The 48 players sprint across the field; slinging passes to one another. They repeat the conditioning exercise for six grueling minutes in a drill known as the “six minutes of heck.”
“We aren’t allowed to say bad words in practice,” said sophomore defender Nicky Mullen. “We’d been getting too many technical fouls in the games so we had to stop.”
To say Chapman’s club lacrosse team (14-2, 6-0) is an eclectic group would be a gross understatement. Made up of players from all over the country, the team regularly holds casual attire Friday practices, players dye the tips of their hair blond and grow caterpillar-like mustaches.
Currently ranked second in the Under Armour Men’s College Lacrosse Association coach’s poll, players said the team has never felt this close and unified. After graduating key members of last year’s team, senior captain Brenton Croteau said it was clear to the players that people had low expectations for this season.
“Everyone really bought into our system and the program because we know that the guy next to us is going to do their job,” he said. “I’m confident that if everyone’s doing their job, the system will work and it has led to us winning.”
For Mullen, playing on a team with no personal animosities or rivalries is both new and refreshing.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been on a team where everyone is friends with everyone,” he said. “People told me once you play in college it’s more of a business than family-oriented but I wouldn’t say that’s the case.”
Creating a community and brotherhood was one of head coach Dallas Hartley’s top priorities when he took over the Panthers in 2011. Coming off of the 2010 season where the team went 16-3 and made it to the national championship, Hartley had big shoes to fill.
He did not disappoint, leading the team to a 73-23 overall record while winning the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference North division every year he’s coached. Furthermore, the Panthers have been invited to the Men’s College Lacrosse Association national tournament each year, making it to the final four last year.
“It’s a tough sport and you have to be tough to succeed,” Hartley said. “You have to be mentally tough and a lot of that comes from getting through practices and building experience.”
To build a tough and successful team, Hartley knew he would have to recruit players that would constantly raise the level of intensity and competition.
“My job is to recruit players better than the talent on my team,” he said. “The talent on my team’s job is to make sure they don’t get beat out.”
While it may be a harsh mentality, it’s one of the main reasons the Panthers are ranked second, the team’s highest ranking since 2010.
Hartley said one of his priorities every season is to make practices competitive so the level of competition isn’t a surprise when the players enter a game. Already hard workers, he said this year’s senior class always plays with a chip on its shoulder.
“I thought our seniors were a great class but they weren’t highly regarded,” he said. “I think that has fostered a lot of that willingness to compete.”
Freshman walk-on Nathan Cohen said the friendly competition can get intense but everyone understands it’s all for the betterment of the team. While Cohen is still getting used to the team, Mullen said the competitive mentality has reached new heights this year.
“We still have a lot of talent but I’d say it’s less natural talent and more a willingness to grind it out every day, to work hard and stick to our systems,” he said. “We’re a blue collar team, grittier I guess, and I’d much rather that because talent can only go so far.”
Anchored by its imposing defense, Chapman held opponents under 10 goals in all but one of its 16 games this season. Croteau said a key to the Panthers’ playoff success would be their ability to stay composed and focused.
As the sun sets over the Ernie Chapman stadium, the players huddle together, finally finished with the day’s work.
“Roll ‘Town!” gets yelled in unison before screams and cheers ring through the warm night.
Taken from the Alabama’s legendary “Roll Tide” chant, the Panthers are trying to build their own historic program in Orange. And with another national tournament on the horizon, they’re just getting started.
To read about how Chapman did at its conference tournament, click here.