Temple University in Philadelphia is home to a NCLL team who begin play Friday, February 22 at Geasey Field in North Philadelphia against the West Chester Golden Rams. Head Coach, Chris Berkelbach sat down with me to discuss the team, league and future plans....so, without further ado...One on One.. Temple Head Coach, Chris Berkelbach.
KMN- NCLL...what is the difference from NCAA and MCLA?
CB- NCLL and MCLA are non-varsity club leagues. At their respective universities, club teams operate under the “Campus Recreation” umbrella, versus varsity teams operating within the “Athletic Department”.
The large majority of NCLL Division 1 programs are from schools that have a current NCAA varsity program (e.g. Maryland, Virginia). The NCLL has two Divisions with teams coming from 20 states concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. The NCLL has some subtle differences in rules (e.g. 20-minute running clock quarters vs. 15-minute stopped clock, teams can wear pineys and players do not have to wear matching helmets) but overall the level of play is competitive with many players having previously played for varsity programs. The NCLL does not require that teams have a coach, and many teams are run entirely by the student members. NCLL teams often schedule “round-robins” to cut down on travel costs.
The MCLA is more nationally recognized, with teams coming from 46 different states, and closely follows NCAA rules in terms of player eligibility and rules of play (e.g. shot clock, matching gear and helmets). MCLA teams cannot have a current varsity program at their university. The MCLA promotes itself as “virtual varsity”, requiring teams to have a coach and conduct themselves similar to a varsity program in many ways (e.g. cannot play 2 games in 1 day). Many MCLA programs will recruit high school players, but are not offering scholarships or helping the admissions process like an NCAA program does. Over recent years several MCLA programs have actually made the jump to NCAA Division 1, including Michigan and Utah. At this point in our program, we find ourselves operating at the level of an MCLA program so we decided to make the jump to the MCLA at the end of the 2019 season.
KMN- Is there an end of season tournament like the NCAA has?
CB- Yes. Both NCLL and MCLA have Conference Championships as well as national tournaments to decide their National Champions. Last year the NCLL National Championships were held in Annapolis, MD, and MCLA in Salt Lake City, UT.
KMN- Who else is in your division?
CB- Since 2016 we’ve been competing in Division 1 of the Liberty League of NCLL which consists of Temple, Penn, Rutgers and Villanova. St. Joseph's has also joined the conference this year. Next year we will be joining the Eastern Division of the Continental Lacrosse Conference of MCLA, which consists of Boston College, Buffalo, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Northeastern.
KMN- Does one have to be a Temple student to play or is it more of a club type league?
CB- Men’s lacrosse is one of the 35 recognized sport clubs at Temple operating under the Department of Campus Recreation. All participants must be full-time students enrolled at Temple University.
KMN- Does the University fund it or do you depend on contributions?
CB- Each sport club is given an allocation at the start of each school year with the amount given determined by our budget, membership and good standing with the Campus Recreation Department. This allocation ends up covering about 10% of our budget. The rest is paid for by membership dues and fundraising. Right now we have 4 different fundraisers going.
KMN- Coaching, how did that come about?
CB- I helped out with my high school’s (St. Augustine Prep, NJ) youth camp during the summer of my senior year and I was immediately hooked. After graduating from St. Augustine I had the opportunity to help coach the high school summer club team (Southshore Lacrosse Club) that I grew up playing for. During college I had the opportunity to continue coaching for Southshore and St. Augustine during fall tournaments and winter indoor leagues, as well as summer practices and tournaments. I got involved with Temple after moving to Philly in 2014. My brother Eric was a sophomore on the team at the time and got me connected with the club officers who were looking for a coach and the rest is history.
KMN- What is your playing experience?
CB- I played high school lacrosse for Coach JC Valore at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey. I wanted to play lacrosse in college, but coming from a lesser known high school (at the time) I really only received attention from smaller D3 schools. I wanted to go to a big school so I chose to attend Rutgers University where I had the opportunity to walk onto their varsity lacrosse team but was the final player cut from the team. I began playing for the club team as a sophomore and reached the NCLL National Championship game that year. I became the president of the club team my junior year, earning the clubs first ever #1 ranking, and senior year, making the trip back to the National Tournament.
KMN- Talk about the other Temple Coaches...who are they? Are they former players?
CB- Right now we have 3 assistant coaches. Ryan Fitzpatrick is in his 2nd year as our defensive coordinator and was a former player at Temple from 2015-2017. Tyler Verdoni is also in his 2nd year as the coach of our faceoff specialists. He previously played at Georgian Court University (NCAA Div. 2).
Sean Fitzgerald is in his 1st year as our goalies coach. He is a Temple undergraduate student and played high school lacrosse in Connecticut at East Catholic HS.
KMN- Temple were Road Warriors last season...why couldn't you play at Geasey Field?
CB- Going into our winter break last year, the Campus Recreation Department deemed Geasey Field “unplayable” for men’s lacrosse. We didn’t necessarily disagree with them - it was an Astroturf surface installed in 2009 and had many rips and wrinkles throughout the field. We were allowed to practice on the new Women’s field (Howarth Field) but we were not allowed to play games there. The University offered us the opportunity to play our home games on the Ambler campus which is a 45-minute drive from Main campus. We decided to turn this down, and instead play a full slate of road games instead. As a result of our fundraising efforts we were able to take coach busses to most games. I think that spending that much time together on the road in busses helped our team form an even tighter bond. We actually did end up playing 1 home game - as the #4 seed we were awarded a home 1st round playoff game. We were able to rent the turf field at The Salvation Army Kroc Center where we hosted Fairfield and won 10-5 to clinch our trip to the National Tournament.
KMN- Opener is Friday....talk about your opponent, West Chester.
CB- West Chester competes in Division 2 of NCLL, but we play them every year and have had a nice rivalry with them that dates as far back as the early 2000’s. Being two local schools, one thing that makes the games with them fun is the number of guys on each team that have competed against each other in middle school, high school, and now in college. Our guys are always fired up to take the field with them.
KMN- Your team....how do you think Temple compares to the teams on your schedule?
CB- We’re super excited about our schedule this year which will be a nice mix of old and new rivals, as well as 5 first time opponents. Four of our 5 first time opponents will be teams from the MCLA - Central Connecticut (3/30), Northeastern (3/31), Pittsburgh (4/5), and West Virginia (4/7). I’m excited to see how we stack up against these clubs before we make the transition to the MCLA next year. We’re also excited for the games at home against Navy (3/23) and Penn State (4/19). Five out of the last 6 games we’ve played against Navy and Penn State have been on the road so it’ll be nice to bring those games to our turf this year. And 4 out of the past 5 games against those two teams have been decided by 1 goal with 3 ending in OT. So we’re definitely excited for those two.
As for our team – I’ve been telling my players since the fall that this is one of the most talented groups I’ve ever coached. This is a group of guys with great personalities and strong character who work their tails off every day to get better. We’ve got a great slate of opponents that are going to challenge us week after week. Facing these challenges will ultimately help us to be as prepared as possible to be playing our best lacrosse in late April and early May.