On Friday, Feb. 14, The Mirror sat down with the head coach of the Fairfield University men’s lacrosse team Andrew Baxter ahead of the Stags’ 2020 season-opener, and Baxter’s first game at the helm of the program.
The athletics department’s “We Are Stags Initiative” is heavily based on Jesuit values. Do you believe that these values are employable on the lacrosse field?
We’ve involved the cultural commitments into our culture as a program, in terms of competing, caring, leading and growing. We touch on those all the time, and the other piece along with that is the selflessness piece which goes along with the Jesuit value of Men for Others. We have tried to incorporate that as much as possible in our program in terms of everything: how we behave on campus, in the locker room, on the field and in the community. It has been a big part of our program.
Last season obviously did not end how anyone had hoped it would. What have you worked on during the off-season to change the trajectory that this program was going?
It has been the biggest piece that we’ve worked on-changing the mindset culturally from where we were to where we think we can be. We talk a lot about behaving like a championship team and what that looks like from what a championship rep looks like, what a championship drill looks like, all the way up to a practice. Obviously we’ll see tomorrow how we do in games. I think it’s a mindset that the guys need to have from being confident in what we’re doing. A lot of that stems from how we’ve been practicing in that we haven’t been focused as much on the ‘what’…more of the ‘how’…and how we’re doing things, how we conduct ourselves at practice. That’s been a big piece of trying to change the mindset of guys from where they were to where they want to be.
How has that been going so far?
It has been going well, the buy-in has been great. I’m hoping tomorrow that the school and the community will see the effort that these guys have put in in terms of the energy and the passion that we’re starting to show for Fairfield lacrosse. We talked about flaunting our new brand of lacrosse.
In the past, you have had great success as the Defensive Coordinator at Drexel, Ohio State and Yale. Who on this roster has stood out to you defensively thus far?
We have a great group defensively. I think we have a little bit more experience defensively than we do offensively this season, which has been helpful. On close defense, the guys that have been standing out are a couple juniors; Lucas Pederson and George Elmquist have made tremendous strides in the fall and have proven to this team that they care about what we’re doing and they have selfless attitudes about the whole thing. Brian Cosgrove, a senior captain, and Jake Tymon, a senior captain, have also stepped up. All four of those guys have tremendous experience so we’ve been relying on those guys to lead the unit. We also feel like we have great depth at the short-stick defensive midfield position. Tyler Wuchte and Brendan Dreyer are both sophomores who played last year, and they have been awesome in the fall and into the spring. Adam Riestis is a fifth-year senior who has played in the past, so he has got a lot of experience as well. Zane Friedt is a junior, another older guy who has logged some minutes for the team, but he is going to probably play more of a defensive midfield role this year, so we feel like we have good depth there. It’s a good, experienced unit so it has made it easier for me.
How do you plan on using your extensive experience with recruiting to elevate Fairfield lacrosse in the future?
We are trying to bring in guys that know what they’re getting into in terms of changing the mindset, as we were talking about earlier, and being a part of building something great here. That has been our pitch recruiting-wise. We want guys that are excited about that and excited to dive into something and make it their own. We’ve gotten good response from our initial wave of recruits that we have had on campus, and I think through my past recruiting experiences, I’ve gotten ties to some high quality high school programs that we’ve been able to draw from and get good interest from. Relationships I’ve been able to build through recruiting are starting to pay off coming here. The guys that know me from a high school level and a club level have been in touch with us and we’ve gotten a good response. We are still actually recruiting for our 2020 class and we’re almost done with that. We’ve got nine commitments now for our 2021 class already. There are guys that we’re really excited about, and the bigger thing is they are excited about coming here and being a part of that.
The 2020 campaign starts on Saturday against Stony Brook. What are you expecting from your group in regards to both mental and physical performance?
We talked about our mental preparation tomorrow. Our mental keys for tomorrow are just focusing on the next play. I told the guys in the meeting earlier that the next play that is happening tomorrow is the first faceoff, and that’s all we need to worry about- that’s the only thing we need to focus on right now. As the game goes on, it’s just going to be about the next play. We want to try and be the loudest team on the field and we want to try and be the most physical team on the field. That’s something we’ve been working on, like I was saying before about the ‘how.’ Those are the things we’ve been focused on at practice; communication, doing everything with a purpose, being loud, being physical. If we can accomplish those things tomorrow, the rest of the stuff offensively and defensively will hopefully take care of itself.
With the recent availability of the VIP Suite, and other ticket packages offered to fans, you will be sure to see growth in the stands. Do you feel a greater sense of responsibility as a head coach knowing that the program is also growing externally?
Yes and no. I feel responsible that I, along with President Nemec and Paul Schlickmann’s vision of the program, want Fairfield lacrosse to be a part of the identity for Fairfield University and the Fairfield community. I do feel responsible for the brand of lacrosse that we are going to showcase tomorrow. I think if we can just accomplish some of the things we have been working on in terms of our brand, in terms of being loud and physical and playing with energy and passion, then I’d be psyched.
Finally, if you were to choose one main goal that you seek to accomplish this season, what would it be?
I would like to see a commitment from our team outside of an individual perspective. I want the guys to understand that they are committed to something greater than themselves and that it starts with Fairfield lacrosse, Fairfield University and the community of Fairfield. If we can accomplish that through lacrosse in the way that we play and in the way that we conduct ourselves, then I will be happy.
Following The Mirror’s interview with coach Baxter, the Stags pulled away from their home opener against the Stony Brook University Seawolves with a win, 18-16. This was Baxter’s first win as a collegiate head coach.
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