Aug. 1, 2008
It’s never too early.
With the 2008 season in the books, our neuroses turn to 2009. From Division I to Division III, MCLA to WDIA, we’re spanning the college lacrosse globe for a look at what’s in store for coaches and players. Check back to LMO each Friday for a new Q&A feature, as our “Countdown to `09” series continues.
by Jac Coyne, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
Chapman coach Mike Wood was really stepping into his team at halftime of their MCLA national semifinals, a game that started with Arizona State scoring the first six goals of the game, when his 1984 Big Ten Championship ring flew off his hand and across the room. It’s a prized possession for Wood, who earned two letters for the Ohio State football team as a back-up defensive back and special teams contributor.
Wood’s rant, highlighted by his jewelry toss, proved effective in the semifinals as the Panthers rallied to defeat the Sun Devils and advance to the title game against a school Wood knows well: Michigan.
Unfortunately, the ring clanking across the locker room in Texas Stadium was a harbinger of what was to happen in the championship game as the Wolverine defense stifled the high-flying Panther offense while the Big Blue attack methodically picked apart the Chapman backline on its way to a 14-11 victory.
Countdown gave Wood a couple of weeks to let the loss sink before catching up with Chapman coach for a Q&A.
When I talked to you in the tunnel in Texas Stadium after the MCLA championship game you said, “This one hurts. It’s like a stick to the stomach.” Has the pain subsided, or is their still some lingering effects?
I don’t think it will ever go away. In honor of Jim McKay passing, his opening “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” on Wide World of Sports is what I grew up watching. Well, those last two nights we got to experience both of those. In Friday night’s semifinal game, to come back from where were, being down and all of that – no question the thrill of victory. Losing in the national championship game? I told the guys, `Fellas, you’re going to go to your graves and it will still be rolling your stomach a little bit.’ That’s the agony of defeat.
But that’s why you play sports. That’s the essence of sports and for us to be able to experience those emotions, I’ve got no hard feelings. I’m not hanging my head about it and none of my guys are hanging their heads about it, either. We got to play in the last game of the year and only two teams played that day.
Certainly knowing that you return every player from this year’s team must make you feel a little bit better. What is the sense you are getting from the likes of Marcus Wooden and Mike Clayton about next year? Is motivation not going to be an issue?
Those guys, they’re lacrosse junkies. Clayton’s on his way to Australia to coach in a tournament over there, so I’m not worried about Mike Clayton. Marcus went home – to his Nation in British Columbia to see his family and I can guarantee when he walks out the door he has his stick in his hand. His whole family, they all play. His mom was down at the [MCLA championships] and she was throwing it around when we were out at Farmer’s Branch [site of the first two rounds of the tourney]. She’s legit. She’s got as good a stick as half the kids I had playing for us.
Chapman won’t be sneaking up on anybody next year. Are the players ready to have a bulls-eye on their backs?
We’re looking forward to coming out and playing great competition again. The thing about lacrosse is, if you play good teams during the regular season it will prepare you for postseason. We’re going to try and play the most competitive schedule that we can. I’ve already talked to Coach Paul up at Michigan and he’s coming out and wants to play us. I talked to my Ithaca guy and he’s coming out and wants to play us. So those are the two games I’ve got so far.
So you’re old friend, Ithaca head coach Jeff Long, is coming out for another game after barely beating you guys last year. Do you keep in touch during the season [Wood is a former football and lacrosse assistant for the Bombers]?
Yes. He called me on Friday night [after the MCLA semis] and congratulated me. I didn’t talk to him until probably the middle of the next week because we lost on Saturday and he lost on Sunday [Ithaca lost to Cortland in the NCAA D-III semifinals].
But I got a couple of funny text messages from him though. He wrote, `You haven’t jumped yet, have you?’ I replied back to him, `As long as you don’t jump, I won’t jump.’ He called me up and said, `Hey, we’re coming back out for our Spring Break trip, so what works for you?’ We’re looking forward to that.
Has your run to the national championship game translated into increased interest your program? Are you starting to hear from kids outside of SoCal?
Oh, yeah. Every day I probably get 3 or 4 questionnaires on my email filled out. It’s crazy. We’ve got more response this year than they probably had all of last year. Just kids sending stuff off. My first thing I do is tell them to go to aimsports.tv. He’s got our highlights up there and a behind-the-scenes piece.
It’s been bountiful. We have to do our homework now. Obviously, we only want to bring in the kids that can help us. No question, it’s a lot easier to pick from a full basket than from just a couple of guys.
What’s your recruiting philosophy? Do you want to get the pick of the litter or are you a numbers guy?
At this point, we need quality, because I’ve got quantity. I’ve got 35 guys on the team, and I’ve got two guys who hurt their knees who I expect to have back – Sean Marshall and Robert Inskeep – who were both real good players. And we don’t lose anybody. I’ve got 11 freshmen in the incoming class and I think I’ve got some pretty talented kids coming in.
We’re going to be real competitive amongst ourselves to start with, which will be fun. All those guys that played a little bit are going to work to play more because everybody knows what it tastes like now. Those young guys are going to have to start at a high level because we’re not going to wait for guys to catch up. Get on board `cause the train’s running.
When I was talking with Michigan coach John Paul after the game, you came back out on the field and congratulated the Wolverine coaches and players again. J.P said it wasn’t necessary, but he and his players all called it a class move. What motivated you to go that extra step?
Hey, they won the national championship. They beat us. They won it, congratulations. After the game you only get a handshake and a quick congratulations.
I don’t know. I just felt like I should do it.
You’re also an assistant football coach at Chapman, which certainly keeps you busy in the fall. Do you get a chance to peek over at the lacrosse field during fall ball at all or do your assistants and captains handle that for you?
We start out with the captains running it. We start our fall lacrosse in the middle of November, so it’s starting to wind down with football. We’ll then go until we break for Christmas. In talking with the guys, they thought we had a good fall. Obviously, it was a little less than they’ve had in the past when Coach Donnelly took them to a couple of fall tournaments. But we still got two good scrimmages in against San Diego State and Whittier, so we got an opportunity to see how we play.
The season’s in the spring. I don’t think we burned them out in the fall and it’s a long spring, let me tell you. I think we were still pretty healthy all the way through. I don’t think we looked like we were lethargic or burned out from it. It’s a grind. It’s hard to pick yourself up for every single game and every single day. For me, it’s good to play in the fall, but we want to be playing in May. We want to have our best legs, best sticks and best preparations in May. We don’t need it in September.
These guys need to be hitting the books as much as they can, anyhow. That’s the other thing I told them: you’re here to get an education. No question, we had a great experience playing lacrosse, but you’ve got to pass your classes and keep your GPA up to keep this whole thing going. Four years down the road, you better have a degree because your father is going to kick you out of the house.
The fall is cumbersome, no doubt. But I love coaching football as well. I can’t wait for football season to start.