teams are full of talent,” Echols said.
LSU Lacrosse plays in the Southern Division of the Lone Star Alliance Conference in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association along with Rice, Houston, Texas, Texas State, UL-Lafayette and UT-San Antonio.
“Texas is a solid team,” Escott said. “You can’t make mistakes against teams like that because they’ll make you pay for them.”
In the past, the Longhorns and Bobcats have had the Tigers’ number on the field, but Escott believes this season will be different.
“If we have a chance to do it any year, this is the year,” Escott said. “We’re banking on beating Texas State this year. After that, we’re going to go for the conference championship.”
“We want to beat the teams that traditionally have beaten us,” Echols added. “Our goals are to make the playoffs, win a playoff game and win the conference championship.”
The Tigers’ next opponent on the road to a LSAC championship is the University of Texas at San Antonio. The Roadrunners enter Baton Rouge at 1-3, 1-2 in conference play.
“We never want to overlook anyone,” Escott said. “It’s another stepping stone for us to improve as a team on the field.”