2003 Season Recap
2003: A Family on the Brink
Bad weather, injuries, field restrictions, and suspensions. The 2003
Colorado State men’s lacrosse team had to deal with all of the above in
trying to win Coach Flip Naumburg his third USL-MDIA title in five years.
After a promising fall season ended with a fifth consecutive unbeaten
performance in the Best of the West Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, the
Rams were one of the unquestioned favorites to make it back to St. Louis and
compete for the national championship. But then a rash of bad luck and
injuries led many around the team to call 2003 a “season on the brink” as
the squad coped with more adversity then ever.
Before the season even started, Colorado State lost two key starting players
in All-American defenseman Ryan Robichaud and the lone returning starting
attackman on the team, Nick Stanitz-Harper. This did not bode well for a
team who already had a lot of questions to answer after a disappointing loss
to Sonoma State Cossacks in the championship game of the 2002 national
There was still promise in Fort Collins, however, as Naumburg hoped the
senior class of Jared Katz (midfield), Kale Nelson (midfield), John Naab
(midfield), Jim Hasson (midfield), Jeff Schmid (defense), Joe Glischinski
(defense), and Alex Smith (goalie), not to mention, all-everything junior
long stick midfielder Mark Plonkey could lead an otherwise young team to the
top. With an inexperienced attack that featured sophomores Bo Everett and
Kelten Johnson and freshman Matt Disney, Coach Naumburg turned to Nelson and
Hasson to provide leadership and stability at the position.
The first trip for the preseason #2 Rams was to Tucson, Arizona for the
first game of the season against a highly ranked and highly motivated
University of Arizona team. While Colorado State was struggling to find
practice time after almost a month off due to snow, the Laxcats came into
the game ranked #6 after two solid west coast wins previous to the Rams’
visit. Colorado State controlled the game, but could not get ahead by more
than three against the pesky Arizona squad, who was looking to avenge a 25-7
beating in Fort Collins in 2001. With time running down and CSU up by one,
Arizona had one more shot on goal, but the chance was kicked away by Alex
Smith as time ran out and the Rams held on for a 6-5 victory. Everyone
involved was sure that the low scoring game would not be a trend, but in
hindsight, the game foreshadowed the types of contests the Rams would have
for the remainder of the year.
After a practice in Tucson the following day, CSU returned to Fort Collins
for their non-league tilt against the #14 Colorado Buffaloes. The Rams were
prepared for the Buffs to have improved, but they got more than they
bargained for as Colorado jumped out to an early lead and controlled the
game well into the fourth quarter, leading at one point by four. To top it
off, third team All-American midfielder Tim Farquhar and close defenseman
Joe Glischinski both went down in the game to what would prove to be
season-ending leg injuries. But the Rams showed their grit down the stretch
as Jim Hasson and Kelten Johnson took over, each scoring four goals. Hasson
scored the final two goals of regulation, including the game-tying goal with
under a minute left, to set the stage for overtime. Johnson stuffed home a
feed to the middle just 1:12 in to the extra frame to cap one of the more
entertaining games of the season 12-11.
March was a month of unseasonable snow as one of the worst blizzards in
history hit Colorado. A trip to Colorado Springs to play Division III
Colorado College was wasted after heavy, wet snow blasted the Front Range
and cancelled the contest. The Rams were then left scrambling to find a
field to host the 24th ranked Illinois Illini the next day. The Rams played
ugly, but won 9-3 at an auxiliary field down the road in Brighton to
continue their winning ways and prepare for the Spring Break trip to
Tallahassee, Florida to face four ranked SELC opponents in four days.
Even when over a thousand miles away, the Rams could not escape the clutches
of a very angry Mother Nature. The trip to Florida brought even more rain.
Not “showers and drizzle” rain, either. This was serious, torrential
downpour, monsoon season in India-type rain. The Friday night game against
Virginia Tech was moved to Saturday in the morning to accommodate the two
traveling teams. With no fields on the Florida State campus, the two teams
moved to a baseball park in the city, hoping to find a patch of grass
anywhere to get the game going. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech and CSU,
the baseball outfield was really just mud disguised as grass and the turf
quickly deteriorated as both teams took the field.
Despite the adverse conditions, Colorado State had no trouble with the
Hokies and dispatched them by a score of 15-4. Waiting for the Rams in the
wings were the Florida Gators, an up and coming team that was beginning to
show the potential that would carry them all the way to an SELC championship
and second round appearance in the USL-MDIA national tournament. After the
emotional Gators jumped out to an early lead, the skies opened up. With the
rain pouring down, it was Colorado State who looked used to the “swamp”-
like conditions and the Rams coasted the rest of the way in. The team was
led in large part by Kale Nelson’s superlative effort at attack and Dave
Clark, who won approximately 80% of his face offs on the day. By the time
the day was done, the tired and dirty Colorado State Rams had become the
first team to ever win games against ranked teams in the same day. Their
18-12 win was as much for themselves and the Gators as it was for the
Florida State Seminoles, Sunday’s alleged opponents, who were on the
sidelines for the night game. CSU was hungry for the game the next day
after getting an earful from the Seminoles the night before, but Florida
State declined to play and left on spring vacation early.
Not only were the Rams disappointed not to play the Seminoles, but they were
left with nowhere to play the Auburn Tigers, another team who had traveled
to Tallahassee to take on Colorado State. In all, Colorado State had come
to Florida on a budget of $20,000, and played two games in one day.
Returning home from break only brought more snow and Colorado State got
ready to face another ranked team as the #22 Oregon Ducks came down from
Eugene to play the Rams. While the fields in Fort Collins were covered in
snow, somehow, only twenty miles away in Greeley, the fields were clear
enough to play. Thanks to the gracious efforts of the University of
Northern Colorado Club Sports Department, the game was played under
curiously sunny skies and relatively warm temperatures. Though not being on
the field for over two weeks, the Rams never struggled and pummeled the
Thinking there was no way that a trip to Colorado Springs would once again
be ended by the weather, the Rams got ready to take on Division III Colorado
College, Flip Naumburg’s alma matter and perennial thorn in the side. The
Rams had never beaten the Tigers, who had quickly become one of the team’s
best rivals. In an exciting game, Colorado State took a one-goal lead into
the fourth quarter, but could not hold off the Tigers, who scored twice in
the final frame to seal a 12-11 win. It was the first loss of the year for
the Rams and meant for the seniors that they ended their careers 0-5 against
There was more than meets the eye to the crazy week leading up to the Oregon
Ducks’ visit. In an effort to get the game in, the Colorado State team
undertook a shoveling match for the ages on the turf field at Peak-to-Peak
Charter School in Brighton. Misunderstanding the school’s wishes as to how
to remove the snow, the team got itself in more trouble and Flip Naumburg
was reprimanded for the team’s behavior. Snow ruined more games with Boise
State and a men’s club team from Denver, but that was the least of the Rams’
worries as they waited to hear the punishment for “Snowshovelgate.” The
school decided to suspend coach Naumburg for the team’s trip to Utah, where
they were playing important league games against Brigham Young, the
University of Utah and Utah Valley State College.
Despite playing without Naumburg, the Rams had no trouble finding the
emotion to compete with Brigham Young in one of the better rivalries in the
USL-MDIA. The team stuck together all game long, and behind one of the more
spectacular efforts in Alex Smith’s career, notched an impressive 7-6 win.
The game was televised on BYUtv and Coach Naumburg found a way to sneak into
the game via assistant coach Chris Gemperline’s cell phone, but the team
proved that they were well-coached enough to play without one on this day.
The next day, however, brought another story.
After their win against the Cougars, Colorado State got set once again to
battle two opponents in one day. After dismantling Utah Valley State in the
opener, the squad looked across the sidelines to find a very focused
University of Utah team in the second game. Utah jumped out early and never
let the Rams take the lead in the game. While Colorado State was forcing
feeds and shots from all over the field, the Utes were an opportunistic
bunch and capitalized in the big moments. Despite scoring a goal to make it
close late, the Rams could not get over the hump and found themselves on the
wrong end of one of the more shocking upsets in league and team history.
The unranked University of Utah had beaten Colorado State 5-4, and Fort
Collins, Colorado never seemed so far away. The team also found out that
Kale Nelson had played his last game of the year as his knee injury
effectively ended his playing career prematurely.
There was no rest for the weary as the Rams’ challenging schedule was
starting to catch up with them. Two days after the trip to Utah, the #1
ranked Sonoma State Seawolves (formerly Cossacks) came to town riding a
winning streak that stretched all the way back to 2001. The Seawolves had
beaten Colorado State twice in 2002, including the aforementioned 13-10
decision in the national championship game. After climbing to an early 2-0
lead, it looked like more of the same for the defending national champions.
But Colorado State slowly gained momentum and held a 6-4 lead late in the
game. Sonoma scored late and had a brilliant opportunity to tie the game
after an illegal stick penalty, but the Ram defense held tough to preserve a
hard fought 6-5 win in what would prove to be only the second game on the
Rams’ true home game on campus all year. It was an important victory for a
squad that was left for dead after losing to Utah.
Just five days later, the Rams found themselves in the position of underdogs
again as the #3 Michigan Wolverines came to participate in the Face Off at
the Fort, which was held at Rocky Mountain High School. Michigan had also
beaten the Rams in 2002 and Colorado State was looking to exact some revenge
in the final game of a day full of lacrosse that featured the Fort Collins
area high school teams in action as well. Colorado State played perhaps
their most complete game of the season as they won most aspects of the game
against the Wolverines. Kelten Johnson and Matt Disney each tallied 3 goals
and 1 assist to lead the Ram attack to a relatively easy 11-6 win.
The two wins over highly ranked opponents were just what the doctor ordered
for Colorado State, who had now regained its lost confidence after the
disastrous trip to Utah. After the Michigan victory, the Rams had the
University of Colorado, now ranked #6 in the polls, the following Saturday.
The game was played on a slick track in Boulder as rain fell intermittently
throughout the contest. Colorado State jumped out to an early 4-0 lead
thanks to some smart play by Jared Katz, who always seemed to play his best
against his rivals from the south. But the Buffs weren’t dead yet, and the
game was a nail biter to the last. In the end, the Rams’ defensive recipe
for success brought them yet another low scoring victory in the 7-5 game.
The win gave the Rams the first seed for the RMILL tournament and the
opportunity to face Utah in an important grudge match.
The 2003 RMILL Tournament was held in Brighton at an all too familiar
location for Colorado State. The field turf at Peak-to-Peak Charter School
was the same that the Rams had tried to shovel off earlier in the season.
Colorado State was a much more focused squad the second time around against
Utah and scorched the Utes for eight first half goals. Dave Clark was
winning practically everything at the ‘x’ and the Rams had no trouble
putting the demons to rest in their 13-2 win. Utah played hard to the end,
but the Colorado State defense, led by Mark Plonkey, Ryan Price, Jeff
Schmid, Michael Greeson, and Kellin Bershinsky were starting to shine.
The next afternoon, the Rams squared off with the Brigham Young Cougars for
the second time on the year. BYU had easily taken care of Colorado in the
other semifinal and were out for their own version of revenge against the
Rams. Colorado State got on the board early, leading 3-0 at one point, but
the Cougars grabbed the momentum and held a 6-4 advantage into the fourth
quarter. The BYU middies were putting a lot of pressure on the Ram defense
and the third quarter was all Cougars. Under a hot sun, Colorado State came
back, led by Thomas Robinson’s four goals. Colorado State scored four
straight to take an 8-6 lead, and then withstood the onslaught for the rest
of the game to take the RMILL crown for the second straight year with an 8-7
victory. Ryan Price put in a superlative effort as he shut out BYU
All-American Jordan Archibald on the day in a gritty effort for the Rams.
Robinson’s goals against BYU would be an omen of things to come for the
freshman from Memphis, who was about to have his best moments on the
Colorado State arrived in St. Louis as the #2 seed and the right to play #15
Boston College in the first round. The Rams were attempting to be the first
team to reach the final four for six straight years and the national
championship game for a fifth straight time. Colorado State scored early
and often in dispatching Boston College 18-2 as everyone on the sideline got
to get in the game. Senior Josh Loose, who had previously scored his first
career goals, even got into the act and registered his third of the year
against the Golden Eagles. Colorado State watched with interest as the #1
seed, UC-Santa Barbara advanced with ease over Washington College of St.
In the second round match up, Colorado State was faced with the unfamiliar
challenge of being out-emotioned by their opponent. The 7th ranked Texas
A&M Aggies played the Rams to one of their more entertaining and challenging
games of the season in the national quarterfinals and never let the Rams
lead by more than two for most of the game. Every time Colorado State would
score, TAMU had an answer and a large crowd began to gather around the field
as the game wore on. As third team All-American defenseman Jeff Schmid went
down to yet another injury, freshman Kellin Bershinsky was thrust into the
limelight to battle with the Texas A&M attack, who, led by All-American
Jason Dunn, was perhaps the most dangerous unit the Rams had seen all year.
With the game on the line, Alex Smith made a couple of saves to keep the
Rams up by one and Thomas Robinson started popping in goals. Robinson ended
up with six on the day, including the last three of regulation to give the
Rams a very hard fought 12-9 victory and place in the semifinals for the
sixth straight year. Would there be a let down against a highly ranked
The Rams hoped not, because across the sidelines was their biggest
inter-league rival, the #3 Sonoma State Seawolves. The game was played in
the middle of the day under some pretty intense heat and both teams were
clearly affected. Sonoma got the first goal of the game on a busted
play/great shot combination by All-American Ben Alexander. Unfortunately
for the Seawolves, that would be the only lead they would have all day long.
The Rams started to play their game, and slowly took control of the
contest, leading at halftime 5-2. Flip Naumburg was not satisfied with the
performance and knew that Sonoma was going to go on their inevitable run.
While Alexander scored four points in an impressive effort, the defensive
middies of the Rams held Sonoma’s midfielders to only one goal. Phil
Eichhorn, Clint Chafin, and Mark Plonkey all played extremely well as the
Rams held on to a very familiar feeling 8-6 win over the Seawolves. The
Rams rushed the field in celebration of their fifth straight trip to the
last game of the season.
While Colorado State was getting through one side of the bracket, the #1
seed UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos were taking care of business on the other
side. UCSB hammered Florida in the quarterfinals and held on to beat BYU in
the semifinals to earn their place in the championship game. The #1 vs. #2
match-up was the first of its kind in USL-MDIA tournament play and the game
was sure to be a good battle.
If someone had told Flip Naumburg in the fall of 2002 that he would be in
the national championship game lining up two freshmen and a sophomore at
both attack and defense, he would never have believed them. The starting
attack was young, but they were starting to play well together. Naumburg
moved Jim Hasson back to the midfield for the last couple games of the
season to combat the strong midfield play of Sonoma and Santa Barbara, so
the attack trio of Kelten Johnson, Matt Disney, and Tim Chorey would have to
play well to get the victory. With Jeff Schmid out, Ryan Price was suddenly
the most experienced on the back line. He lined up beside freshmen Michael
Greeson and Kellin Bershinsky against the highly touted offensive players
for the Gauchos after a successful effort the day before against Sonoma.
The Gauchos got on the board early on a sweep into the middle of the Rams’
defense, and it looked like it might be a long day for the Rams. At the end
of the first quarter, the score was tied 2-2, but Colorado State’s defense
was about to steal the show. Santa Barbara could not seem to crack the
scheme of the Rams and were taking lots of shots that were either bouncing
over the cage or being easily saved by Alex Smith. On the offensive side of
the ball, senior John Naab and freshman Thomas Robinson each scored two
goals while Jared Katz got two assists to slowly build a lead against the #1
team in the country. By the time Hank Caulkins scored UCSB’s third goal
with over nine minutes left in the third quarter, the Colorado State defense
had not allowed a goal in almost two quarters of play. The Rams held a 6-3
lead down the stretch and were poised to hoist the trophy again. Will
Patton scored for the Gauchos with under a minute left, but it was too
little, too late for 2003 Coach of the Year Scott Demonte. The whistle
finally sounded for the Rams, who rushed the field again in celebration of
their 6-4 championship game victory.
With the many alumni in the stands, it felt like old times for Flip Naumburg
as got a water bath while lifting the national championship trophy for his
third time. Naumburg, Jared Katz, Alex Smith, and Jim Hasson (fifth year
seniors) all became the first people in league history to have three rings.
Winning the championship was especially gratifying for the Rams considering
the obstacles they faced. The team’s injured players could have fielded
quite a team in their own right. The injured roster included Jeff Schmid
(D), Joe Glischinski (D), Ryan Robichaud (D), Tim Farquhar (M), Kale Nelson
(M), and Nick Stanitz-Harper (A), all of who have been All-American
selections at some point in their careers. Add to that list Bo Everett (A)
and Pat Bird (M) and the Rams had about four to five goals a game on the
sideline over the course of the year.
The 2004 season will start with promise as the team returns most of its
starters from the national championship game. Sophomore Pete Jokisch will
take over in the nets for departed Alex Smith (2003 Overall Team MVP), but
all three starting close defenders (Ryan Price, Kellin Bershinsky, and
Michael Greeson) return and long stick midfielder Mark Plonkey, the team’s
2003 Defensive MVP, will be the team’s only senior. The Rams lose Jared
Katz, Kale Nelson, Jim Hasson and John Naab from the midfield, but have
plenty of depth and talent returning. Tim Farquhar hopes to recover from
his broken leg to add a bona fide midfield scoring threat to the mix.
Sophomores Derek Koll, Michael Murphy and Thomas Robinson also return along
with redshirt freshman Pat Bird. On attack, Team Offensive MVP Kelten
Johnson comes back with Matt Disney and Tim Chorey, and Bo Everett will try
to have his knee rehabbed by the start of the spring. Nick Stanitz-Harper
will be back in the lineup as well to make the attack unit as strong as
ever. With junior Dave Clark back to handle face off duties, the team will
try to build on the successes of the 2003 season.
If the Rams are to return to glory in 2004, the “family” vibe will need to
be in full force again. One of the reasons Colorado State was able to
conquer the odds was their togetherness as a team. Cohesion will once again
be a large part in keeping Flip Naumburg’s dynasty alive.