For the men’s lacrosse team at Chapman, being up for a championship isn’t novel. In 2016, the team secured its first national championship against the California Polytechnic State University Mustangs in a 9-5 home win at Wilson Stadium. Fans rushed towards the black steel fences while players threw their gear in the air in celebration. Fans cheered and clapped ecstatically as the team went to the 50-yard line and gathered on the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) stage.
Over the next two years, the team would return to the national championships twice, finishing both times as runner-ups, to Grand Canyon University in 2017 and Michigan State University in 2018. This season, the team carries a record of 7-2. Senior goalie and strategic and corporate communication major Daniel Aguilar is confident in the team’s future as the month of March comes to a close.
“We are starting to find our identity and have been stacking great ranked road wins against Cal Poly and Colorado University, Boulder,” Aguilar said.
Although Chapman is a Division III university, the men’s lacrosse team plays on the Division I level in the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference (SLC). But, as a club team, they still differ from NCAA teams like Duke University or Cornell University, who are not in the MCLA.
When the team first joined MCLA, they were considered a Division II team. AJ Rafter, Chapman 2014 alumnus and former player for the men’s team from 2011-2014, said the team’s move to Division I at least 10 years ago was needed.
“We essentially compete better with the Division Is. The competition is better and it’s more friendly for our traveling,” Rafter said. “A lot of the better Division II schools are out east and in the Midwest.”
According to the MCLA website, Chapman has been a part of the conference since 2009, when it was established. The conference consists of 11 teams, a majority of which are from California.
Chapman has averaged 13.36 goals per game this season, while their opponents have scored an average of 9.54 goals against them. Despite the two losses, Jack Phillips, a midfielder and junior strategic and corporate communication major, said one of the things that makes the team successful is its unity.
“We started off rough. It’s tough with a light roster,” Phillips said. “But it’s fun to battle through everything. What makes us so good is the brotherhood we have, no matter how cliche it sounds.”
When the team secured the national championship title in 2016, they sported a 39-person roster. The team had 34 players in 2017 and 32 in 2018. During Rafter’s senior year in 2014, the team had 53 players on its roster. This year, it has 28. Dallas Hartley, head coach for the Panthers, said this year is an odd one in regards to the incoming freshmen and the senior class. There is no exact reason for the decreasing roster length, other than the two classes being smaller when compared to previous years, Hartley said.
“We usually try to recruit 15 freshmen and our senior class is usually 10. But we only have five seniors this year, along with seven freshmen,” Hartley said.
Aguilar, who has seen the program develop over the past four years, said Hartley drives the team’s passion.
“He started nine years ago and it’s the culture he has established. The fine line he rides as an authority figure but also hanging out with the guys is what sets a good base for the program that allows us to have a great culture,” Aguilar said.
With four games left in the regular season, players like Phillips, hope a national championship is in the works.
“It’s definitely in the headlights … We have to start working on our systems more and start trusting each other more on slide packages,” Phillips said. “But I definitely believe we will make it back to the championship.”