Concordia Lacrosse Team Struggles to Stay Standing

Graphic Gabriela De Medeiros

Lacrosse is the national summer sport of Canada. The sport has been played in the Montreal area for hundreds of years, initiated by the Native communities of North America, and is considered one of the fastest growing sports on the continent.

But on Sunday, Sept. 13, the Concordia lacrosse team lost their second and what would be their final game of their season against Carleton University. The team’s 17-1 loss was a fatal blow to the program as they were subsequently forced, after three difficult years, to temporarily retract from their league.

The ConU lacrosse team was ambitious from the start. Founded in 2010 by a group of new students, they worked on building interest through word of mouth. Shortly after having played the two necessary years of exhibition games, the small roster of 20 students joined the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association after a very tight vote.

By 2012, Concordia was playing in CUFLA, and although they knew the challenge was going to be rough, they were excited for the competition. The team was optimistic about steady growth over the following years. But their rivals in CUFLA were already well established and fierce, and Concordia soon saw an unbroken series of losses deter new recruits from joining.

CUFLA is the highest level of amateur lacrosse in Canada and currently hosts 14 teams (without Concordia) in competition for the Baggataway Cup, the most prestigious trophy in Canadian field lacrosse.

Concordia was entering a small but intensely competitive market, and with little guidance or organization, they faced the worst odds.

“We should have been more aggressive, should have had an established system before joining CUFLA—that’s probably what stopped us from growing,” he said.

As a club team, they were offered minimal support from the Recreation and Athletics Department, and as such had to rack up the fees for individual players in order to fund their games. A bad track record on the field coupled with an expensive price tag made it difficult to attract and retain players.

“It wasn’t a good environment for players.” said club member Brandon Roach. Originating from Texas and having played competitively his whole life, Roach states he was expecting a very different situation when he enrolled to Concordia—a full roster, a coach, and some accountability. “The fundamental thing that wasn’t enforced, was that if you don’t show up, you’re not on the team.” he added.

With less than ten teammates attending practice regularly and only the bare minimum showing up to games, no committed coach and steadily dropping morale, it was a difficult game to maintain. But McGill coach Tim Murdoch says it’s not as easy as it seems.

“There is not a coach in the league whose job is to coach full time. It’s a passion, like community service.” he said.

Even the most endowed school in Canada only finances the lacrosse team’s management with tiny honorariums, leaving Murdoch with the title of volunteer head coach for the last 12 years. The entire sport in Quebec has little funding, and much recruiting is done outside the province and generally, outside of the country as well.

General Manager and former player Mike Taddeo confesses that Concordia’s biggest downfall was in a poor recruiting system.

“We should have been more aggressive, should have had an established system before joining CUFLA—that’s probably what stopped us from growing,” he said.Increasingly overwhelmed by the struggle to keep Concordia lacrosse alive, the team scrambled this summer to find an official coach and were lucky enough to pick up Jonathan Corkery, a young but passionate alumni of Brock University and a thrice-time player in the Baggataway championship.

Corkery, who has for now resigned from the team, explained that he was hoping to coach full-time and straighten the team out.

“I wasn’t expecting to walk into a championship team, that’s for sure,” Corkery said.

Nevertheless, in the last few weeks of the team’s 2015 CUFLA career, the coach commuted two hours each way from his home in Ontario. Passion is the fuel of lacrosse, and Corkery describes the whole thing as “a dedication sport.” But lack of commitment led boys to drop out in quick succession, leaving CUFLA worried for the health and safety of the remaining team.

On Monday Sept. 14, after having lost to McGill and Carleton in the season’s opening matches, Concordia officially pulled out from the league.

Players want more leadership and accountability. Roach believes those are the key points that need to be developed if they intend on returning, including more discrimination in enrolling members, with official try-outs and basic physical requirements, as well as a focus on commitment.

Murdoch encourages what’s left of the team to stay positive and recommends John Abbott College as a potential source of formidable players.

“One advantage of withdrawing is that they can now concentrate on the club,” he said.

Taddeo also revealed that he has already established contacts out of town, in Ontario and north-eastern United States. He hopes to bring in at least 20 new players, and has gotten in touch with Concordia for recruitment help as well.

Murdoch admits that “it’s hard to recruit students to your school when you lose,” but having joined the McGill team when the Redmen were in a very similar, disadvantaged situation, he believes Concordia has the potential to pull through.

“Although the progress ConU wants won’t happen overnight,” said Murdoch. “With enough dedication from captains and the managing team, they can very well see themselves competing on even footing in the next few years.

An overhaul in organization and recruitment strategies will be ConU’s main priorities. They plan on cutting costs and only requiring the bare minimum fees to play the game, and hope to see Corkery return with a few local assistant coaches for the winter league training.

“We’re in a very delicate situation now,” says Taddeo. “We don’t want to jeopardize this last chance.”