Lacrosse’s historic success influences modern program

The+Colorado+State+University+lacrosse+team+and+alumni+pose+for+a+group+photo+after+the+team%E2%80%99s+annual+alumni+game

Collegian | Kaden Porter

The Colorado State University lacrosse team and alumni pose for a group photo after the team’s annual alumni game Oct. 9. This year’s alumni game took place at Denver East High School.

Kaden Porter, Staff Reporter

The Colorado State University men’s lacrosse program may not be the most recognizable athletic team on campus, but it is one of the most successful in recent history.

Despite being originally founded in the 1960s, the club program’s success has peaked in the last two decades. The Rams won their first Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association national championship in 1999 and have since taken titles home in 2001, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013.

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“I think lacrosse has been quietly important here for a while,” said Nick Chastain, senior midfielder and a team captain. “We still have the most national championships in our league.”

CSU’s six MCLA Division I national championships mean they have the most of any team in the league’s history. One of the Rams’ conference rivals, Brigham Young University, follows closely behind with five national titles of their own.

“Being part of that team is something I’ll never forget.” –Ryan MacDonald, CSU men’s lacrosse head coach

The Rams compete in the MCLA, a national organization of non-NCAA men’s college lacrosse programs. They are part of the Division I Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference along with BYU, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Texas at Austin and Utah Valley University.

The current Colorado State team is rooted deep in the program’s successful history. Head coach Ryan MacDonald and general manager Garrett Fitzgerald were both members of the 2006 team that won the national championship. 

Colorado State lacrosse head coach Ryan MacDonald speaks to players during halftime of the team’s alumni game
Colorado State lacrosse head coach Ryan MacDonald speaks to players during halftime at the team’s alumni game Oct. 9. (Collegian | Kaden Porter)

“Being part of that team is something I’ll never forget,” MacDonald said. “We made sure that there was no way that we weren’t going to win nationals. The whole team just really devoted time and effort and made a lot of sacrifices.”

The MCLA Coach of the Year Award was renamed in 2018 to posthumously honor former CSU head coach Flip Naumburg, who led the 2006 team to the national title.

“Flip (Naumburg) left a legacy that was equal parts success, program building and doing whatever he had to do to benefit the team,” Fitzgerald said.

In 14 seasons, Naumburg led the Rams to four MCLA national championships and five RMLC titles before stepping down during the 2009 season due to health concerns.

“Flip (Naumburg) and I became really close friends during my time at CSU,” Fitzgerald said. “When his health was no longer allowing him to coach, I just sort of took it upon myself to help lead the program as he did.”

MacDonald returned to the program as a volunteer coach in 2017 before being named head coach in 2018. 

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“As a player, (lacrosse) helped change my life and guide me in the direction that I needed,” MacDonald said. “When coming back to coaching, I want to give the players the experience that I had, and I want them to realize that lacrosse can open a lot of doors for them.”

Those opportunities have come in a variety of forms for the team. Relationships with former players through the CSU Lacrosse Alumni Association have not only allowed for job connections after graduation but have provided in-season opportunities too. One such opportunity was last season’s game against BYU in Canvas Stadium — the first ever opportunity for the team to host a game in the stadium.

“It was very important for me and the rest of the alumni association to make sure that those guys had that opportunity because we never did,” Fitzgerald said.

For the 2023 season, the team is slated to play in Canvas on two different occasions. Not only will they host a rivalry game against CU Boulder but they’re planning on hosting the conference tournament for the first time ever.

Colorado State University lacrosse players fight for possession
Colorado State University lacrosse players fight for possession during their alumni game Oct. 9. (Collegian | Kaden Porter)

“We have to make the (conference) tournament for starters, but if you win that tournament, you get an automatic bid to nationals,” MacDonald said. “There’s no better place for us to have it than here in Fort Collins and in our stadium.”

“CSU lacrosse has the potential to be great. The men on the team have it in their own hands, and we look forward to watching them grow to their potential.” -Garrett Fitzgerald, CSU lacrosse general manager

Beyond the games in Canvas, another highlight for the team is traveling for games. The team is set to travel to Florida this season.

“Traveling is the highlight; it’s the best part,” Chastain said. “You get to see all these different schools, all these different parts of the country, and you just go play lacrosse with your friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Team travel also plays a key role in team bonding. 

“The trips bond you quick,” said Jake Niss, senior defenseman and team captain, “especially with the guys you’re in the (hotel) room with.”

Those relationships and bonds play a foundational role in not only the team’s success but also the personal development of the team’s athletes.

A Colorado State University lacrosse alum checks on a current playe
A Colorado State University lacrosse alum checks on a current player after a play during the team’s alumni game Oct. 9. (Collegian | Kaden Porter)

“CSU lacrosse has been really instrumental in my development as an adult and a college student,” said Malcolm MacDonald, senior defenseman and a team captain. “I’ve learned life lessons (and) made connections. … You meet lifelong friends, learn how to manage your time, have fun and compete.”

For the three senior captains, the 2023 season will be their last. 

“This year, I’m excited to go out with a bang,” Malcolm MacDonald said. “Our team is looking better than ever.”

The team’s expectations are high for the upcoming season, and they hope to build on last season’s 9-6 record that ended with a conference playoff loss to BYU.

“CSU lacrosse has the potential to be great,” Fitzgerald said. “The men on the team have it in their own hands, and we look forward to watching them grow to their potential.”

Reach Kaden Porter at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @kqporter5.