Up-and-coming 5C men’s lacrosse aiming for playoff spot

A lacrosse player carries the ball near the goal, looking to pass to a teammate. He wears a white jersey and a red helmet.
Alex Malmlund CM ’19 weaves through defenders in the Claremont Cougars game against USC Wednesday, April 3. (Ian Poveda • The Student Life)

Lacrosse is of the most popular rising sports in the U.S. over the last decade, and has become a mainstay in many NCAA athletic departments. Yet, with no men’s lacrosse teams at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps or Pomona-Pitzer, 5C lacrosse players compete for a different team — the Claremont Cougars.

The team is a member of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, the NCAA’s club equivalent. The Cougars compete in the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference, facing teams from larger schools such as UCLA, UNLV and UC Santa Barbara.

Joining the men’s lacrosse team involves no tryout or recruiting process, and players of any skill level are welcome to join. Due to the no-cut policy, the team has a wide range of ability levels between players.

Some turned down recruitment offers from NCAA programs at other schools before coming to the 5Cs, while others had never picked up a lacrosse stick until the beginning of their first 5C club lacrosse practice.

According to Ryan Stein PZ ’20, a team captain, the range of skill level on the team is not regarded as a detriment, but rather as an asset — he said it allows them to establish a uniform work ethic and an expectation that skill development is an integral part of the team’s culture.

“We want anybody that has even thought about playing, or wants to know more about it, to come out,” Stein said. “I, for one, have extra gear, and we love to teach people.”

Ethan Kruteck CM ’21 feels similarly.

“We have a lot of depth on the team, along with some guys who have just picked up a lacrosse stick this season, so it’s fun to see everyone progressing, coaching each other and helping each other be better,” he said.

Stein said the team’s relatively low commitment, compared to NCAA sports, allows him to play lacrosse at a collegiate level, but not to a degree of intensity where his involvement in the sport would impact his academic pursuits or define his college career.

Both Kruteck and Stein both also said that club lacrosse is a great way to meet people across the 5Cs.

“Playing in college is very much a social entity because you’re living together. Sports in high school were less social to me,” Stein said. “Maybe you hung out with your teammates, but it was not as integral to a sports team. It’s fun to expand your horizons, and sports are the greatest way to do that.”  

The Cougars have had an up-and-down year, but recently gained some traction. The team beat San Diego State 9-8 March 9, an upset win considering its 20-4 loss last year.

“The win was a big step in the right direction, because we have a new coach this year, and we want to try to change the culture, which is obviously a cliche saying, but is very necessary for our team,” Stein said. “This upset sent a few waves through the league, and we just want to keep building on that momentum if we can.”

The Cougars fell to USC 13-6 Wednesday, bringing their record to 4-6 with three games remaining. Kruteck said the last few regular season games will provide the team with the opportunity to end their regular season with a winning record; a positive outcome in the short-term that could lead to putting the program on the right trajectory in the long-term.

Stein thinks the Cougars have a chance to run the table in the SLC. The team will likely need victories over Concordia University Irvine and Chapman to even have a chance to secure a spot in postseason play.

“We could be a great team, we could be national champions, but some days we don’t chose to be, and that’s the part that makes it hard,” he said. “If we applied ourselves, we could take that next step, and I think we’re going try to do that … in future games, because we do not like the feeling of defeat.”

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