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COLLEGE DIVISION / ARA NAJARIAN

Whittier Puts Lacrosse on Western Map

April 14, 1993|ARA NAJARIAN

The Whittier College men's lacrosse team is making its way out of obscurity.

In late February, Whittier had an extraordinary accomplishment. The Poets tied an NCAA Division III record when they won their 42nd consecutive game by defeating Stanford, 18-4. The streak dated to March of 1990.

Now the word is getting out.

The team won two games and lost two in a short tour against Eastern teams last week. Three of the four were teams ranked in the top 25. The losses were to top-ranked Roanoke (Va.) and No. 3 Salisbury State (Md.). The Poets defeated Greensboro (N.C.).

Attention has come from within the lacrosse community, but that's a start. Lacrosse will have to get more attention as a sport before Whittier can expect more. The sport is virtually nonexistent on a popularity level in the West and not considered a revenue sport in the East. Lacrosse magazine has featured the Poets, and the streak helped gain attention, too.

But when the streak ended with a 10-7 loss to Arizona on Feb. 28, Coach Doug Locker got only one call to ask about it.

Whittier has been a big fish in a small pond for a while: The Poets won the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League (WCLL) in 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1992.

Things are going swimmingly, if not perfectly, this year. Whittier is 9-4 and ranked No. 19 nationally among Division III schools.

Because the Poets are one of two lacrosse teams on the intercollegiate level on the West Coast--the other is Stanford--gaining recognition has never been an issue.

Stanford is a Division I program and Whittier is Division III, so the bulk of their schedules are against club-level teams. A club team is the officially recognized representative of the school, but it is not funded by the school and cannot participate for for an intercollegiate title.

So the record will carry an asterisk in many people's minds, although it is recognized by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Coaches Assn., which keeps track of records and polls.

"There's a lot of East-West bias right now," Locker said. "The best for us is to be ranked, since we're from an area that doesn't have much going on lacrosse-wise. The opportunity to travel and play a top-notch schedule helps too."

Whittier's program began as a club sport in 1982, when students Peter Launer and Mark Williams approached Locker about forming a team.

"I was working in the admissions office at the time," Locker said. "To start any club here, students need an faculty or staff administrator. A couple of kids wanted to do it and I agreed. Little did I know. . . ."

Little did he know that in eight years the program would be elevated to NCAA status by the school. The program is in it's third year at the intercollegiate level and now has four assistant coaches.

Whittier plays in the South Division of the 25-team WCLL. Aside from Stanford and Whittier, the league is made up of club teams, but the wide array of schools that play suggest that the sport is strong at its core.

Because the sport is rooted in the East, it is not surprising that Locker has only three California players on his 28-man squad.

"We recruit by letters and phone calls. But word of mouth is very important," Locker said. "Sometimes a kid will want to go to school out here and continue playing lacrosse is the West."

*

It only sounds familiar: Azusa Pacific set a school record with 16 consecutive victories.

This time by the baseball team. Last time it was the basketball team.

In mid-February the basketball team broke its consecutive-victory streak by winning 16 games in a row.

The baseball streak, which ended with a 7-2 loss to Cal Lutheran last week, played a major part in vaulting the Tigers to a No. 4 ranking in the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics national poll.

"I've kidded (Tiger basketball Coach Bill Odell) all along that our goal is to be like him," Azusa Pacific Baseball Coach Tony Barbone said. "His team won 30, and it would be a dream for us to do that. Bill and I are the same--we're humble and believe that you have to have divine intervention to get breaks like that. You have to have luck and be injury-free to win that many in a row."

Azusa Pacific is 22-4, with a 9-1 record in the Golden State Athletic Conference, which gives the Tigers a 3 1/2-game lead over Cal Baptist at midseason.

Barbone said he doesn't pay much attention to streaks.

"I think it just happened. We try to play one pitch at a time and worry about the outcome later. In that stretch there were some one-run wins--we had three in a row starting with Cal State Long Beach," Barbone said. "That was a big one. At that point, our guys felt we could win and compete with just about anybody."

Victories over Long Beach from Division I, Cal Poly Pomona (Division II) and Cal Lutheran (the top-ranked team in Division III) indicate that might be true.

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