Despite obstacles as club team, men's lacrosse finds success

On March 27, 2014

  • Freshman midfielder Pete Flood cradles the ball in the lacrosse team’s 8-7 overtime victory against Vanderbilt March 16. The squad has won its conference championship two of the past three seasons. Courtesy of UCF Lacrosse

On Feb. 19, the @UBConfessions Twitter account - which tweets anonymous messages it receives from students - tweeted: "Men's lax and hockey teams: stop acting like you're varsity sports. You're club. Chill."

The men's lacrosse team is a club sport, but the squad says it plays at a high level and has talented players just like the varsity teams. 

"Recently, we got bashed on Twitter on UB Confessions ... I thought it was kind of funny that the varsity athletes would come at us like that because I understand we're not varsity, but we're still athletes," said Andrew Gasper, a senior defensive midfielder and club president. "I feel like they should respect us as such, [although] we're not on scholarship."

The men's lacrosse team plays Division I college lacrosse in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA). Despite being part of a club team - which comes with difficulties like funding a portion of its budget, organizing travel arrangements and competing for practice time in Alumni Arena with intramural teams - the players have had more success than many varsity teams on campus.

The Bulls have won the Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League (PCLL) Conference Championship two of the past three seasons.

The club is part of the Student Association (SA), so players have to fundraise part of their budget - a large portion of which covers traveling. The team raises money by sending out donation letters to alumni, selling team apparel and working concession stands at UB football games.

The team does not charge for tickets to its own home games and has recently considered pursuing sponsors to help support its budget. The players on the team pay fees and purchase their own equipment.

"You have to have more heart [to play a club sport]," Gasper said. "I understand you're representing the school on a varsity sport - of course you have heart - but to pay to play the sport takes a certain amount of heart."

Senior defenseman Chris Siderakis is the team's treasurer. His main responsibilities include collecting team dues and keeping track of the budget. Siderakis knows how much money any player on the team owes at any point.

"I have a giant Excel spreadsheet where I have a bunch of equations set up with how much people have paid, how much they've earned through fundraising, how much they have due," Siderakis said. "I have a lock box in my room. Once it gets to a certain amount [of money], we'll take it to SA and deposit the money. But I always have a tally on how much is in there."

Siderakis and Gasper work closely to organize the team's travel arrangements by booking hotel rooms and reserving buses.

The Bulls use Grand Tours buses to travel to road games but drive themselves if the destination is less than three hours away. During Spring Break, the team took a trip south to play at Vanderbilt, Alabama, Central Florida and West Virginia. The Bulls went 4-1 on the road in their five total games, despite their opponents' distinct advantage: being able to practice outdoors.

Because of Buffalo's winters, the Bulls practice in Alumni Arena. UB doesn't allow them to practice on grass fields on campus if there is ice due to safety concerns.

Practicing lacrosse in the gym can be difficult. The ball bounces differently on the hardwood from on the turf, and space is limited because non-varsity teams aren't allowed to practice on the new main basketball court.

"We'd be shooting into the bleachers ... or shooting into the curtains, which aren't made to stop lacrosse balls," Siderakis said. "People were playing intramural volleyball behind the curtain. You don't want to be getting hit by an 80-mile-an-hour shot by a lacrosse ball just blindly. That was a very tough practice because we wanted to make sure no else got hurt, but we still wanted to be somewhat productive."

In previous seasons, the Bulls practiced indoors from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., but they have been practicing late at night this year - which the players prefer. But it can still be difficult to get practice time, as intramurals have preference ahead of the lacrosse team.

Players sometimes have to miss practices because of class. Gasper said some professors allow them to make up tests so they can practice for or play in a game, but others simply see them as a club and will not allow it.

"If we have tests, we'll have to miss practices," said freshman midfielder Ben Ott. "Or, I had to miss a scrimmage because I had a test. If it was a varsity level, I'd probably be able to get out of the test and make it up."

But involvement in a club sport does have its advantages. Players can miss a game or practice for academic reasons, which they may not be able to do on a varsity team. Gasper said they can have more fun because they do not have as many restrictions as varsity teams.

"I've got a couple friends on [varsity] teams that I know from high school, and their team controls their schedule," Ott said. "They tell them when they're going to eat, sleep. We don't have to make that sort of commitment, which is nice."

The team also determines its own schedule. Head coach Ryan Crawford - who is a volunteer - contacts other schools to schedule nonconference games but takes input from Gasper. The players can then decide where they go for trips, such as the ones during Spring Break. 

As a club, the team cannot give scholarships and does not actively recruit lacrosse players to come to UB. Instead, the team recruits UB students who are lacrosse players.

Regardless, players across the country have expressed interest in playing for the Bulls.

"Our presence is definitely growing," Gasper said. "Kids know about us. Even kids that aren't local. I had a guy in Massachusetts email me and some guys down south, so it's pretty cool to get that influence and be spreading around."

Gasper and Crawford respond to emails from prospective students who are interested in joining the lacrosse team. The Bulls recruited at freshmen orientation this year and have used sites like UBLinked and Twitter to spread awareness about the team.

They have embraced their role as a club team.

"There's a camaraderie between the club teams like lacrosse and hockey," Gasper said. "We know we're club teams. We have a good time. It's like, we're the club. Let's represent club sports. We're not varsity, so what?"

The Bulls have become one of the more successful teams on campus while balancing their club's administrative responsibilities.

"It's different when you're running the team," Gasper said. "We're running our team. We have our coach but we're doing all the necessary things to keep this team running."

The Bulls play at No. 5 Michigan State (5-2) Saturday before their home opener against conference rival No. 4 Boston College (5-1) April 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Kunz Field.



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