It is a brisk January evening. No trace of sunset remains; the field is illuminated by harsh floodlights. A pair of joggers make their way around the track in slow, steady rounds. They encircle an ultimate frisbee practice on one end and a pickup soccer match on the other. The grounds of the Roe Stamps fields are immaculately kept but also decidedly humble (as indicated by the well-worn water fountain in the corner).
That tradition of austere excellence aptly fits the young men who file onto the field as the clock strikes half past eight: the Tech men’s lacrosse team. In the public eye, lacrosse is as much a status symbol as it is a game. Playing it is a mark of prestige. Just look at the NCAA’s DI rankings, where elite, traditional institutions like Duke (No. 1), Yale (No. 5) and Notre Dame (No. 6) occupy rarified air. Yet Tech’s team, not sanctioned by the NCAA and not whispered about in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, has earned success in its own right on a different path altogether.
Their leader is head coach Ken Lovic, a Maryland native who grew up immersed in the sport. He arrived in Atlanta in 1995 for graduate school and began coaching the team two years later.
“Back in ‘97 and ‘98, it was a club team in a traditional sense,” Lovic says. “It wasn’t really organized. It was sort of ragtag.” He quickly went to work to change that. The team signed sponsorship deals, furnished scholarships and even raised funding to construct a set of stands overlooking the field. “We’ve come a long way in 20 years,” he adds, “and it’s because of the kids. Tech kids are
Finding those new additions for his program is where Lovic and the men’s lacrosse team set themselves apart. For most clubs on campus, FASET is the first chance for these organizations to begin evaluating incoming freshmen, passing out applications and offering them new information. The vibrancy of the activities fair, replete with flyers, trinkets and colorful posters (not to mention strategic positioning of previously-won trophies) is indeed difficult to forget. For lacrosse, that search starts earlier. Lovic and his staff are in contact with promising high school players across the country, extolling the virtues of a Tech education and allowing them to envision themselves playing the sport there. “We don’t even have to look on campus,” he says. “We know who’s coming here.”
Lovic has always taken the sport seriously. Until 2015, he was also the Campus Recreation Center’s Sports Clubs Coordinator, overseeing the operation of 44 club sports of campus. He stepped down in 2015 amid allegations that he had misrepresented finances (including making a charge that was not included in an organization’s SGA budget) but remained as head coach.
Once those students decide to attend Tech, they face the same reality most every incoming freshman does: occasional sleep deprivation, a more rigorous courseload than they tackled in high school and the predictable struggles of living independently for the first time. Add in a demanding practice schedule (two hours on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, plus another two-hour Saturday midday practice) and it is clear that peer support is absolutely essential to guide these athletes through their first year.
That is where the team’s veteran leaders come in, players from a variety of backgrounds. For some, like fourth-years CJ Norrell and Quinten Ziegler, the game was a natural second option after their fit with baseball eroded (Norrell gave up the bat and glove in his freshman year of high school; Ziegler turned away from the pastime in middle school). Juniors Tim Peterson and Brian Duffy have also assumed significant roles on the team. With 19 freshmen on the team, their expertise is needed, both in the field and competition and in learning the ropes away from the practice field.
“It’s important for [the freshmen] to get a lot of reps on the field and with the older guys,” Duffy said. “We’ve been here awhile, and we have a little more knowledge of what our coach wants to do with our offense and defense, so we kind of impart that wisdom on them.”
That wisdom will be all the more necessary down the stretch. Although there are three games to play beforehand, the team cannot help but look forward to their Feb. 23 home date with Chapman University, the California-based program that has knocked the Jackets out of the playoffs two years running. It will be an opportunity for vengeance.
And yet, in the more than twenty year lore of men’s lacrosse under the guidance of Lovic, the outcome, positive or negative, will just be another small mark on a rapidly unfurling tapestry. Like every sports organization on campus, varsity or otherwise, the team turns over entirely every four years. Baby-faced freshmen grow into mature leaders, and then head off into a world not bordered in by Ferst Drive, Techwood Drive and North Avenue. Under the tutelage of Coach Lovic, the underlying drive for excellence is unlikely to change.