At a Lacrosse Road

The origin of lacrosse can be traced all the way back to 12th century AD where Native Americans played the game as part of a religious ritual, to heal the sick, or even resolve conflict.

Nowadays, it is still played in America but mostly on the East coast.

The sport’s hotbed lies along the Atlantic coastline in places such as Virginia, New York, Maryland and New Jersey.

And while lacrosse is seen largely as an East-coast sport, it still has its place in Southern California where the University of Southern California has fielded a men’s club lacrosse team for the last 34 years.

With such a rich history of lacrosse in the East, what makes the game so much different from that of the West?

USC coach David Aktary thinks the differences are obvious, especially with the players.

“It’s night and day,” said Aktary. “It’s a different kind of athlete that you’re looking at here. You are looking at students who are students first and athletes second. With Division I it’s kind of the other way around.”

All of the athletes at the elite schools are over 6-foot, over 200 pounds and can shoot the ball 90-plus MPH righty or lefty, said Aktary.

Despite Aktary’s remarks, one member of the USC lacrosse team finds the level of competition to be quite comparable.

“The biggest difference is whether it’s Division 1 or club because all of the clubs are pretty similar,” said senior LSM Jeff Gleiberman.

But even after 30-plus years of existence, the team has little to show for their blood, sweat and tears.

Their lone title came back in 2002 when they topped Saint Mary’s for the West Coast Lacrosse League Division B Championship, according to the team’s website.

This year’s 35-man roster has compiled a record of 6-5, good for third place in the North/West portion of the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference Division 1, competing against the likes of perennial-power Chapman and up-and-comer Arizona State. Their conference is part of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which is home to all of the top-level club teams across the nation.

Mediocre record aside, the team has come a long way since the hiring of Aktary nearly two years ago.

“Above .500 is very good for us,” said Gleiberman of the team’s performance this season.

That sentiment comes as no surprise, especially considering Aktary described the team as “beer league” when he first arrived.

“It is definitely a culture change,” said Aktary of his challenge to rebuild the program. “When I came in it was one of my goals to make that big turnaround happen.”

And that big turnaround all started with his 5-year plan. 

The first order of business: to get all of the pieces in place, including an alumni organization and a booster club, to provide fundraising and support for the team.

Once the support system is in place, that will allow the team to actually being recruiting, said Aktary.

Getting someone to play for your squad is one thing, but getting them admitted into a prestigious school like USC is another.

“Academically you have to be really sharp to get in her,” said Aktary. “If you are talking about a top lacrosse player he’s probably dedicating a lot of time to that and maybe not as much to academics so maybe he’ll go D I or maybe he’ll go to school that can walk him right through the front door.”

A profile of the most recent incoming freshman class shows that only 24 percent of those that applied to USC were accepted. Not to mention the mean GPA of 3.8 and an SAT score of around 2,000.

That being said, what good does it do to have a team with nowhere to practice or play?

The team currently calls Cromwell Field at Katherine B. Loker Stadium its home, but it has no dedicated facility.

The field is shared with many others, most notably track and field, but also the band as well as the general student population among others.

“It’s super hard to get this field,” said Gleiberman.

In fact, they have to utilize the intramural field just to get in their four weekly practices.

But with the help of Aktary, that may not be the case in the near future.

“There is something in the works now where they’re going to be possibly building a lacrosse field in the next 4-7 years,” said Aktary.

Facilities aren’t the only problem, funding is also a major issue.

“There is so much more I’d like to be doing right now but I can’t because of budget constraints,” said Aktary.

The team’s annual budget is roughly $100,000 and nearly all of that money comes from the player’s dues which are about $2,000 per season, depending on whether or not you are a returning player, said Aktary.

USC’s $100,000 lacrosse budget is a far cry from the “near-varsity teams” such as Michigan who have budgets in the $600,000 range, said Aktary.

Part of the solution: a lacrosse position camp held every summer that will not only help provide funding, but will also help to recruit.

But this idea is nothing new.

“When I told the administration that I wanted to do a camp they laughed because my four predecessors said they wanted to do it but they never did,” said Aktary.

Despite what looks like a promising future, the hopes of taking the team to the varsity level are bleak.

Not just for the reasons discussed above, but also because of Title IX.

“Because of that it is highly unlikely that USC will ever have a true varsity program,” said Aktary.

If it were to happen it would require major funding from an outside source, and other west coast club teams making the jump to varsity in order to cut down on travel, said Aktary.

But not all hope is lost. USC could aspire to the next best thing, a varsity club team.

Take Chapman University for example, they have a varsity club team that runs as a varsity team but does not receive any varsity dollars. The same goes for club powerhouse Michigan, who has won the last two MLCA titles.

While USC isn’t quite yet at that level, one player believes they are well on their way.

“I definitely think it’s going to grow out here,” said senior midfielder Matthew Williams. “I’ve driven around and see younger kids playing out here and that’s what it’s like back home [in North Carolina] and in the Northeast.”

The sport has it’s roots in the Northeast and that’s still the case. Check out this map to see where Div. 1 lacrosse is played:

Unfamiliar with the sport? Check out some lacrosse lingo:

Related Links: USC Men’s LacrosseLAXICON


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Urban Campus Surf Team Making a Splash

When you think of an urban campus, you think big city, bright lights and traffic; surfing, well, not so much. But that didn’t stop a group of USC students from turning their hobby into something much more.

While surfing is widely regarded as a recreational staple of the Southern California lifestyle, a metropolitan university such as USC doesn’t exactly lend itself to a surf team quite like UC Santa Barbara or UC San Diego might.

But logical thinking would lead you to believe that a university named after the sunny surfer’s paradise would have a surf team. It did until the team disbanded back in the spring of 2007.

After a 2-year hiatus, one group’s passion for the sport brought the team back better than ever.

“It all started last spring semester when I was sitting around with Jena Sussex and John Funnell,” said Mark Lathrum, founder of the USC surf team. “We’ve all enjoyed surfing and we noticed there was no surf team at USC. We got together and we said you know what let’s start this thing.”

USC surf team captain John Funnell rips through a nice wave.

That conversation got the ball rolling for Lathrum and company, but the team still had plenty of work to do.

Having people on a team is one thing, but having the means to compete at a high level is a different story. So what was the team’s next move?

“The first thing we did was go to the school and we got associated with the surf club on campus,” said Lathrum. “After that we registered for NSSA which is our competitive surf league in Southern California.”

After restoring some credibility through some local associations, the team took the next step and turned their attention to sponsorships. In most cases, sponsorships are hard to come by; especially if you are just starting out. This is where competing for a school of USC’s stature definitely had its perks.

“It’s such a kind of a big name in California they all want to be a part of it,” said Lathrum of USC. “Surprisingly, even in a down economy they’ve been very charitable or really good backing us.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Just one month after the team was given new life, it landed an apparel sponsorship with surf company Mecca, Quiksilver.

In May 2009, the team landed its next major deal, a much needed wax sponsor in the form of Bubblegum Wax. But that wasn’t all.

By October, the team had secured sponsorships from Sanuk, ZICO Pure Coconut Water, Wellen Surf, Patagonia and Sukrafte Sporting Sails.

Brendon Ballo as he gives you a look at a nice barrell from a surfer’s perspective.

And, just for good measure they got fellow-Trojan Chris Murphy of Shacked Clothing to design a logo for the squad.

Even with all of their sponsorships taken care of, the USC surf team still had one major obstacle to overcome, practice.

“It’s tough cause you just can’t walk down Trousdale turn right and you’re right on the field,” said Lathrum. “You’ve got to jump on the 10 freeway and there’s a little bit of traffic.”

The USC campus is located some 18-plus miles from El Porto beach, a common surf spot for members of the team as well as locals.

So how did they circumvent this problem?

“Everybody is pretty much friends on the surf team so we call up 2-3 guys on the team and we’ll go, but we don’t really have set practice times or anything,” said Lathrum.

While proximity to the beach has limited the amount of practice time, it surely has not limited the growth of the team.

“You’d meet one person and they knew another person that surfed and kind of just created a network of a bunch of people and it’s grown to over 30-40 people on the team,” said Lathrum.

As the number of members on USC’s surf team increased, so did the level of competition. They recently qualified for the state finals upcoming in Huntington Beach in just a few weeks. That contest will pit the top 15 teams in the area as they battle it out heat by heat to the championship.

The only question now is whether USC will hang ten, for the win.

Also check out a timeline of the USC Surf Team’s return.


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