In addition to the varsity sports teams that Columbia University has to offer, the Athletic Department can now boast of providing the community with a victorious men's club lacrosse team. The team has been playing extremely well this season, defeating both the College of New Jersey and perennial lacrosse favorite Rutgers last week.
The Rutgers game was a particularly tight squeeze for the Lions, with victory uncertain until the final whistle. Columbia came from behind to win 10-9.
"Rutgers was the one team that was undefeated in our league," junior co-captain Kirk Hourdajian said. "[Senior] co-captain Alok Verma, [graduate student] Greg McCulloch, [graduate student] Tav Cheatham, first-year Chris Parker, and myself all scored goals. Chris is our freshman stud, and he had four scores against Rutgers. The game went down into the last minute or so. It was so tight."
"Everybody else [we've played so far] wasn't as organized. They seemed like a 'club' sport, as opposed to Rutgers, which seemed almost varsity level," said first-year goalie Carlos Bermudez.
Rutgers jumped out to an early lead in the game, but the Lions regrouped and battled back, according to Hourdajian.
"Rutgers was ahead for a while, but then we [said to ourselves], 'why is this game even close?' And then we just came back."
Hourdajian underscored the inspired play that has elevated the Columbia lacrosse squad to 17th in the region. The team is 6-1, having lost only to a strong SUNY Binghamton team that took advantage of Columbia's inability to properly prepare for its match.
"Binghamton was good, but we had to start playing right after we got off of the bus without any warm-up time," Hourdajian said. "It was a freezing day."
With the season drawing to a close, the team is preparing for matches with Hofstra and New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Hofstra match is tentatively scheduled for next week, while NJIT will travel to Baker tonight.
The team is preparing for playoffs taking place during the next two weeks. The playoff format is single-elimination, and because of the nature of the seeding, the Lions will likely have to travel to play a high-caliber first round opponent like Navy, the team they faced in last year's first-round playoff match.
"Hopefully we'll be playing better teams in the playoffs, because we have a better squad, and good bunch of players, and just an all-around great team," Bermudez said.
The team is gearing up for this year's playoffs, but regardless of the outcome, this year's success combined with a very young roster suggests that the team will be competitive for the next several years.
"We have three seniors on our team, and only a couple of juniors," Hourdijian said. "The rest of the team consists of freshmen, and they are a talented class, with [offensive] star Chris Parker and Bermudez leading the way."
Bermudez has been Columbia's anchor in the net, stopping nearly every shot on goal that finds its way through the stingy Light Blue defense. The offense, though, has been the highlight of this squad's season, with impressive victories against Western Connecticut, 19-1 and NYU, 14-6.
During the course of a season, the lacrosse club plays traditional Columbia foes, including Princeton, Yale, Cornell, NJIT, Rutgers, Fordham, and Binghamton. All of the 25 players are friends, and like with any good team, chemistry plays an important role in Columbia's success. Away from the field, the team makes time for activities designed to foster unity on the squad.
"Our coaches, Mike Barth and Andy Allapeur, are real chill," Hourdijian said. "They make us run drills at practice, and we practice hard. In the fall, we have another mini-season, but the coaches let us captains take the reins of the team most of the time--except game days. We promote team activities, and, for the most part, the coaches have been really supportive."
Lacrosse club members pay $200 per year to cover dues, travel expenses, and referees, while most of the players bring their own equipment. As a club sport, the team has to deal with lack of resources at times. Examples include having the lights turn off in the middle of games and pre-scheduled buses not arriving on time. Against Princeton this year, the lights at Baker Field shut off, causing an early end to the contest.
Another complication that the team faces is finding the funding necessary for long-distance travel.
"We were invited to a prestigious tournament in North Carolina, but we did not have the funds to go, which sucked," Hourdijian said. "People have been seeing that our team is improving and doing well, and so we were included in the list of invitees, but we had to cancel because we didn't have enough funds."