A.J. Stevens has been named Director of Lacrosse/Head Men’s Coach as announced by Mesa State Athletic Director Butch Miller.
“We are excited to have Coach Stevens on board as our head men’s coach and to oversee the transition of lacrosse as an intercollegiate sport at Mesa State”, said Miller. “He has the experience, knowledge and proven record to make an immediate impact in the sport of lacrosse around the region”, added Miller.
A.J. Stevens was named the head coach at Illinois during the summer of 2005 and quickly established the Illini as one of the premier lacrosse programs in the Midwest. In two years, he compiled a 23-13 overall record and a 15-5 Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference mark, having reached the conference championship game each season. Additionally, Stevens was twice named GRLC Coach of the year producing 21 All-Conference players, 9 Academic All-America honorees, 4 All-America team members, and one Offensive Player of the Year. The Illini also completed each season under Stevens ranked in the MCLA top 25 poll. Prior to his arrival, Illinois had not been nationally ranked in nearly a decade.
Prior to coming to Illinois, Stevens served as an assistant coach at Dartmouth College, a NCAA Division I school in Hanover, NH. During his tenure, Dartmouth began the transition from also-ran to a national contender in Division I college lacrosse. Prior to joining the Big Green, Stevens was the head coach at Roger Williams University, a NCAA Division III school in Bristol, RI. He led the Hawks to a 7-7 overall record and a 5-3 mark in the Commonwealth Coast Conference. He was the head coach of the West team in the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Senior All-Star Game. Stevens also served as head coach at Indiana University leading the Hoosiers to a 13-3 record. He has a career record of 44 wins and 23 losses in four seasons as a head coach.
Stevens played three years of varsity lacrosse for the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and was team captain as a senior.
Stevens and his wife Carrie, currently reside in Ottawa, IL with their newborn son, Cade.
There are three big pluses in the Mavs’ favor.
1. The Tuition
Simply put, Mesa State is a bargain for in-state students or those from outside. Because the school isn’t desperate to fill beds (there’s actually a waiting list for the dorms), it isn’t trying to make up any kind of budget shortfall on the backs of out-of-staters. As such, it’s a pretty darn good deal.
“You can go to Mesa State for less than you can go to Cortland State if you’re from New York,” said A.J. Stevens, the new men’s head coach and Director of Lacrosse. “With cost being level, I’ve got a shot if a kid wants to be a little adventurous and get off the Island for four years.”
The same is true for many of the state systems in the East. Add on the school’s decision to give “reciprocity” – or treating applicants essentially as in-state students – to almost every state west of Indiana and Mesa State has a pretty good hook for those wanting to play lacrosse at a decent school for a reasonable price.
“It gives us a fighting chance,” said Stevens.
This is why even though Mesa State is located in the center of some relatively fertile recruiting grounds in Denver, Salt Lake and Phoenix, most of his interest is coming from New York, New England, Canada, California and Oregon. Due to an institutional decision, Stevens won’t have any scholarship money to spread around, but at roughly $14,000 for room, board and books, it has critical numbers in its favor to pique prep interest.
As further incentive, Mesa State has an affiliation with Colorado-Boulder for its engineering students, meaning you can pay in-state tuition, play lacrosse for an NCAA Division II program, and graduate with a degree from Colorado-Boulder, which boasts a reputable engineering curriculum, according to Stevens.
2. The Facilities
In a stroke of pure luck, Mesa State finished off the massive renovations to its athletic complex and has money stored up to make additions in the near future.
Just before the economy went sour, the school finished a turf field dedicated strictly to soccer and lacrosse; it completed a $32M renovation of the athletic facilities, including new offices, locker rooms and weight room for varsity teams; it fully funded a strength and conditioning coach; and lured the lead exercise physiologist from the U.S. Olympic program to start a clinic.
3. The Coach
I have a great respect for the coaches who have led the westerly D-II teams at the outset. I think Joe Romano, NDNU’s first coach, was made for the position and would have had the Argos flying high at this point. With that said, Mesa State is starting with a coach whose resume will impress any prospective student-athlete.
Stevens has coached at the NCAA Division III level (Roger Williams), the NCAA Division I level (Dartmouth), the MCLA Division I level (Illinois, Claremont) and at the professional level (assistant and director of lacrosse operations for the MLL’s Chicago Machine).
When I spoke with Stevens several months ago about possible coaching opportunities that were out there, he said he always had his eye open – when his wife, an attorney, saw that the State of California was handing out IOUs instead of paychecks, any attachment to Arnold’s utopia was severed – but he was only going to jump at the right program.
Part of that choice included lacrosse not being a vehicle to populate the student body.
“I interviewed with the president of the school, who is a big fan of lacrosse and has two sons playing, and when I realized what he wanted to do, I was very excited,” said Stevens about Mesa State’s top Mav. “They are adding lacrosse because they want to be competitive, not to fill beds.”
Will Mesa State be challenging C.W. Post in either men’s or women’s lacrosse anytime soon? Likely not, but there’s a lot to like about the original blueprint the Mavs are using to build their program.
So what’s with the shill job for Mesa State?
If the Mavs succeed, it could give D-II – the most anemic of the NCAA divisions – a much needed influx of teams.
Waiting on the sidelines watching Mesa State’s fate is a host of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference institutions who are rumored to be toying with the idea of adding our sport. Fort Lewis and Adams State, which has women’s D-II lacrosse and will be adding it soon, respectively, are natural possibilities for the men’s game while Metropolitan State and Western State are two candidates for both genders.
Mesa State is a public school in the wilds of Colorado looking to build a national D-II contender. If it succeeds, the western paradigm completely shifts.