Ladies and gentlemen, the Wabash lacrosse team has finally arrived, and arrived in a big way. After the team’s recent spring break campaign in Virginia, the Little Giants emerge 5-2 on the season, having already surpassed their total wins (four) from last season. This young, talented squad will be looking to defeat its final non conference opponent, Hanover College, and then take the NCAC by storm, starting with their conference opener against Hiram on Saturday, March 25.
While most Wabash students were relaxing in the sun over the break, the Little Giants went toe-to-toe with some of the toughest competition they might see all year: Virginia Wesleyan University and Hampton University. Hampton is a Division I program likely to be one of the best—if not the best—team that Wabash plays all year.
“This was a great opportunity to play an HBCU at a Division I facility,” said Head Lacrosse Coach Chris Burke. “That [game] was our chance to get our big-game experience out of the way.”
Wabash performed admirably against Hampton, but the game resulted in an ugly 16-4 loss. And the Little Giants only won one of the three games over the period, coming against Randolph College.
But Burke is not dissuaded.
“I think losing a game 16-4 was a gut check,” said Burke. “ It was a good wake-up call for the guys.”
Historically, Wabash lacrosse has been borderline unwatchable, posting just a 4-12 record in their 2022 season. The average goal difference? 8.69, and not in Wabash’s favor. But with players’ and coaches’ rededication to changing the program’s entire culture, this lacrosse team is starting to show glimpses of something special.
With a starting lineup mostly comprised of freshmen and captained by senior Ethan Stonis ’23, freshman transfer Quinn Fitzgerald ’26 and junior Artie Rogers ’24, this Little Giants team is constantly rewriting its own story.
“There was a desperate need of a culture change,” said Fitzgerald. “The culture wasn‘t there. Nobody wanted to put in the work in the offseason.”
While this young lineup has its own pitfalls, Fitzgerald believes it presents a unique opportunity.
“Having six or seven freshmen starting is pretty unheard of in college lacrosse,” said Fitzgerald. “But it’s a good opportunity for us to build [the program] how we want.”
But what is the right way to build the program? The standard has to be raised, not just on the field, but everywhere. Attention to detail is crucial. There can be no days off. And it takes a group of men who are completely bought into this vision for the good of the team.
“We lost a lot of guys in the fall and early spring,” said Burke. “And it sucked, but I believe that we have 19-20 guys who believe that this is the standard at which we play.”
This standard is the gold standard of all coaches: winning. When building a program, there can be no shortcuts. An inordinate amount of work is needed, and it’s a struggle to establish a culture of winning.
“Last year we learned a lot about how to win and lose games,” said Burke. “This year we’re doing it again. There’s a certain way to win games and a certain way to lose games, and that can’t change.”
Winning games consistently requires incredible focus and an unwavering commitment to excellence, which are qualities that have to be developed. They aren’t cultivated in a day, and they both play a major role in every successful sports team, not just lacrosse.
But the players that remain understand these challenges and embrace them. “This year, guys are more driven,” said Rogers. “Guys are getting on each other, making sure they’re doing the extra things, like lifting in the offseason.”
The team understands that to achieve their vision, a different level of commitment is needed.
“If we want to succeed, we cannot do what this program has been doing in the past,” said Fitzgerald. “We have to have the mindset that we have something to prove. We love the underdog mentality. A lot. But the end goal is to get away from that. We don’t want to be the underdogs anymore.”
And with these standards come goals. Not just outlandish goals, but goals that are both challenging and achievable. In a conference where the top three teams battle for national top-25 rankings, Wabash will need a few more years to consistently beat teams like Denison, Kenyon and Ohio Wesleyan. But that does not mean that Wabash can’t start to chip away at the middle of the NCAC.
“We came here to beat the Wittenbergs, the DePauws and the Woosters,” said Burke. “Then we start moving this [team] in an upward trend. And if we can do that, we’re going to be in great shape, not just this year, but next year, and the year after that.”
With its underdog mentality and unparalleled work ethic, Wabash will look to finally establish its presence in the NCAC as a lacrosse force, not to be an easy win on anyone’s schedule. At worst, they will fight to the bitter end, in true Wabash fashion. At best? Start winning games they aren’t supposed to win.