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SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

Men’s Lacrosse Players Heartbroken Over Recent Decision

Photo by Theoren Gernazio
Players of the men’s lacrosse team huddle together during their game at Art and Lorraine Gonzales Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 4.

With less than a month before their first home game, Colorado State University Pueblo lacrosse players learned their upcoming season would be their last in the NCAA Division II.

CSU Pueblo athletics announced on Jan. 19 that the university’s men’s lacrosse team would transition into a club sport at the end of the 2024 season.

In the official press release, Paul Plinski, vice president of athletics and strategic partnerships, said: “We want all student-athletes to have the most competitive experience possible and feel that men’s lacrosse at the club level is the best place for us.”

Shortly after the press release was posted to the athletics’ website, official Instagram, and Facebook page, many players and community members expressed their disappointment. The post and primarily negative comments were later deleted from Instagram.

“We found out in a meeting from our athletic department after a morning practice,” said junior midfielder Caleb Buddington. “I felt sad and devastated, obviously. It felt like a stab in the back just because it was so late and unexpected.”

According to Buddington, the team had no idea about the fate of the program before that morning meeting and the coaches had been notified only a few days before.

This is Buddington’s third season with the Thunderwolves. He initially decided to play for the team after the men’s lacrosse head coach, Sean Blair, offered him a spot during his senior year of high school. According to Buddington, the university had a master’s business program he was interested in, which was affordable and close to his home in Parker, Colo.

“We started a petition online from Caleb Buddington in hopes of grabbing a close-knitted lacrosse community and working together to shine light on an overlooked program,” said sophomore midfielder and attacker Chris “Squish” Easley.

Since its original posting on Jan. 21, the online petition has received more than 64,000 signatures.

“It means a lot to the team to have the support of all those people behind us, and we really hope that will get us somewhere,” said Buddington.

In addition to starting an online petition, many lacrosse team members attended a City Council meeting, pleading their case and mentioning that they felt they had not been told the right reasons.

“I feel like all 37 of my other teammates all felt the same way, so we took a stand especially for our coach who has given us all the opportunities to complete our childhood dream,” Easley said.  

This decision has affected many players’ remaining time at the university.

“This decision was made so late, only a week before our first scrimmage and only two weeks before our first game. It doesn’t allow any of us to transfer or leave before we have to play, so we are really left with no options,” Buddington said.

Junior Caleb Buddington during the first home men’s lacrosse game of 2024 against Dominican University of California. (Photo by Theoren Gernazio)

After sitting down with some team members, they mentioned their confusion about the decision’s timeline. While they found out only recently, many players commented about hearing the decision was made long before that.

“I’ve heard multiple stories, one from one side, one from the other, but if this decision was made before our freshman class got here, it impacts us in so many ways. We came here with hopes of living here, playing here for four years, and for us to have five months of deep connections just basically cut off after the season, it’s a terrible feeling, and I wouldn’t want anybody else to experience that,” said freshman defender Logan Place.

The press release also listed another reason for the transition: “in part based on the limited number of NCAA men’s lacrosse programs within the University’s geographic footprint.”

In the past few years, the men’s lacrosse team had only 3-4 home games per season. However, this 2024 season, nine out of the 13 games are at home at the Art and Lorraine Gonzales Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium.

“For this decision to come in the reasoning of travel and budget, when this is probably going to be the cheapest season and easiest season to play since we are at home pretty much all year, we kind of want to get more clarity with that to really understand where that reasoning is coming from,” Buddington said.

With fewer than five players out of the 38-man roster graduating, this decision to make the lacrosse team a club sport next season has left most players unsure what to do next. The student-athletes have to decide whether to transfer to continue playing NCAA lacrosse at a different university or stay at CSU Pueblo due to credits potentially not transferring and their commitment to academic programs here. 

“I am already three years in, and I am already accepted, so it would be challenging for me to transfer those credits to another school if I plan on playing NCAA lacrosse,” said junior midfielder Luke Mummert, who is in the 3+2 program for physical education.

“We’ve built a culture of guys who really care about each other and really are a brotherhood. This decision does potentially break that brotherhood up, and it’s something I really value in my life. It’s something I get a lot out of, and I learn a lot out of, and it’s something that makes me a better person. Taking that away, it really hurts,” Mummert said.

Next season, Buddington does not see himself playing for the club team, nor does he believe many of his teammates will either, due to expenses. 

“I do not plan on playing for the club team. It’s hard for me to say and to leave after all the relationships I’ve made here, but my dream is to play in the NCAA, and with the club team costs being so high, it’s not ideal for me to stay,” said Place.

Like many of his other teammates, Easley entered the transfer portal in hopes of finding their new home. He hopes that Blair can assist with this search. 

“I absolutely do not plan to play on the club team next year. Even if I have zero offers, I will quit the sport before representing zero transparency at this school,” Easley said. “Kids were brought to this team, recruited to this team, committed to this team to play against the top-level teams in the entire nation. Playing at such a lower level is not what our job was when we first came here, and I think all my teammates would get behind me on that.”

Easley continued to explain that this decision affects not only his team but also the other teams within the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. This year, in 2024, there are five RMAC teams, including the Thunderwolves. According to Easley, next year, the conference would add Dominican University in Northern California, completing six teams in the conference.

“With a new NCAA rule that if there are six teams in the conference, if someone wins the conference that year of all six teams being in it, they’re automatically put into the NCAA tournament, allowing lacrosse to possibly play at Lincoln Financial Field where the Eagles play or Gillette Stadium where the Patriots play, and allow the sport of lacrosse to grow on the West Coast for little kids that dream to be like us, and overall not only grow all RMAC cities but grow the sport as well,” Easley said.

Easley believes that the lacrosse team is fighting for all teams at the university in spreading their story in hopes that other teams in the future will not experience what they’ve experienced. He also commented that the team is fighting for their coach who has “dedicated his whole life to this program” and “bringing kids in and allowing them to make their 4-year-old selves proud.”

“It doesn’t just affect us. It affects alumni who have put everything in this program,” Easley said. “Like I said at the City Council meeting, we fight for you. I feel like that’s our entire message: not to let our alums die out. We want to keep this program alive, and whether it never gets reinstated or does, we want to go out with having those guys honored.”

Sophomore Chris “Squish” Easley during the first home men’s lacrosse game of 2024 against Dominican University of California. (Photo by Theoren Gernazio.)
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