Perhaps John Parry was right after all.
The now-retired athletic director at Cleveland State had, for years, indicated a desire to bring his most-cherished sport, lacrosse, to campus. And he made that dream a reality in 2015, when he announced that CSU would start up a men’s team.
Of course, that announcement will be mostly remembered for Parry’s faux pas in attempting to defund the wrestling program, which, thanks to an outpouring of community support, didn’t happen.
While the two-year ramp-up to the launch of the men’s lacrosse program was going on, men’s basketball was heading in a far different direction. Head coach Gary Waters watched as his team, which had won 20 games in the 2014-15 season, slowly disintegrate.
Many have pointed to the departure of Waters’ key stars, Trey Lewis and Anton Grady, who became graduate transfers and left for the brighter lights and bigger crowds of more prominent programs. But the graduate transfers were only part of the slow decline.
Waters also found himself losing other key players, including Kaza Keane and Andre Yates. And his recruiting classes, from 2014 on, couldn’t pick up the slack as well as some of Waters’ previous classes had. As a result, the Vikings lost more than 20 games two years in a row, and whatever fan enthusiasm and media attention was left was stamped out.
Lacrosse, on the other hand, went into full guerilla marketing mode both prior to the start of the season and throughout the year. While Parry was certainly a visible figure, the heavy lifting was done by Dylan Sheridan. The first-year head coach leveraged his network (both social media and otherwise) to get the word out about his new squad.
And while the men’s basketball team continued to sputter during the 2016-17 campaign, the lacrosse squad, which was filled almost entirely with freshmen, seemed to grow stronger.
Of course, the lacrosse team didn’t have much of a choice, given that Sheridan loaded the schedule with some of the toughest competition in the country, including Duke, Denver (Sheridan’s former school) and Ohio State, the national runner-up.
Even the off-seasons for both teams seemed to split off. Waters opted for retirement and his replacement, former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton, hit the recruiting trail. Sheridan spent his early off-season barnstorming, even making an appearance on the NCAA lacrosse tournament’s broadcast.
Going into next season, it appears that on the surface, lacrosse is much better positioned for a leap in the ranks, given its core of underclassmen with a year under their belt. Basketball, in spite of having six seniors on the team, look more and more like a program that is back in rebuilding mode, thanks to transfer of its top scorer, Rob Edwards, along with a half-dozen other players.
With its considerably lower overhead and a big head-start in bridging the enthusiasm gap, it’s a safe bet that Sheridan and his squad will continue to build program momentum and take advantage of the niche men’s lacrosse has in the national collegiate landscape. And local media has even started to take notice, as evidenced by the team’s appearance on WJW’s morning show in the spring.
As Sheridan continues his sales pitch, Felton, on the other hand, already has an uphill climb. Basketball’s fan base has dwindled to practically nothing, thanks to consecutive losing seasons and the draw of the Cavaliers. Exacerbating this is CSU’s long-standing problem of trying to appeal to target audiences (students, in particular) that clearly don’t seem interested.
Strange as it sounds, the dynamics between the two teams seems to favor the upstart efforts of lacrosse. And as a result, Sheridan and his crew could very well surpass Felton and his squad as the most prominent Cleveland State sport.
That may not have been Parry’s intention when he drew up the plans to bring lacrosse to CSU, but it may very well end up that way.
Email Bob at bob [dot] mcdonald [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.
Image via CSUVikings.com