The past few seasons have been a titanic struggle for the Mount St. Joseph University Men’s Lacrosse team, but this season offers new hope and possibly a light at the end of the tunnel. Two seasons ago, the team took a year off to recruit and develop talent with hopes of a fresh start last season. The Lions returned to action last year with a new head coach and showed some promise on the field, but due to a lack of depth, they struggled to finish games in the second half. After one season, last year’s coach departed from the program, leaving many loyal fans anxious about the future of Mount St. Joseph University Men’s Lacrosse.
In the sports world, I think of Theo Epstein as the barometer for a strong leader who can take over a team that has a losing culture and lead them over the metaphorical hump and into the promised land. Against all odds and reasonable predictions, he has done that twice now--first as general manager of the Boston Red Sox and then in the same position with the Chicago Cubs. The Mount St. Joseph University Men’s Lacrosse team has been looking for their Theo Epstein for a few years now.
In steps Jason Susshine.
Coach Susshine begins his college coaching career this spring after seven years of experience as a high school lacrosse coach. In 2012, Susshine was named Southern Ohio Coach of the Year. As Susshine told me, “I’ve had a lot of success at the high school level and I feel like I can have that same success at the college level. I’m really excited to be here.”
Several of Susshine’s former players have gone on to play in college, so for someone who doesn’t have significant prior college coaching experience, he’s very familiar with the recruiting process. Due to his prior coaching experiences, he already knows many of the local high school coaches, which gives him a major advantage when it comes to recruiting. He intends on using his reputation and high school connections to take recruiting local players for the Mount’s team to the next level.
Susshine told me that he understands that some kids want to go away for college, but at the same time, many players want to stay close to home and play in front of their families. For those recruits, Susshine says, “We have a lot to offer here on campus.” He went on to say, “We can’t just recruit a random individual that is a good athlete but a questionable student or doesn’t fit into this institution. It’s more about finding those quality athletes and quality people that fit well with this school.”
Susshine’s high school connections will be crucial to the success of the Lions since recruiting is priority number one for the team’s rebuild. Many of their opponents have up to 35 players, but the Lions enter the season with 15 players to fill 10 positions. As Susshine puts it, “That doesn’t give much room for fresh legs, especially when you get to the second half.” Over the course of 60 minutes of lacrosse with only five substitutes, it’s inevitable that players will wear down in the late minutes, so they may lose some close games due to fatigue. Susshine understands that extensive preparation and conditioning will be imperative in order to sustain success.
When asked about the team’s strengths, Susshine told me, “We return most of our upperclassmen on defense and we’re athletes, so we will do well with that.” He further stated that “we’re going to be a smart team, hopefully well-conditioned,” but he wants to make sure that the team is physically and mentally prepared for what lies ahead this season. Recent history indicates that this season will be an uphill battle for the Lions. As Susshine told me, "Mentally, I think we’re prepared for that, so it’s just getting physically prepared at this point.”
Early indications show that the Lions may have found their Theo Epstein in Coach Susshine, but only time will tell if his recruiting efforts are enough to translate into success on the field. All great rebuilds require time and patience. It took Epstein years to bring his teams up to championship form, so it may take Susshine some time, as well. Whether the program is fully resurrected this year or even a few seasons from now, Susshine and the Men’s Lacrosse team are poised for greatness.