Editor’s Note: Matt and I use to go to school together back in the good old days, so when I heard he played for UW-Eau Claire and was looking for a way to GTG and spread the good word on his team, I had to jump on the opportunity to help a fellow laxer out.
Earlier this year, we were able to interview UW-Madison, now we get to interview a D2 team who is also from the great state of Wisconsin, UW-Eau Claire. We sat down with Matt Michener, team Vice-President and avid laxer to talk about the program at UW-Eau Claire and the state of lacrosse in Wisconsin.
MCLA Fan: Tell us about yourself, how did you get your start into the lax world? How did you end up at UW-Eau Claire?
Matt Michener: Where to really start, I feel like an old man, my right knee is starting to get the better of me some days and I enjoy playing lacrosse.
My curiosity for the game came when watching it on TV for the first time. After watching this magnificent game, I wanted to start to play if the chance ever came and it finally did when I arrived at Neenah High School. I have very few regrets in my life, one of them being not going for lacrosse my freshman year… the same year which the team was formed.
When the next season came I decided to go out, and I haven’t looked back since. I played for three years and finished my senior year with an honorable mention and Midfield of the year award. When I was done with high school, I had no clue or an idea on what I wanted to do with my life. So I decided to take the year after my senior year off from school, look for a college that I could see myself attending or join the military. I had interest joining the Navy, but I didn’t feel the greatest about it after talking to some family members and friends. With my mind being set and telling myself one year was one year, back to school I went.
I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin – Fox Valley (a two year university that is through the UW system); it was very affordable, I could live at home and could get some general credits done and transfer anywhere I wanted. I started looking around where I wanted to transfer. I looked at a lot of different schools in and out of state, but ultimately decided to go with UW-Eau Claire. I really didn’t think about playing lacrosse when I transferred, but I had found out they had a team and decided to get in touch with their team president. After my general tour with the university, I got a tour from the team president himself, Jeremy. He showed me around the city and where the team had practiced and where their game venues were (I was very impressed that most of their home games were played on Carson Park, the University’s turf football field). After my tour with him I had decided that UW-Eau Claire would be the perfect fit. I transferred out of UW-Fox Valley after three semesters into the spring semester.
What would you say, is the best thing about UW-Eau Claire?
I would have to say the University itself; we are very academic based and have some of the finest programs in state and in the Midwest. A lot of the UW-Eau Claire students are from the great state to the west, Minnesota. We sit at around 11,000 undergraduate students. The campus is very beautiful and we are currently going through some new renovations; a new student center is just starting to be built right now and the plans for it look fantastic. Our professors are also very passionate about their teaching and research.
Also our players focus on their academics, I don’t want to call us a bunch of nerds, but we have a very strong academic presence off the field. One thing that separates us from the other teams is, well you know…we do live in the state of beer, cheese and bratwurst…you figure it out.
What would you tell a recruit trying to decide between the Blugolds and somewhere else?
We can’t promise you a trip to Denver, but we can guarantee you will have fun at UW-Eau Claire and on the lacrosse team. Your academics are important and we are very understanding about it, but we can make sure you leave with some of the best memories and stories you will ever have and knowing some of the greatest bunch of guys you will ever meet and have fun being with them on and off the field. Oh, and you will walk away with some pretty sweet swag.
What makes the lacrosse team there stand out compared to other schools?
Honestly, it’s a mixed batch of guys from both Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the past a lot of our talent has come from both states, but the hot bed is about an hour and a half west of us in the Twin Cities area. There are some guys that come to UWEC who know the game well and don’t have anything left in them when walking off the field. One in particular would be a freshman that came from the twin cities this year. He went to Centennial High School in the Twin Cities area. Great athletic player with fantastic stick skills and a lot of heart, we expect to see great things from him at UWEC. The combination of both WI & MN guys makes for a really interesting team, some with the finesse side of the game, some with the hard hitting hockey and football mentality.
Do the Blugolds receive a lot of support from the school and the student body?
This year is the most the team has ever received financially from the university. Every year we make strides to improve our relationship with our student senate and the university. We continue to improve our success on and off the field with them. We enjoy working with them and hope it is a relationship that will continue to grow.
What kinds of steps have you guys taken to promote your team on campus and among the administration?
This year we did a t-shirt fundraiser with four different designs to choose from and sold them to our families and other students on campus. We did pretty well, but next year we will be looking to sell more with some even fresher designs, although our GTL shirt was one of our biggest sellers this year. Before the semester starts there is a big event called the Blugold Organization Bash (BOB), new students have a chance to see what type of clubs and organizations are on campus. We are always trying to be involved with the university and what they have to offer to us and all other sport organizations.
The UMLL D2 is a pretty tough conference, having #2 St. Thomas, #3 St. Johns and #11 North Dakota State in it. How does this help you guys prepare for your OOC games and the rest of the conference?
For some reason I knew this question was going to be asked…and I am not going to skimp on my answer. They really are teams that know the game very well and that could really contend with some D1 programs in the MCLA (even some D3 NCAA programs). I truly do believe that we play in the toughest conference in D2, and we are proud to say that, but at the same time it can be very frustrating.
This year we knew that our hands were going to be full and it came as no surprise with how well disciplined and athletic these teams were. It’s always hard to keep up with them when they come out firing when they put up more shots in a quarter than goals you will in the entire game…
NDSU really surprised me and a lot of other teams in the MCLA this year with how much talent they have. Last year we were able to put up more goals than this year. They had a very good offense that didn’t turn the ball over really much at all in the game; very few missed opportunities during the entire game.
St. Johns was another team that really can control the tempo of the game and has one of the finest and fastest goalies I have ever had a chance to shoot at (Michael King, everything was snatched up with ease).
St.Thomas…well, I would be full of it if I didn’t think they would be able to go for the three-peat this year. I didn’t see any changes from last year except for some new faces in their army. They still have the complete domination in the offensive end and a very strong defense.
Both St. Thomas and St. Johns will be on their way to Denver sending some teams home, but don’t be surprised to see NDSU there either doing the same thing. All three teams have competitive schedules against good teams, and they have all played very well against each one of them.
What has been the program’s most important contribution to its success so far?
I would have to say our alumni. They really have been supportive and still follow us after they graduate. Last summer we had an alumni golf outing and it went very well. There is talk of making it bigger and getting more alumni involved for this coming summer. Also, they are going to look more into helping us get some more funding for the organization. It is always great seeing them there to cheer us on and sometimes help us out with some drills before the game starts, especially with these guys working full time and some of them going on to graduate school. They don’t have the freedom that they did when they were students at UWEC. It’s very special and flattering that they come out and travel to support us on their precious weekends off. It’s nice because a lot of the times, our parents can’t be there to support us, but that’s where our alumni come in to be our support. I love having them around; always willing to help and give advice if we need it on something we haven’t handled before.
Our families are also very supportive. This year we were given a very generous donation for helmets (Pro 7’s with a gold mask…very classy) from one of our players family. It was nice especially for new guys because they had to buy a helmet coming in, so it was either them paying $200+ for their helmet, or just get a team order and have the donation help with reducing the cost of them. We greatly appreciated their contribution and in return, we gave them a helmet with our team decals and a signature from each of us on the team.
What has been the program’s biggest obstacle to overcome?
I would have to say funding…no team ever likes talking about it and it’s always a big issue floating around in the backs of our minds. Our league dues are high and with jerseys, helmets and other equipment and apparel, it really starts to become a lot. Every year it seems that we just make it by. We really struggle sometimes because some of our guys are on a payment plan throughout the semester, either with dues, jerseys, helmets and other apparel. We really want to work with the university on getting some more funds and doing some fundraising on our own and with the alumni that doesn’t take away from our academics and practice time. Come next year, we will have some ideas for raising more funds to make it easier on us.
Another one is having a full time coach. We do have Coach Morowczynski, but he is working and living in the Twin Cities. We are very thankful for having him, because without him it would be really hard for us to have some type of guidance on the field. Next year we have already found a fulltime head coach who lives in EC, which will make it easier for us. He is very knowledgeable about the game and we can’t wait to have him start leading us on the field.
Lacrosse in Wisconsin, give us a ‘State of the Union’ for lacrosse in the Badger State.
There are currently 33 teams in high school broken up into three conferences, Madison, Milwaukee and the Bay-Valley, (Green Bay and Fox Valley area). It is just starting to hit the La Crosse, WI area, which is great! It would be ideal for this sport to start breaking into the central part and western part of Wisconsin. Every one of us who plays LAX in the big W really wants to see it grow. We have hard working athletes in this state that would appreciate the game and really let it thrive. The state has sent some real talent to some NCAA teams. Two of my former teammates in high school alone went on to play NCAA ball.
Believe it or not, it’s growing. Not at the rate I would like to see, but it is growing nonetheless. I think it is really hard in this state because of AD’s at high schools not being very “educated,” about the game and the positives that come along with it. This is a football, baseball and hockey state, they haven’t seemed to understand that two or three sport athletes make them all around better athletes and individuals. Every time I turn on ESPN to watch some LAX, I hear Quint talking about this new player at some university and how he was a three sport athlete; football, hockey and lacrosse, or football, basketball, lacrosse. I have witnessed athletes become better while playing the sport because of the conditioning and coordination that the sport demands; it is doing nothing but a positive thing for athletes looking to improve their overall athleticism.
The one thing that the state does lack though is Coaches for these schools that would be open for a program, but no one to run it. The game is new to certain areas of WI. There are high school teams still hanging on because the kids just want to play and someone steps up to fill in for them.
With NCAA programs like Carthage and soon Marquette popping up in the state, where do you see the sport in five years in Wisconsin?
When I heard that Marquette was getting an NCAA team, I was ecstatic!!! Teams like Carthage, Concordia-Wisconsin and MSOE are great for the sport in Wisconsin, but an actual D1 lacrosse team in WI is a dream come true. In the next five years…it’s hard to say. In a perfect world, hopefully the game would be spread across the state with roughly 50 teams, hopefully sanctioned by the WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association).
What does the announcement of Michigan going D1 mean for lacrosse in the Midwest?
I have been keeping up with this for a bit now with all of the recent articles and chat on every different lacrosse related website. It seemed after all the speculation, rumors and blog posts at the end of each season with Michigan winning another title year in and year out, it was a normal an annual event. Once I officially hear it from the University of Michigan (which I am sure I will when the MCLA Championship is over), then the entire talk can start.
It really makes no sense for them to announce it right now with everything that is going on. All that matters with this is that Michigan will be in the MCLA D1 bracket and when the games are over, we will hear more about it.
Right now though, the question is what does it mean for the Midwest?
I do think that with Michigan being now the third team from the Big Ten to enter into the D1 lacrosse territory that hopefully other Big Ten Schools will follow. I know Ohio State and Penn State are a little more towards the East coast, but this is big news for Midwest Lacrosse.
With Notre Dame doing so well and being recognized as a big threat not only in the Midwest, but in the entire D1 lacrosse scene, it has helped. I don’t think it will help as much when Michigan takes the field for the first time as a D1 program. The University of Michigan is one of the greatest public research universities in existence and has gotten a lot of recognition with their academics and athletics; I don’t think that the recognition is going to change with their lacrosse team.
It would be great to see other Big Ten schools in the Midwest take that next big step out of the club level into the NCAA. Schools like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan State and Indiana having an NCAA program would be the biggest thing for lacrosse in the Midwest. Yet with Title IX rules and lack of funding for the program from the schools and other factors that have to be taken in, it would be a real challenge for many of them. Give it time and some more growth and hopefully in years down the road we can add some more schools from the Big Ten, but if Michigan shows some real success at the D1 level, it could really pick up.
Unfortunately for the Blugolds, their season ended yesterday with a tough loss to #6 St. Johns in the first round of the UMLL D2 Playoffs. Great season fellas, good luck in the future. GTG!