For most athletes on the men’s lacrosse team, home is anywhere from two blocks from campus to a neighboring state along the East Coast. This season, though, two Bombers can say their hometown is not anywhere near the eastern portion of the United States.
Freshmen Andrew Bruce of Lafayette, Calif., and Ed Dainko of Santa Ana, Calif., bring not only a different area code to Ithaca,
but a whole new outlook on lacrosse as well. Out of the 6,256 undergraduate students who are U.S. citizens at Ithaca College, Bruce and Dainko are two of the 92 students from California.
Three thousand miles separate their hometowns from the college campus. As the time jumps forward on their way to the East Coast, the level of lacrosse leaps even further.
“I was told it was good lacrosse,” Dainko said. “I just wanted to come east and play here and see what the competition was like.”
In 2009, six men’s lacrosse teams participated in the National Division I, II and III Men’s Lacrosse Championships. Four of the teams — Division I Syracuse University and Cornell University, Division II Le Moyne College and Division III SUNY-Cortland — are all located within 100 miles of one another in New York. From that pool of teams, the Orange and the Red Dragons came out on top at Gillette Stadium as national champions.
Those 2009 championships are the prime example of the East Coast’s dominance in the college lacrosse landscape. Only seeing that excellence from afar, curiosity is what brought Bruce and Dainko to this side of the country.
“I had heard the East was faster, bigger and just more powerful,” Bruce said. “It’s proven to be true. The pace of play is so much higher.”
As a couple of the West’s premier high school players, the two athletes put themselves in the toughest lacrosse environment out there.
“It’s a lot more competitive,” Dainko said. “The good players on the West Coast can compete just fine with the good players on the East Coast, but there’s more good players here because it’s been around for a little longer. It’s definitely drawn a lot of players from back West.”
For coaches, finding the special players that are miles away is not easy. Head Coach Jeff Long would not have known either player if he had not attended the California Gold Lacrosse Camp. With a tryout and strict selection process, the best lacrosse players in the West are able to show off their talent for coaches in every division, which is one of the only ways to stick out.
“There’s a lot of really good athletes playing the game out there on the West Coast,” Long said. “We’ve had one or two kids a year from California. It’s a pretty good connection for us right now.”
For the above-average lacrosse player looking to play at an elite level, the opportunities in the West are slim, since most of the surrounding schools only have club teams.
“There are more schools to play at in the East,” Dainko said. “There aren’t any DI lacrosse programs in the state of California, but they do have club teams.”
The Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which is not affiliated with the NCAA, is where most of these Western club teams can be found. None, though, have the tradition or reputation that the athletes were looking for.
“I had heard of Ithaca a little bit before being recruited, being one of the top DIII programs, so I had a little interest in them,” Bruce said.
The continued success of the college’s athletic program was something Long could easily sell to get the athletes to look at venturing far beyond their home state.
“The school is attractive no matter where you’re from,” he said. “We’ve got a little bit bigger reputation, and we are pretty well known on the West Coast because of the L.A. school and just the nature of the college itself.”
While the longevity and tradition of lacrosse in general is different on the two coasts, the athletes are not. There is a culture among lacrosse players, and that is the idea of what the athletes describe as being a “bro.” By being athletic, but part of a brotherhood at the same time, lacrosse teams often have the strongest team bonds in sports. It can be stereotyped as laziness, but senior Roniel Bencosme said it helps the team stay loose.
“Though a bro is mistaken for nonchalant, he is just relaxed and is playing as hard as any other sport,” he said.
While feeling like part of a family far away from their real families, the two athletes, both business majors, are becoming more comfortable in their pads and cleats. Each has earned a spot on the bus traveling, and Bruce has even scored six goals so far this season, showing that the best of the West can live up to the standard in the East. As an outsider from California, Bruce’s success shows that fitting into that mold has not been a problem.
“It was a little different for me in the beginning,” he said. “Of all the different lax teams I’ve played on, I feel like every one has had that same kind of mentality, so it fits together pretty well.”