Goucher men's game comes of age

Lacrosse finds its niche as school sheds a label

Villa Julie on same road

May 02, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Goucher alumnus Steve Abraham is back at school, picking his spot in the middle of the top row of the shiny bleachers to get the best view.

A roomy press box is above him, a blue- and gold-trimmed scoreboard is to his left, and, front and center at $3.15 million Gopher Stadium - the school's latest commitment to athletics - is the 2002 Goucher men's lacrosse team.

Goals come in bunches for the Gophers in their new home on this crisp Saturday in early April: Goucher 19, Catholic 5. Pride comes pouring out from the stands.

"It's sort of like watching a child grow up," said Abraham, 32, a New York City investor who was a senior on the first Goucher men's lacrosse team in 1992.

The challenge of building a program in lacrosse-rich Baltimore much later than the rest was daunting in itself. Establishing one at Goucher was especially tough because the liberal arts college had been a women's school for 102 years before turning coeducational in 1987.

The lacrosse team, which didn't enjoy its first winning season until last year, became the sixth of seven men's varsity programs now offered at Goucher, along with nine women's programs.

When the men's swimming team made its first splash in 1987, there were only 47 male students compared with 845 women on campus. Tennis and soccer came in the late 1980s, basketball and cross country in the early 1990s and track and field in 2000.

"I think athletics, which is a very important part of most institutions, has helped bring what I would call a more well-rounded approach to coeducation," said Corky Surbeck, director of admissions at Goucher.

"We're only 15 years into this, but I think it's pretty much cemented now. We're there and with the help of athletics and the curriculum offering lots to do for men, as well, it just feels like a very coeducational college."

Villa Julie College, which began as a secretarial and finishing school in 1947, made a similar conversion to coed status. But for a while, neither men nor women played sports.

The school offered women's basketball and field hockey in the 1960s, but abandoned athletics in the 1970s, despite the fact it became coed at that time.

The fitness craze in the mid-1980s, when the school became a four-year college, brought back athletics at a club and intramural level. In 1994, Villa Julie became a full NCAA member at the Division III level.

It now has 17 teams - nine women's and eight men's - largely competing as an independent. The men's lacrosse team joined the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference this spring as an associate member.

For Goucher, the basketball program that coach Leonard Trevino launched in 1990 provided a blueprint for the rest of the men's programs.

The Texas native, an assistant at South Dakota for two years, was a first-time head coach in unfamiliar surroundings at a school that still had the reputation of being a women's college.

Early recruits came from outside the area, with high school coaches in Baltimore not offering much talent. In the program's fourth season, the 1993-94 campaign, the Gophers won their first of four Capital Athletic Conference titles.

"When we won our first conference title, we had only one Baltimore kid. Our roster was dotted with guys from all over. Now, if you look at our third and fourth conference titles, it was predominantly Baltimore and D.C. area players," said Trevino, who is 159-128 in his 12 seasons.

The first men's lacrosse coach, Steve Hornish, had double duty, also starting up the soccer program.

The lacrosse team spent three years as a club team (student-athletes from other schools also played) to give the players on board a chance to hone their skills and Hornish a chance to recruit. "Many times, you'd call up and tell them what school you were from and it was like `Isn't that school all girls?'" he recalled.

At the time, 27 percent of the 868 students were male (the school is 29 percent male today, with an enrollment of 1,221). But the numbers that mattered were the 16 who played lacrosse, a thin roster for the team's inaugural varsity season.

With no experience, little depth and getting little respect from opponents that gladly found a date on their schedules for the guys from the girls school, the Gophers finished a more-than-respectable 3-6 for the season.

"I guess what I remember most is a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I first stepped on the field ... just happy to be out there as a Goucher team, representing the school," said Abraham, whose high school in Teaneck, N.J., didn't have a lacrosse team.

"We had a couple of really talented players and a couple of guys that were just good athletes, but, more than anything, it was a tight group of guys that all sort of pulled together and did it."

Now look.

"One of the things when you're part of something brand new is you're setting a tradition as you go," said 1994 grad Tom Rose, who was the team's MVP that season. He also played basketball and is now the associate head coach for the basketball team.

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