Since 1998, the Colorado State men’s club lacrosse team had one staple: Alex Smith.
From playing for the club in ’98 and eventually working through the ranks and becoming the head coach, Smith had effectively been a part of six MCLA National Championships with the Rams.
But Smith’s era at Colorado State came to an end in October 2015, following his resignation.
Enter the Ted Fifield era.
After Smith’s departure, it was decided Fifield would take over as head coach in 2016, inheriting a CSU team that struggled last year, as it missed the MCLA national tournament for the first time in 13 years.
“Alex Smith was a fixture at CSU for a long time, and he enjoyed more success as a player and coach than any other Ram alumni,” Fifield said. “There is no way I can replace Coach Smith. However, I am excited about the challenge I’ve been given by the team and the CSU Lacrosse Alumni Association. I believe in my players, and in my assistant coaches. We have an opportunity to be great this season, we just have to put in the effort to achieve that greatness.”
Returning CSU to its former glory is number one on Fifield’s to-do list. How does he plan to do it? Defense.
Fifield spent time as the defensive coordinator for the University of Wisconsin club lacrosse team. During that time, he coached several Badgers to defensive awards, including the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference defensive player of the year in 2013. The plan is to take that defensive mindset that worked at Wisconsin and bring it to Colorado State.
“As a defensive coach, my goal is to control the opposition’s offense and make them uncomfortable,” Fifield said. “I don’t ask my defenders to take the ball away often. Instead, I ask that they keep consistent pressure on the offense to frustrate them into making mistakes. Those mistakes turn into possessions for our team, and we need those possessions to win the game. That was the basic philosophy I employed at Wisconsin, and I brought it with me to Colorado State.”
Implementing Fifield’s defensive system will be beneficial for the Rams but might take some time to master. Four games into the season, CSU has a 2-2 record, with wins against Grand Canyon and Boise State, and losses against Arizona and Oregon. The Rams gave up just six goals to Arizona, though, and also kept Oregon to single digits, losing 9-8.
“A learning curve is definitely gonna be a thing that happens no matter what change you bring to a sideline, especially with a new head coach,” team president and midfielder Jared Wade said. “While we’re running similar systems to before, Ted and Brandon (Hulett, head assistant coach,) bring their own unique twists to the game of lacrosse, and we’re really putting in the work to not only understand it, but execute it to perfection and get better at the little things so that we can still be playing come May when the national tournament comes around.”
Learning a new system is one thing, but replacing the coach that established CSU lacrosse as a perennial powerhouse presents some other challenges. Players who have been in the program for a few years are taking on the responsibility of learning Fifield’s schemes while also maintaining the culture created by Smith.
“The biggest difference now with Ted coaching is the need to lean on senior players to continue the culture that Alex brought of family first,” Wade said. “Ted and Brandon have brought the family, hard work, and greatness core values to the team, but as they grow into their roles it’s really been an emphasis on the older guys to teach the younger guys the culture.”
Colorado State lacrosse went through a bit of an identity crisis last season, finishing just 9-8. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that when one era ends, a new one always begins.
“Our program has always had a target on it’s back, but I think our opponents have more belief this season than in years past,” Fifield said. “We will need to work hard to overcome that perception and prove CSU lacrosse is still a force to be reckoned with.”
Over spring break, the Rams will travel to California to face University of California on Saturday and Sonoma State on Tuesday.
Collegian sports reporter Chad Deutschman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ChadDeutschman.