Bates College has been nothing if not consistent. The past four years have produced 4 wins a piece for the Bobcats, paired with 9 annual losses. A half-decade of futility (they were 3-10 in 2008) paints a bleak picture for the future prospects of this program. In the hyper-competitive NESCAC, there is little respite for a program that needs some positive energy or momentum.
It has not always been this way. From 2005 through 2007, Bates College managed a respectable 24-17 record. Since then, Bates has been an abysmal 19-46. Really, nothing more needs to be said in order to encapsulate the futility of this program. Every other NESCAC has done something in recent memory that they can hang their hats on, with the notable exception of Bates. Don’t believe me? Let’s go down the list.
Amherst: Made the NCAA tournament in 2011 and won two tournament games that year.
Bowdoin: Made the NCAA tournament as recently as last year, just hired a touted young coach in Jason Archbell.
Colby: Have an excellent young coach in Justin Domingos and have improvedtheir NESCAC standing in both of his seasons at the helm.
Conn: Made the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2012.
Hamilton: Home of the 2012 NESCAC Player of the Year in their first year in the conference.
Middlebury: Made the NCAA tournament in 2011 and 2010.
Trinity: Made the NCAA tournament in 2012.
Tufts: Winners of 3-straight NESCAC championships. Also, that National Championship thingy or whatever.
Wesleyan: Won the NESCAC championship in 2009.
Williams: Won the NESCAC championship in 2008.
Try and find something beyond an individual award for Bates to celebrate. You can’t. That ghastly 19-46 record is inescapable. There is no need to belabor the point any further. Bates is bad, has been bad for a while, and will continue to be bad in the foreseeable future.
Given all this, it is difficult to reconcile the production of Bates lacrosse program and the perception of its head coach, Peter Lasagna. In lacrosse circles, Lasagna is respected, even revered by some. He has a reputation as a smart, caring man who embodies much of what we believe is so important in a coach. You’ll hear platitudes like “He builds men, not lacrosse players” if you ask around. His columns with Inside Lacrosse are widely applauded within the lacrosse community, and his work to honor the memory of slain Bates player Morgan McDuffee is something that everyone should support. I’m not here to disparage those things. I’m really not. But somewhere along the line, these things clouded our perception of Peter Lasagna, lacrosse coach.
Lasagna the lacrosse coach brings a brand of lacrosse that is painful to watch. Bates appears to be a team that wants to get out and run, but lacks the talent to do so. Midfielders drive the alley and shoot 15 yard shots that wouldn’t challenge your average high school goalie. Defenders throw long clearing passes that generate more turnovers than fast breaks. The ball is jammed inside on offense to no one in particular. The overall product is a team that lacks clear direction or purpose in their gameplan. Things happen and then other things happen, as if each play existed in its own time-space continuum, uninfluenced by prior events and incapable of influencing future ones.
Needless to say, a directionless team is not a good one. The best teams dictate tempo and style of play across the board, playing in a way that maximizes their own talents. Tufts is going to push the needle to the red line, playing at a breakneck pace that few can replicate. Wesleyan is going to force you to grind for goals against their zone, demanding patience and precise passing of their opponents. Conn is going to slow you down and and control the ball, limiting your touches and shots. Amherst is going to be very methodical in their approach, taking their time to run a highly scripted offense. Bates is…well…I’m not sure what they’re going to do. Probably lose, but aside from that there is little in common with each Bates game. The simple truth is that opponents dictate how the Bobcats play and that is almost entirely the product of bad coaching.
And yet, Lasagna maintains his sterling reputation to this day, at least among many in the lacrosse world. What other coach with a 19-46 record in the past 5 years enjoys this phenomena? Who else would be praised for writing for Inside Lacrosse when he doesn’t even have his own house in order? If any D3 lacrosse pundit is honest about the realities of the situation at Bates, they have to acknowledge that a change is necessary. There is no reason that the lacrosse program at Bates should not be competitive in the NESCAC. Lasagna’s defenders point to the difficulty of recruiting to Maine as their favorite crutch, but the same issue has proved to be little of an obstacle to Tom McCabe at Bowdoin and Thompson/Domingos at Colby. Is it institutional support? Well, let’s just say that I am a product of a NESCAC school that did a poor job supporting its athletes, and that never kept us from achieving a reasonable level of success. Every program comes with inherent problems, and it falls to the coach to find a way to overcome them.
The most compelling evidence that Bates can be good is that THEY WERE GOOD BEFORE. This isn’t some start-up program that is struggling to grow, this is a program that once experienced significant success in the NESCAC. I won’t speculate here what changed at Bates, but the obvious downturn since the mid-2000′s is hard to ignore. At some point, changing coaches becomes a mutually beneficial proposition. Lasagna can’t love his cellar-dwelling status in the NESCAC any more than Bates alumni and supporters do. As we’ve see plenty of times in sports, sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to reinvigorate a coach. Perhaps Lasagna can go somewhere else and rekindle his success. Perhaps Bates can return to competitiveness in the NESCAC with a fresh face at the helm. Whatever happens, it is abundantly clear that the current state of Bates lacrosse is unwatchable, untenable, and ultimately unsustainable.