Mike MacDonald played on two NCAA title teams at Syracuse in the 2000s, coached at Division 2 power LeMoyne and is now trying to develop that championship aura at Wilbraham and Monson Academy.
A school of 420 students in western Mass., split almost evenly between day and boarding students, Wilbraham and Monson has made inroads against some of the traditional powers in the region and is hungry for more.
MacDonald joined host Jack Piatelli on “New England Lacrosse Journal’s Chasing The Goal” podcast to talk about his playing background, the student-athlete he values and the school he’s putting on the prep lacrosse map.
The full podcast can be accessed below.
Jack Piatelli: You grew up in Syracuse. Were you born with your stick in your hand, with all the influences there?
Mike MacDonald: When I was coming out of the womb it was the Gait brothers. They had such a huge influence on the game, and the city impact with lacrosse was really starting to come alive. The first day I got home I had a stick in my crib. I give a lot of credit to my parents but especially my father. He was a Hobart grad who’s got a couple national championships himself. He definitely had a strong influence on me at an early age.
It was always my dream to go to Syracuse, for sure. I could see the (Carrier) Dome from my bedroom window. Every day, waking up, looking across the city and seeing that dome gave me a lot of motivation.
JP: Tell our audience a little bit about Wilbraham and Monson, in terms of what it offers for athletic and academic opportunities.
MM: We’re a (grade) 6-12 school but we also offer postgrads a chance to come here and mature for that extra year. The prep school scene … things like time management and organization, they’re built into your everyday schedule here. When 3-o-clock hits, a lot of teachers in the public school, they’re in their cars and on their way home. Here it’s a lifestyle. You’re living on campus with the students. There are so many benefits to being closer to the kids, especially when it comes to the coaching and recruiting and the maturity part of it.
We’re right where we want to be, lacrosse-wise. They’re coming back to us after that freshman year saying, ‘I was ready. I was focused. I had the skills. I had the strategies.’ That’s really what it’s all about for us.”
JP: What are you looking for in your student-athlete?
MM: For me there’s a few factors. The biggest one for me is character. I’m looking for kids who have great character, kids that want to be here, want to work hard, want to grow, want to mature. I’m also looking for a kid who’s got the basic fundamentals down — the passing, the catching, the groundballs. The IQ is something we can always work on to build that up. I think we do a good job sifting through the players who want to be here versus the kids whose parents are forcing them to go to prep school.
JP: The goal for a lot of players is to play Division 1 lacrosse. Today, a lot of the players have the desire to play at the top level but not the tools to play at that level.
MM: It’s one of those conversations I have very early on with the players and their families when they come in. I think it’s great to set your goals high and strive to achieve them, but at the same time you want to be realistic and not put yourself behind the eight-ball. The way recruiting is these days (in Division 1), these coaches have to make a relatively quick choice sometimes. Junior year, most of those guys are closing out that (recruiting) class.
For me, being transparent with the boys is saying, “You can have one or two schools on the list that we’re going to shoot for but we should also look for a Division 2 school like a St. Anselm or a Bentley or an Assumption, where you’re going to be happy academically, you’re going to be happy socially and lacrosse is going to be the experience you want.”