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NEW LONDON, Conn. — The U.S. Coast Guard Academy Division of Athletics announced May 13 that it will elevate the men’s and women’s club lacrosse teams to varsity status, effective with the 2014-15 academic year. The teams will compete officially for the first time as Division III intercollegiate squads playing in the NEWMAC Conference in the spring of 2015.
“This is a very significant stride for the CGA athletics program,” said Director of Athletics Tim Fitzpatrick. “It’s a great thing to be able to accommodate the interests and talents of so many cadets by bringing two very strong club programs to the varsity level. The popularity and growth of lacrosse both regionally and nationally in the recent past is very well documented. We look forward to the addition of the two lacrosse programs helping us attract more of our nation’s best and brightest student-athletes to the academy.”
The men’s lacrosse club was started by John Senyard (USCGA, Class of 1983), and competed for the first time in the spring of 1984. In 1989, having risen to the rank of lieutenant, Senyard died tragically in an aircraft accident in Ihithi, Kenya.
The current edition of the men’s club team has enjoyed a historic season, advancing to the MCLA National Collegiate Lacrosse Championship for the first time. The Bears will play Sam Houston State today in the opening round of the MCLA tournament in Greenville, S.C. The MCLA is a national organization of non-NCAA, men's college lacrosse programs.
“The decision to elevate the men’s and women’s lacrosse programs from club status to the varsity NCAA Division III level is a dream come true,” men’s coach Gary Weller said. “Our players are extremely excited. The strong athletic and academic reputation of the NEWMAC and its member institutions is a great fit for both programs. As a coach, you couldn’t ask for better competition.”
Women’s lacrosse began more recently, competing as a club for the first time in the spring of 2005. The current CGA coach, Lt. Mary Bitzer, was a member of the CGA women’s club team from 2006-09.
“Our team has been awaiting this moment for as long as I can remember. I have been lucky enough to be a part of this team for six of the nine years of its existence, and to see how the program has developed over time has been truly inspiring,” Bitzer related. “I know our team will be mentally and physically prepared to join the very challenging and competitive NEWMAC Conference.”
NEWMAC Executive Director Patrick Summers is enthusiastic about the CGA’s addition of men’s and women’s lacrosse as varsity sports as well.
“The New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) is excited about the Coast Guard Academy’s announcement today.” stated Summers. “The Coast Guard Academy continues to show its dedication to providing intercollegiate athletic opportunities for its cadets. In addition, this represents a major step forward for the NEWMAC, and helps solidify the conference’s sponsorship numbers in these two sports. We look forward to watching the development of these programs.”
Fran Shields, former Chair of the NCAA Division III Lacrosse Committee and Director of Athletics at Connecticut College, was also pleased to learn about lacrosse soon becoming a varsity sport for men and women at CGA.
“This is an exciting announcement for Coast Guard’s student-athletes, but just as exciting for the growth of the sport,” Shields commented. “Army, Navy and Air Force have been powers in lacrosse throughout the sport’s collegiate history. It’s great to see Coast Guard begin that same tradition.”