BRISTOL - Playing just nine games since the end of the 2019 season, there has not been much action for the Wesleyan men’s lacrosse team. With just five games on this year’s schedule the 2018 Division III national champions have not had a full season in two years.
For Wesleyan goalie coach Bill Els, this meant he was plenty available, when he received a call asking if he wanted to be the head coach of the Bristol co-op boys lacrosse team. After combining for 12 wins over their previous three seasons, Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central united their boys lacrosse programs this year.
Els asked Wesleyan senior captain Logan Geller if he was interested in joining Els in coaching this team and through five games Bristol is 3-2 and improving at a rapid pace.
“They kind of head hunted us,” Els said. “I got a phone call from a friend of mine who owns Rip It Lacrosse saying he just got a call from the AD asking if they knew anyone who could coach. Wesleyan really didn’t have a team this year, we only had four games, so I grabbed Logan, who is our captain attackman with a bad knee, and he and I are trying to teach these guys a little bit of culture.”
The Bristol roster features a wide range of skill levels from players who have been playing lacrosse since youth, to students who were brand new to the sport this season. This turned Els and Geller’s instruction into gospel as everyone at practice saw how much they could get better from such experienced lacrosse players.
“For the majority of these guys they really haven’t had coaches at that next level,” senior captain Jeff Taillon said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have that, so I can definitely appreciate it. They come in every day and put us to work and I can see the wheels turning on everyone. They’re learning a lot and I really see the improvement.”
In addition to the lack of experience for many players, the new coaches were also faced with the challenge of bringing together kids from two different schools. While some kids from Bristol knew each other from youth lacrosse, there was a familiarity that needed to be built to turn this group into a team.
“At the beginning of practice some guys didn’t even know each other,” Els said. “Now they actually know each other, they’re a team and they’re buying into the Wesleyan system because we won a National Championship there and they’re kind of big on that. We do the same drills every day at practice that we do at Wesleyan.”
Bringing the schools together and giving them effective coaches has yielded positive results immediately as Bristol won three of its first five games, which is keeping the kids invested. In a place where there is not a large lacrosse presence, having one team between the two schools helps the kids grow because they have enough talent and insight around them to succeed.
“When we were separated it kind of took a toll on us,” senior midfielder D’Andre Wiggins said. “[We were] losing games back to back, we didn’t have the personnel in every spot and we were very short handed. It definitely took on our mentality, we still love playing the sport and enjoying it, so this year has been a great experience. We have starters in every position, great people who have played in every position.”
Having only played five games so far due to an early-season quarantine, Bristol took on another important learning experience Monday night in its 16-5 loss to undefeated Wethersfield. While the Eagles were in control for most of the game, Bristol displayed some flashes of strong team play while learning what some top competition looks like. The score may not have reflected the positives of Bristol’s performance, but that game would likely have gone much worse in previous seasons.
“I think this game was actually quite important,” Wiggins said. “From the beginning when we started playing, the chemistry wasn’t completely there. Some of us came up from playing in middle school, I personally haven’t. They have that chemistry, so when the new guys come in, we have to work on being able to clear out and be able to work out as a team. We saw those steps developing through this game.”
“That team played well together and really knew what each other wanted to do,” senior captain Jack Stavens said. “When you can do that and be on the same page with everyone else on your team, that really can boost your team even if you’re not the most skilled or the biggest.”
Building a winning culture is a goal with this team and Els and Geller have done plenty to impact how this team will perform this year and in years to come. They were not destined to coach in Bristol for very long as Wesleyan will call them back next year, but one season will certainly be enough to leave lasting impacts.
“We’re going back to Wesleyan next year,” Els said. “We’re going to try to get our people here, but we’re going to try and win another national championship.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org