Lax coach departs for St. John's

by Bret Anderson | 7/21/03 5:00am

After five seasons of rebuilding the Dartmouth men's lacrosse program to national preeminence, head coach Rick Sowell will continue his career at St. John's University next year.

His legacy at the helm of the Big Green will be remembered as one of the great turnaround stories in Dartmouth lore. Sowell's demanding expectations and inspirational coaching technique helped the men's laxers win their first Ivy League title in almost 40 years this past season. In the team's first ever berth into the NCAA tournament, Sowell described his squad's gutsy performance against perennial powerhouse Syracuse as "the proudest moment I've had here."

Sowell takes with him to the Red Storm of St. John's a 33-35 record he accumulated while leading the Big Green, highlighted by this year's 11-3 effort. Throughout Sowell's tenure, his teams progressively improved on the field, which is a testament to his rebuilding abilities as a coach. Sowell will have to depend on his notable talent the next few years at St. John's, where he will be building their men's lacrosse program from scratch. Sowell, however, remains optimistic of the opportunity,

"Undoubtedly, there will be growing pains, but I am confident that they won't last long with the support I will have around me."

In addition to his experience as head coach at Dartmouth, Sowell spent eight years as an assistant building up the program at Georgetown to national contender status. In his final year at Georgetown, 1998, the Hoyas advanced to the quarterfinal round in the NCAA tournament before falling to top-ranked Loyola. Sowell, however, understands that it may be a while until he fields a NCAA tournament team at St. John's.

"I will have different struggles fielding a brand new team than I had at Dartmouth or George-town," he said. "I am not exactly taking the easy road right now."

Sowell explained his departure in terms of his potential to impact the St. John's program. "With fielding a new team," he said, "the upside is tremendous."

His decision to leave, however, came after weeks of deliberation with the St. John's athletic department.

"At first, I turned down their offer," Sowell explained. "But then I thought about it more and more and it seemed like the right opportunity to take."

After Sowell declined, St. John's upped its salary offer and included some fringe benefits. The benefits and the supportive environment Sowell perceived within the athletic department ultimately convinced him. to accept the job.

Other perks will include an admissions department with more flexible standards and the possibility of awarding athletic scholarships to his lacrosse recruits. Now facing stiff competition from league heavyweights Massachusetts, Penn State, Rutgers, and his former team, Georgetown, Sowell will use his financial lures to bring in top-notch talent to field against some of the nation's top programs.

Also sweetening the deal to coach at St. John's is Sowell's desire to be closer to relatives and be near a metropolitan environment like the one he grew up in. But that is not to degrade Sowell's coaching stint here at Dartmouth.

"I will always be grateful for the chance Dartmouth took on me when I first came here," Sowell emphasized. "I had a wonderful ride the last five years."

Sowell will certainly be missed by many of his players, but there is a definite resolve amongst the '05 laxers on campus to be involved in tabbing the team's new skipper. If this year's historic season is any indicator of the program's prestige and rekindled winning tradition, Sowell's departure vacates one of the top head coaching positions in the country.

"I have confidence that the right person for the job will be chosen," Sowell said.