After their final non conference competition against Hanover College on Saturday, March 18, the Wabash lacrosse enters the second half of their season sitting at a comfortable 6-2, the most wins by any lacrosse team in Wabash history. Coaches of Wa- bash past would have been overjoy- ed to have such success in a single season. But Head Lacrosse Coach Chris Burke has different goals in mind for his team.
“Ever since Virginia Wesleyan, I don’t think we’ve played our best ball,” said Burke. “We haven’t played a game since then where we have put together what we’re supposed to do on the field. We have had a lot of great individual efforts, but that hasn’t been our game.”
Those individual efforts have varied from game to game. But attacker Ethan Stonis ’23 has been leading the charge for the Little Giants in recent contests. In the game against Hanover, Stonis led the team in goals (four) and also bagged an assist, making him Wabash’s player of the game.
But when building a program that can consistently win year after year, just being good isn’t good enough. Attention to detail is key. Hyper-scrutinizing commonly made mistakes can often make the difference between winning and losing with a young team like Wabash.
And the players are beginning to drink the Kool-Aid.
“It’s good that the guys are seeing [their mistakes] because that’s our standard,” said Burke. “We should play the game the right way, the way it’s been coached to us, and make adjustments. So when we go to play Hiram, our main focus is us. Let’s get back to trusting each other and have a good, team game.”
Anyone who plays sports knows that defense wins championships, so a good team game against Hi-am will start with the back line. Starting defenseman AJ Miller ’23 understands that the game plan for complete team performance is simple: do your job.
“It hasn’t been too much of a shift,” said Miller, when asked about the change in team philosophy when Coach Burke took over the program. “The only thing Burke asks of us each day is to do our jobs. If we do that, then we’re able to win.”
As a defenseman, Miller said that his job is to “stay hidden” and that “our whole entire job is to not make a mistake, because [lacrosse defense] is a constant rotation.”
Controlling and dominating this constant rotation is one of the keys to a Wabash win and essential if Wabash wants to win more games in a tough lacrosse conference.
And win they will. Wabash opens its difficult conference schedule against perennial bottom-of-the- conference Hiram on March 25. A game that Wabash has historically won, no Wabash fan, myself included, expects anything except a W on the scoresheet after Saturday.
“This is a very winnable game,” said Quinn Fitzgerald ’26. “But we have to make sure that we’re honing our skills before we get into the really tough part of our schedule. After next Saturday, we’re going to find out what we’re made of. But this week, it’s about dialing everything in and making sure that we’re good to go so we can hit the ground running once we get deeper into conference [play].”
No one expects Wabash to lose this game, but it presents a unique opportunity for the team to refocus and recalibrate before the Little Giants’ schedule begins to toughen considerably.
Ironically enough, this tougher schedule may allow Fitzgerald to shine more on this Wabash squad. The Indianapolis native and Brebeuf graduate has been all but smothered in the past several games by defensemen on the opposing team, barely letting him touch the ball. The reason? Fitzgerald is one of the most talented players on the team, if not in the conference. Giving him any space with the ball almost always ends in a point for Wabash.
A DII transfer to Wabash, Fitzgerald is a notable anomaly. Transferring away from a scholarship program such as Florida Tech to play DIII lacrosse for, historically, one of the worst teams in the NCAC seems a bit of a head-scratcher for most astute Wabash fans.
But Fitzgerald has no qualms.
“I put lacrosse in the backseat when I made this decision,” said Fitzgerald. “The culture in Melbourne [Florida] just wasn’t for me. I knew that I needed to get out and be a part of something bigger than myself. I needed to be more fulfilled.”
So Fitzgerald looked back to his home state for options. Luckily, his cousin Caulin Fitzgerald ’24 lobbied for him to attend Wabash.
“[Caulin] was recruiting me here, big time,” said Fitzgerald. “He’s a very, very, very large reason why I’m here. He’s been my best friend for 20 years, so I knew that if he loved it here, then I would too.”
And Wabash has been nothing but grateful. Through the first half of the season, Fitzgerald is second on the team in goals, assists, total points and shot percentage. He also tied the all-time NCAA record for goals in a single game (13) against Concordia University Chicago earlier in the season. Even in his short tenure, Fitzgerald has already proven that he more than belongs at Wabash.
With the team refocused and recalibrated, Wabash looks to defy all expectations during its upcoming conference season. Not overlooking Hiram, but winning the game they are supposed to win this Saturday will help set the tone for the Little Giants as they look forward to the rest of their 2023 NCAC battles.