As we all know by now, the 2023 NAIA lacrosse season wrapped up two weeks ago and was a positive season in so many ways but also showcased some areas of improvement. Let’s take a look at those moments from the past year.
Good: A New Champion
A dynasty is a double-edged sword. A dynasty builds up a team that makes them feel unbeatable because for many years, well, they literally were unbeatable. This can make some people lose interest as they feel the reigning champ will just win yet another championship.
However, a dynasty can also build anticipation and positively grow the sport, especially when they finally get defeated. It elevates that program and the NAIA as a whole. Webber knocking off the five-time NAIA Champions in Reinhardt was huge for NAIA lacrosse and Webber. It showed what a program could accomplish in just three short years. A program like Webber clearly has the full support to travel and recruit wherever which is a big part of their success.
Finally, it makes every team sharper because they try to model their program after the best. Indiana Tech also scored a big win over Reinhardt earlier this year, and really helped them make a statement on their year. Keiser is now the champs, and with the program they have built, they are built for long-term success. Keiser winning it all was a huge step forward for all NAIA lacrosse teams and showed that all teams can build a strong program.
Bad: Parity Still Lacking
The AAC and the WHAC dominated this year, with seven of the eight teams in the championship. The AAC is growing stronger, in my opinion, again shown at the finals, with three of the four teams making it to the semifinals. Indiana Tech and Concordia were dominant all year, while Siena Heights beat the teams below them to keep a hold of a playoff spot. The KCAC didn’t get an automatic bid, and the top two teams did not make enough of a statement to be considered for an invite. The Heart of America placed
St. Ambrose in after winning the conference tournament but quickly lost to Keiser.
I’m not sure what can be done, but one thing you see with the top programs is that they travel and challenge themselves with many tough out-of-conference opponents. William Penn and St. Ambrose play some challenging games, but many others do not, which hurts come tournament time. Common opponents really help when trying to decide where to place teams.
Good: High Quality Streams
We saw some great streams and solid commentary by some teams, which helped make NAIA lacrosse exciting to other new fans. Some of these streams were better quality than some of the streams I saw early in the season from some D1 programs on ESPN+. More of these streams will help bring in and keep people watching these games.
Bad: Low Quality Streams/Paywall
While we saw some wonderful streams, some streams were just rough to watch. No commentary is a huge deterrent, but when it is hard to even make out what is going on down on the field, that is hard to watch. There were many games that I had to turn off because I just couldn’t watch any longer due to the quality.
championship behind a paywall. $30 for three days will not bring in outside people to watch the best of the NAIA. I understand needing to recoup some costs, but please, try to find other ways to generate revenue. People don’t mind watching commercials during the games if needed, but please, make it free so people can experience the best teams in NAIA.
Good: Quality of Play
The quality of play keeps getting better every year with the NAIA. Now, athletes are getting better at lacrosse all over the place, but we see that some of the top teams in the NAIA can compete with some NCAA programs.
Bad: Length of Tournament
This is a tricky situation that I don’t have a solution for besides playing games before the tournament, similar to the Championship Weekend that we see with D1 lacrosse. Three games in four days is brutal, especially in an environment like Florida. Now, that should change next year, although I could not find where the new location will be. Having a tournament where all the teams compete in one location is special, so I am a bit torn here. I would love to see it spread out, maybe an extra day; teams like Webber had a tough time bouncing back the next day trying to take on Keiser after beating Reinhardt.
Good: Overall Engagement
Especially on Twitter, there was a lot of discussion and good takes throughout the year from so many different accounts. The established accounts continued to pump out content and coverage, along with many other newer accounts dedicated to the growth of NAIA lacrosse. When everyone comes together and supports each other to grow and spread their reach, it helps grow the game and NAIA lacrosse, which is what we are here for.
Bad: No Growth
Multnomah was scheduled to officially join the NAIA this year, but it did not take place, so 2023 was a year with no new teams. They are still posting about trying to build a team for the 2024 season, so let’s hope that happens. However, logistically, a West Coast team seems to be brutal until more teams are around them. Westcliff was scheduled to join, but they have joined the MCLA now. There are two programs slated for 2024, Life University and University of Health Sciences & Pharmacy, but not sure where they are right now with having a team. The KCAC needs another team to join so they can secure an automatic bid to the tournament.
Good: Teams Got to Play Lacrosse
At the end of the day, the biggest thing that matters is that lots of guys got to play the game they love while earning an education and building bonds that will last a lifetime. Lacrosse is a great game and one that I truly love to watch and see the hard work every player puts in to just getting on the field. It takes a ton of dedication to be on a team at the college level, so a huge shout out to all the guys putting in the work daily, no matter your record at the end of the year.
Year End Awards
I will name my players of the year on both sides of the ball with just a quick write-up. These guys and many more are All-American Players that played a fantastic season of lacrosse.
Offensive Player of the Year – Cameron Cochran
Cochran was just a beast all year in scoring, dishing out assists, and grabbing those groundballs. That made him my Offensive Player of the Year, his all-around ability to make plays in so many ways.
Honorable Mention – Breck Putzier and AJ Badik
Defensive Player of the Year – Christian Tomei
Tomei was a difference-maker to me. No one player had a bigger impact on his team than him. Keiser had a great defense all year, and if a team would get past them, Tomei was there to put a stop to that effort. His 68.9% save percentage while facing the best teams in the NAIA is just otherworldly.
Honorable Mention – Tom Piotrowski and Bryce Peltier