July 13, 2011

Lockard Hoping to Make a Name for Wheaton

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Jamie Lockard spent 10 years as a player, assistant and head coach at Widener, but the challenge of building a program at Wheaton (Mass.) allowed him to break his connection with his alma mater. One of the obstacles will be to eliminate any confusion with the "other" Wheaton.

The toughest part of Jamie Lockard's transition from Widener, where he was the head coach for the last five years and led the Pride to four NCAA appearances, to his new gig at Wheaton is educating potential recruits about where his school is located.

"I had heard of it and I had heard it always got confused with the Wheaton out in Illinois," said Lockard on Tuesday. "People always ask me if it is a Christian school or not, and I'm sure I'll still get those questions."

The Wheaton program Lockard is taking over is located in Norton, Mass. – roughly between Boston and Providence, R.I. – and plays in the Pilgrim League with the likes of Springfield and Babson. It is not the Christian institution located in the 'burbs east of Chicago (which, not for nothing, is rumored to be close to adding varsity lacrosse).

This mild identity crisis might be a nuisance in the coming years as Lockard attempts to move the Lyons towards the NCAA tourney using the same blueprint he used to make Widener a MAC powerhouse, but it pales compared to the angst he had when deciding to take the Wheaton job.

It meant not only leaving the program he has been apart of for a decade, but also Philadelphia, where he says he has spent 28 of his 31 years and is the locale for most of his family.

"I just finished up my 10th year as a player, assistant coach and head coach [at Widener] and I consider myself a fairly loyal guy, so it was a tough decision to leave," said Lockard. "I never really was actively looking and never thought I would ever leave here. It would take something special and maybe a different challenge to lure me away from here. That's what I think Wheaton has. It's a special place, it can be really good, and it is a totally different challenge for me."

While Lockard had heard of Wheaton – sort of – he became intrigued by the school and the lacrosse position during a convention for compliance officers (Lockard filled that role with Widener). He happened to be in the same workshop as the Lyons' senior women's administrator and field hockey coach Rebecca Begley.

"I talked to her about Wheaton and it opened my eyes a little bit," said Lockard. "I went back and looked at the website and was very intrigued by the position. I applied for it and went up there. Once I got on campus, I just felt like this was something that could lure me away from Widener."

Leaving Widener was not an easy decision. In addition to it being Lockard's alma mater, he had just finished his fourth recruiting class – typically the time for the big payoff for a coach – and had the Pride consistently at the top of the MAC standings where they had grabbed "team to beat" status. Departing would also mean Lockard would have to perform the very unpleasant task of telling his players that he was leaving.

"They made it a lot easier on me than I thought," admitted Lockard. "They were very supportive, with a lot of "sad-to-see-you-go" conversations. I think it was the hardest calling the incoming freshmen. It was a lot to handle at a tough time. I knew I had a great bunch of guys, but I really knew when I called and told them what was going on."

Lockard now takes over a program that is chasing the conference's top spot. While Wheaton advanced to the Pilgrim championship game in 09' and '10, losing to conference bully Springfield both times, the Lyons struggled last year. They posted a 3-11 mark, allowing nearly 14 goals a game – a long way from Lockard's dominant defensive teams at Widener that allowed just a shade over six goals per game and double digits just twice.

Part of Wheaton's issue was numbers. The Lyons carried 28 players on the roster, and Lockard's aim is to bump that mark into the high 30s or low 40s. With the institutional popularity of the sport, which gets some of the biggest crowds on campus, and the location, Lockard doesn't view that as an obstacle. Plus, he got a familiar feeling when talking to the players during the interview process.

"When I went in there and interviewed, I met with some of the guys we kind of hit it off," he said. "They want to win, they want direction, they want structure and they want to do it the right way. After I talked to the team, we were all on the same page and I saw some similarities with the guys at Widener. I had a good vibe from those guys and I could really see myself coaching them."

While Lockard will have to acclimate himself with a lot of the North region schools after playing in the South for so long, he's familiar with Springfield. Widener played the Pride in the '10 NCAA tournament, bowing, 7-1. Lockard welcomes the challenge of unseating Springfield as the top dog in the Pilgrim.

"I feel Springfield is where Widener is now in the MAC," said Lockard. "It's exciting to be the underdog and it's exciting to take on that challenge of catching Springfield, but they have a great tradition there so it's going to be tough. Coach Bugbee has done an awesome job and going up there a couple of years ago in the NCAAs, I was very impressed with them. It's not going to be easy, but the goal is to win a conference championship, and you have to go through Springfield to do that."

The challenges are many for Lockard in his new position, and its one of the reason he decided to leave the comfort of the Widener bubble. If he can replicate what he was able to do at his alma mater, he should quickly establish that when it comes to NCAA men's lacrosse, there's only one Wheaton.

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