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The Courier

College of DuPage's Student Newspaper

The Courier

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A New Era of DuPage County Lacrosse

A preview of the men’s and women’s 2023-24 lacrosse season.
A+New+Era+of+DuPage+County+Lacrosse
Adam Belmares

For the first time in the history of the College of DuPage athletic program, one of the fastest-growing sports in the country will launch at COD with the first men’s and women’s lacrosse program officially beginning its season in early March 2024. 

With the addition of the newly added lacrosse teams, COD now offers a total of 21 athletic teams to students. The College of DuPage lacrosse program will be the first for any community college in the Midwest.

The addition of the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams came after the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Foundation granted the College of DuPage two $2,000 grants in early June 2023. In addition, 90% of DuPage County high schools offer students multiple levels of lacrosse, which allowed COD to push for a lacrosse program due to the high demand and rapid popularity growth for the sport to be offered at the institution.

MEN’S LACROSSE

The College of DuPage men’s lacrosse program will launch its inaugural season with a locally, well-respected head coach Bill Sanford. In previous years, Sanford earned nine conference titles, seven IHSLA quarterfinal appearances and four Final Four appearances while coaching at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. Despite finishing his time at St. Viator with an impressive 79% career-winning record, Sanford is more focused on creating new expectations and laying out the foundation for the new lacrosse program by encouraging his players that the wins will be a byproduct of their hard work.

“It is really exciting that this kind of dream is coming into fruition,” said Sanford. “When I heard that they were adding the sport [of lacrosse], I wasn’t excited because I thought I had a chance of getting the job; I was just excited for the sport and the many kids that would benefit from the program. Our overall goal this season is to make the experience of being on the team the best possible experience for the players that are committed to being here. I want the guy from the front of the bench to the end to feel like they were part of something very special and that the coaches cared about them, pushed them, and held them to high standards.”

With 34 players currently committed to play under Sanford this season for the men’s lacrosse program, many players were eager and excited to join the first-ever lacrosse program in COD history.

Freshman midfielder Nikita Filatov, who started playing lacrosse during his junior year in high school, was not hesitant to join the men’s lacrosse program and wished to improve as a lacrosse player and take advantage of the opportunity to play the sport that makes him happy.

“When I found out COD had a [lacrosse] team, I wanted to sign up so I can evolve as a lacrosse player, because it is one of the sports I developed a love for,” said Filatov. “It’s just awesome being able to play a sport that you love and that you’re still learning. The coaches are just great coaches, and we want to make them proud by giving this team something good for the future by developing a culture here and winning games.”

This season, one of the main goals for freshman defender Lorenzo Digiacinto is to allow the new program to help him become a better person and player. Digiacinto highlighted the immediate impact the team has had on each of the players and the newly developed brotherhood they have created, which at a point started with nothing but players who shared the common interest of loving lacrosse.

“I am just trying to become a better person, and the coaching staff has helped me a lot with that, and I have already improved as a player and as a person,” said Digiacinto. “In the beginning, [the players] came in not knowing each other, but as time went on, we became my best friends and started playing for each other and creating bonds. When I found out COD was starting a lacrosse program so close to home, I had to jump on it because I knew it would be the best option for me.”

After being given a full year to recruit before the 2023-2024 season and going into the second year of the recruitment process for the program, Sanford believes COD has already become an attraction for the entire Midwest and has a very talented recruitment class set for the future.

Men’s lacrosse head coach Bill Sanford speaks to players after completing a practice drill. (Adam Belmares)

“The talent quotient in our second recruiting class is significantly higher,” said Sanford. “The players that are coming in next year are very talented and are coming from winning high school programs. During our open house on January 19, we hosted an open house for 11 class of 2024 prospects. Since then, nine players have already committed to playing here. I’m not sure what we are doing but the word is already out, and kids really want to come here.”

The College of DuPage men’s lacrosse program will officially take the field to face Concordia University Chicago at 11:30 a.m. on March 7 at COD.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE

The College of DuPage women’s lacrosse program will be led by head coach Gary Cope. Cope is known for originating girls’ lacrosse at Lockport High School and converting the high school into a powerhouse in the Chicagoland high school athletics scene.

“With [lacrosse] being a new program here it’s tough in the beginning,” said Cope. “Our goal this season is just to learn and grow. Down the line, I want COD to be the school that other institutions see on their schedule, and they become afraid of having to come here because they know it’s going to be a tough matchup.”

During the women’s lacrosse fall ball games before the season, the team went on to match up against institutions that competed in higher divisions. With going against higher competition and four-year institutions, Cope’s objective was to give players the chance to showcase their talents in a game-like setting to potentially gain interest from other programs and be able to transfer after their time at COD.

With the sudden addition of the women’s lacrosse program at COD, the recruitment process for the new sport was stressful and difficult for coaches due to recruits’ lack of knowledge about the program and no history to draw from. Cope allowed COD’s athletic program and facility to sell itself along with having newly assigned captains speak to potential future Chaparrals.

“As coaches, we can only say so much, and I’d rather them talk to their potential teammates,” Cope said. “These captains have shown leadership on and off the field. My goal has been that if I have 20 girls on our team, I want 20 leaders.”  

The College of DuPage women’s lacrosse program will go against North Central College at 5 p.m. on March 2 in Naperville, Ill.

MESSAGE TO COD COMMUNITY

Men’s lacrosse head coach Bill Sanford looks forward to representing DuPage County and continuing to live up to the College of DuPage athletic program expectations.

“I am very proud to be representing such a great school, especially as a Glen Ellyn resident,” said Sanford. “I think DuPage County is the place to be, and we are all just proud to be the first [lacrosse team] at the school and want to do what the athletic program has been doing by putting a good product on the field. Most people who watch lacrosse for the first time find it very intriguing because it is a combination of multiple sports, so I encourage students and faculty to come out to a game.”

Women’s lacrosse head coach Gary Cope encourages all of DuPage County to check out the new lacrosse program and seeks to add accolades to the institution.

“I want everyone to know that we are going to make COD proud by representing them,” said Cope. “We’ve seen what is going on with the athletic programs here with the football program becoming three-time champions and the volleyball program winning a championship last year. I want to show everyone that we want the same level of accolades for this program. We are going to be talked about real soon, and we are starting to get more respect from many colleges across Illinois.”

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