April 5, 2013

Weekender: Cohen Shouldering the Load for Cal

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

With his shoulders back to normal, Cal's Dan Cohen (above left) can once again use all the tools at his disposal. It's shown, as he's leading the No. 8 Bears in both goals and assists.
© Tori Schladen

The first time Dan Cohen's right shoulder popped out of its joint while playing for the University of California at Berkeley, he didn't think much of it. Lacrosse is a contact sport and sometimes odd things happen. He never had any problems with it while playing for Walter Johnson (Md.) High School and he certainly took his share of licks as the primary initiator for the Wildcats.

After his left arm was left dangling again during the fall ball of his sophomore year, it became an annoyance. Cohen was forced to sit until the spring. When it happened for the third time at the end of two-a-days at the beginning of the 2011 campaign, forcing Cohen to miss the first several weeks of games, the frustration was starting to bubble to the surface.

Upon returning to the lineup, it took just two games before his left shoulder — the other one — became unhinged, and Cohen was faced with a decision. When an injury reoccurs with such frequency, it's either time to hang up the stick or go under the knife.

Cohen certainly didn't need lacrosse, and players have moved on from MCLA programs for a lot more capricious reasons than the type of chronic injury he was suffering from. Plus, he had already been admitted to the prestigious Haas School of Business as an undergrad at Cal after maintaining a grade point average of 3.91. The future was bright regardless of whether he stepped on the field again.

Lacrosse may have been trying its best to be done with Cohen, but he wasn't done the sport.

He had surgery on his right shoulder that May, and cleaned up the left one in July after his sophomore year.

"He didn't want to leave the game like that, so he made the decision," said Cal head coach Dan Nourse.

"It was tough and some people asked me if I was going to stop playing," said Cohen. "I never really questioned whether I was going to give it up. It was a challenge, but I think it made me a little stronger as a player and made me value every day that I got to play lacrosse."

Cohen had to undergo eight months of physical therapy to get the shoulders to the point where they were strong enough to allow him back on the field. When he did finally return to the Bears' practices, Nourse brought him along slowly, keeping him out of contact drills and completely changing his role on the team. Instead of being the facilitator for Cal, Cohen became primarily a sniper.

"Once I came back from the shoulder surgery, I realized I couldn't just be driving in and taking the one slide on the chin and risking my shoulder to fly out," Cohen said. "I was instructed to be careful in that regard. I became more of an off-ball guy. I had to figure out a way to get my hands free because I've always had a pretty good shot. If I could get my hands free, I could be an effective player, and I knew that. That's kind of what I did a lot last year. I didn't do too much dodging as a way to protect myself."

It was an effective strategy. Cohen poured in a team-high 41 goals and played all 16 games, leading the Bears to their first trip to the MCLA national championships since 2002.

His conditioning was a limiting factor last spring, so Cohen spent the summer working on his cardio with one of the Cal strength and conditioning coaches. He couldn't do it every day, as he had an internship with Apple in their financial offices in Cupertino, Calif., but he spent enough time working out that he showed up as a completely different player this past fall.

Different in that he had confidence in his body once again.

"He was more one-dimensional last year in that we would get him out to islands and have him shoot," Nourse said. "Now he's driving. Everything's back. The strength, the post-up moves, the speed. And once he gets his hands free, he can release the ball on goal with a high probability that it is going in."

"I've gotten back to being a facilitator, dodging more and scoring more right off the dodge," Cohen said. "Getting my hands free and ripping it."

After 10 games, Cohen has 37 goals and 13 assist for 50 points — all team highs — and the Bears are once looking like a team that will be returning to Greenville in May. Cohen wants to make sure Cal's stay at nationals is longer than the one-and-done trip last year. He's already accepted a job at an investment banking firm in San Francisco that begins in August, so his focus is on helping the Bears, currently ranked eighth in the nation, win the WCLL championship or at least get an at-large bid.

There are plenty of tough games on the schedule between now and then, and every team will be keying on California's top gun. It's OK, though. Cohen is ready to shoulder the load.

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