Onondaga Community College men’s lacrosse team expects national championships

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 24, 2017 at 11:55 pm Contact Paul: pmschwed@syr.edu | @pschweds Chuck Wilbur’s heart thumped as overtime loomed. Onondaga Community College had never won a regional title, while Herkimer, Wilbur’s alma mater, owned the previous 21. Wilbur needed to draw up a play. OCC’s fourth-year head coach never had a chance this good.The Lazers’ Steve Kazimer had been Wilbur’s go-to guy all game. In the biggest moment, he went back to him again. Once Kazimer scored, Wilbur lifted his arms out at his side and ran like an airplane up and down the sideline. The 2005 regional championship was Onondaga’s first and the program was just departing the runway.“That was the turning point of the program,” Wilbur said. “We were good that year, 2005.“We took off. We were great after that.”As Herkimer’s streak ended, OCC’s began. The Lazers have won 12 straight regional championships and will play for its 13th on Saturday. But Wilbur’s legacy goes beyond regional titles.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAt the junior college level, Wilbur’s goal is two-fold. He wants his team to win and he wants to prepare his players to smoothly transition to four-year programs at the Division I, II and III level. In his 16 years at OCC, he’s done both. The Lazers have won nine national titles and Wilbur’s helped 218 players move on to NCAA ranks.“I knew we could be really good,” Wilbur said. “But to get to the level we’re at now and the success we’ve had, obviously that’s more of a dream than something you think would actually happen.”To call OCC’s past eight years a dynasty would be an understatement. The Lazers won seven consecutive national titles until losing by one goal in last year’s championship to Genesee, a team they beat twice during the year. A loss earlier that season snapped a 107-game winning streak, an NJCAA record across all sports and divisions.The Lazers finished the 2017 regular season undefeated and averaged 27 goals per game while allowing 6.25. They’ll host both regionals and nationals and after earning a first-round postseason bye. OCC is just two wins away from its eighth title in nine years.“That is the standard,” sophomore midfielder Erik Badger said.Along the chain-link fence dividing David W. Murphy Field and the bleachers are a slew of national championship banners: 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. But next to 2015 is an empty spot. That’s where the 2016 one should be. Each time players walk by for a practice or game, they know what should be there. That’s why this year’s squad calls itself the Redeem Team. This year’s sophomore class doesn’t want to go down as the first to leave OCC without a title since 2005. But even that year’s team ended Herkimer’s 21-year streak.Jeff Anderson | Staff PhotographerFrom the start of the recruiting process, players are aware of what they’re getting into. Wilbur takes recruits into his office when they visit the school. They see the championship plaques and rings in his office.Logan Thomas, who played at OCC in 2013 and 2014 before transferring to Le Moyne, said coaches pound the team’s goals into players’ heads from day one.“You get chills the first day of practice,” Thomas said. “All the sophomores, a ton of energy, hootin’ and hollerin’.”Onondaga didn’t permanently start its lacrosse program until 2000. Wilbur began two years later. Each member of his staff has either been with him for more than 10 years or played on his team at OCC. They foster an environment where players are comfortable. The team’s motto is “family,” and coaches don’t just look out for players on the field. The lacrosse part of Wilbur’s job is fun, he said, but ensuring players keep up academically to eventually transfer to a four-year school is more important.When attack Randy Staats came to Onondaga in 2012, people told Wilbur he wouldn’t make it to Division I. Wilbur saw the effort he put in during study hall and sessions with tutors. The competitive spirit Staats played with — sometimes he fought teammates — carried over to the classroom. Wilbur meets with players and finds out their top five school choices. Then he calls each one up and explains why that player would be a good fit.“All these young men are coming here for an opportunity to make it,” Wilbur said. “At this time, they haven’t made it, that’s why they’re here.”Staats finished as OCC’s career leader in points, transferred to Syracuse and played on the nation’s top-ranked team and alongside Kevin Rice and Dylan Donahue, one of the nation’s best attack lines.Cody Jamieson had a story like a hundred others. Jamieson said he wouldn’t have survived at a Division I university for four years. The size of the school and academic rigors would have overwhelmed him. Jamieson played at OCC before transferring to Syracuse. He then scored the game-winning goal in the 2009 national title game over Cornell.“That’s the first time in a lacrosse game I teared up,” Wilbur said. “I’ve seen a kid fulfill a dream. And I saw Sid (Smith, former Lazer and SU player) be part of it. I remember what an emotional day for us.”Jeff Anderson | Staff PhotographerAs administrators saw Wilbur’s success sending players to four-year colleges, the school increased the program’s financial backing. The facilities became part of a recruiting plan that previously centered on attracting local talent. The Lazers’ current roster features players from Las Vegas, Idaho, Canada, Australia and Japan. Winning allowed Wilbur to expand his range. When he first started 16 years ago, nearly all players were from New York.“It’s a hotbed of lacrosse everywhere around us,” Wilbur said. “We just had to get kids to come here, stay at home, stay close by. That was the first thing we had to get done.”Wilbur’s coaching style is to let his players play. His job is to allow them to showcase their abilities to coaches scouting for transfers. He models the legendary Syracuse and Virginia teams of the 1980s, the ones that went up and down the field and didn’t wait for anyone to catch their breath.In practice, Wilbur’s assistants pit their units against each other. They argue which side is best, firing up the team. Sometimes, coaches face off in shooting competitions.“I loved showing up for practice,” Jamieson said. “… He made it fun.”At the end of the practice, Wilbur told his team to “live in the moment.” He lives by what he teaches. Outside of recruiting, he rarely talks about the success he’s amounted. Wilbur’s focus is on the current crop of players.Before OCC’s regular-season finale on Friday, the public address announcer mentioned the Lazers’ 11-0 record. They went on to win, 35-7.“Undefeated,” someone said as OCC’s players mingled with friends and family after the game.“Undefeated,” a player replied nonchalantly.It’s a feat the Lazers didn’t accomplish last season, but not losing until this point isn’t what they set out to do as soon as last year came to a crashing halt. For seven straight seasons, OCC celebrated on the season’s final day.In order to fully redeem itself, the empty spot in the chain-link fence must be filled. The vacancy is closer to the players than any of the championship banners when they enter or exit the field. It’s also at the front of their minds. In three weeks, they’ll have a chance to fill the opening. Commentslast_img