This is another in a series of posts—intended for players, fans, and recruits—focusing on some of the lesser-known, lower-profile programs within Division 1 college lacrosse.
What conceivable connection could there be between political polling and D1 college lacrosse?
At Quinnipiac, it turns out, there is one.
And to have some appreciation of where the Quinnipiac lacrosse program is now, you really need to appreciate where the school itself has come from.
When John Lahey took over the presidency of the college in 1987—and at the time, it was Quinnipiac College—-his ambition was to raise the profile of an institution barely known outside the geographic boundaries of its Hamden, Connecticut campus.
Lahey might’ve gotten a subliminal nudge from the name of the state park that adjoins the Quinnipiac campus: Sleeping Giant.
In any case, Lahey saw something.
He saw enormous untapped potential in a campus strategically located between Boston and New York—and all under the shadow of New Haven and Yale University, located only 8 miles away.
But the institution Lahey inherited might not have seemed worthy of Yale’s shadow.
It was also an academic institution that would be almost unrecognizable to its current students, applicants, and recruits.
Among other things, Quinnipiac:
- Had an enrollment of only 1,902 (it now stands at 10,200)
- Had an endowment of $3 million (it is now $530 million, with a stated goal of reaching $1 billion)
- Had an annual budget of $20 million (it’s now approximately $450 million)
- Had a student population comprised almost entirely–80%—of Connecticut residents. (That percentage has almost entirely flipped: about 80% of students are now from outside the state. Quinnipiac’s 2022 lacrosse team roster alone represents 12 different states; as well as Canada; its 2022 hockey roster has players from 7 states, along with Holland, Finland, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and British Columbia).
- Had 3 schools of learning (it now has nine)
- Has transformed from a college to a university with the addition of graduate law, business, engineering, and medical schools
- Announced in February, 2022, the approval of $244 million in construction projects for the School of Business, another general academic building, and a new dorm.
But in those early days, few people beyond two exits in either direction on the Wilbur Cross Parkway had ever heard of the place.
Which was only part of the problem.
Quinnipiac on the National Stage
Quinnipiac’s—and John Lahey’s— first foray into the national spotlight involved setting up a polling operation, similar to the one in place at the institution Lahey had just left, Marist College.
But in Quinnipiac’s case, the most immediate problem with name recognition involved, well, the name.
As the leader of of the polling effort told Politico years later: “The name was mangled —kwin-uh-PE-ack, or kwin-uh-PACK.”.
(They weren’t the only ones stumped. Jack McDonald, who left his position as athletic director at Denver in 1995 to take the same post at Quinnipiac, found that the location of the school was as much a mystery as the pronunciation of its name—even among people as close as Boston).
Lahey’s instincts and timing again seemed unerring. At a time when media organizations were beginning to aggressively reduce budgets, and polling costs were spiking, Quinnipiac, among a few other schools, stepped in to exploit the void.
That fledgling polling operation—“the poll that built a university” in Politico’s words— was the initial building block of the school’s play for national recognition.
Now the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, it has a $2 million annual budget and is housed in a two-story building on campus. It has become the premier university poll. Its footprint—along with Quinnipiac’s name— has achieved national reach.
Quinnipiac Sports Go National
And the name thing seems to be a lot less of an issue these days.
So much so that several large financial institutions have paid significant amounts to have their name associated with one that was so recently unknown, or at the very least, unpronounceable,
Which introduces the second part of the Quinnipiac growth and marketing strategy.
The Quinnipiac Poll was only one part of the school’s bid for national prominence.
Another huge piece involved athletics.
Connecticut-based People’s United bank was the most recent corporation to secure naming rights to a facility on the Quinnipiac campus.
For $10 million, People’s United recently secured the naming rights for 10 years for the Bobcats’ dual-purpose athletic facility.
The showcase $52 million 185,000 square-foot arena is both the home of, and a monument to, the school’s phenomenally successful D1 hockey program.
In 1998, Quinnipiac athletics made the transition to Division 1.
In those early days, Rand Pecknold, the only head coach the hockey program has known, shared a phone with the school’s other head coaches and had to commute daily from his teaching gig about an hour from campus.
By 2002, the hockey team qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
And if it once had been unaware of Quinnipiac’s very existence, Yale certainly knew the name, and correct pronunciation, by the time the two schools faced off in 2013—in the NCAA college hockey D1 championship finals.
Quinnipiac and D1 College Lacrosse
Make no mistake: men’s hockey sits at the top of the Bobcat sports hierarchy—and by a wide margin. This extends even to the basketball team that nominally shares the school’s showcase arena.
The men’s hockey team’s closest on-campus rival is probably the women’s hockey team, a national power in its own right.
That said, there are perks to traveling in hockey’s wake.
Quinnipiac athletics has a $25 million operating budget; and in the last several years the school dedicated new and drastically upgraded facilities for field hockey, and soccer and lacrosse.
The school’s athletic success is also broad-based.
And 2016 was a highwater mark for Quinnipiac athletics as a whole.
In the 2015-16 season Bobcat teams won regular-season championships in women’s basketball, men’s and women’s hockey, cross country, golf, and tennis, and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of those sports.
2106 was also a landmark season for Quinnipiac lacrosse. The Bobcats went 12-4, qualifying for the NCAA field for the first time by virtue of a win over Hartford in the play-in game.
Their reward was having to play in College Park a #1-ranked Maryland team that featured Matt Rambo, Colin Heacock, Bryan Cole, and Kyle Bernlohr.
The Bobcats actually did pretty well, taking an early lead before falling 13-6 . (By comparison, Syracuse, which faced the Terps in the next round, lost 13-7).
More importantly, the program seemed to be hitting its stride.
Though that team lost six seniors, including Ryan Keenan, its other two scoring leaders (Foster Cuomo and Brian Feldman) also came from a place well-matched to Quinnipiac’s recruiting footprint for hockey: Canada. (Over the years, the Bobcats have attracted a number of top-level Canadian recruits including Adam Bellamy ’18, Riley Palmer ’18, Ryan Keenan ’16, and Dylan Webster ’14)
The 2017 Bobcats also returned in goal someone who had undoubtedly been known to many of the Terp players in that NCAA match-up. Jack Brust had played for Maryland high school power Calvert Hall.
But 2017 would not be a step forward.
Quinnipiac Lacrosse Takes a Hit
Mason Poli probably didn’t have as rough a start as Rand Pecknold did.
He didn’t have to share a phone, stake out an office in a former janitor’s closet, conduct midnight practices at a high school facility, or work around an annual salary of $6,500.
But he’s had his share of adversity.
Poli came to Quinnipiac as an assistant in 2014. He’d been a decorated LSM at Bryant, a Tewaaraton Award semifinalist who also led the nation in longpole scoring (including a hat trick—against Quinnipiac). He’d also gone on to play in the MLL.
In 2017, a Bobcat team that had looked good on paper went 2-9 in a season marked erratic play and high turnovers. Only Brust’s outstanding work in goal (16 saves vs. both Brown and Canisius, for example), seemed to prevent a death spiral.
(In fairness, there was undoubtedly another factor in the team’s disoriented performance. Because of renovations to their field and facility, the Bobcats had to conduct all practices at a high school 15 minutes from campus, and play all home games at Yale’s Reese Stadium. The good news is that the new complex, completed later that year, includes new locker rooms, a turf field with upgraded scoreboard, a press box, and a capacity of 1,500).
2018 marked a turnaround: Quinnipiac was 9-6, defeating in overtime a Brown team that had defeated the Bobcats by an 18-goal margin only a year before, and losing to Canisius, also in overtime, in the MAAC tournament.
Then things started to unravel.
Quinnipiac Lacrosse and Mason Poli
In the fall of 20188, an investigation into a hazing incident led to suspension of the team, and ultimately, the elevation of Poli to head coach.
But Poli would have to enter the 2019 season without the benefit of fall practice, and subject to bar seniors playing in the team’s first five games.
And he’d have to do this saddled with the title interim head coach.
All of which Poli handled remarkably well. The team went 8-6 during the regular season, and reached the MAAC Tournament finals (an overtime loss to Marist).
It was also well enough for Poli to shed the “interim” tag.
But more bad times were ahead. The Bobcats went 0-6 in the Covid-curtailed 2020 season.
The shortened 2021 season saw the Bobcats go 4-3 and seemingly on track for a high MAAC Tournament seed; instead, the team would become subject to Covid protocols and be forced to withdraw from both its regular-season finale and the MAAC Tournament.
Which bring us to 2022.
Quinnipiac Lacrosse in 2022
On paper at least, the Bobcats entered 2022 with a number of encouraging signs. A number of key players returned from a team that, derailed by Covid in the 11th hour, was undoubtedly high on motivation.
Unfortunately, the bounce-back season hasn’t materialized. Crowned by a humbling defeat in Charlottesville to Virginia on April 16th, the Bobcats’ disappointing season now stands at 2-8.
But there’s reason for hope.
The Bobcats are still relatively young. The offensive core of the team—middies Steven Germain and Ryan Donnery, and Ryan’s twin brother and MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2021, attackman Dylan Donnery—are all sophomores. Jake Tellers, a junior starter at attack, also returns.
Defense losses will be harder to plug. The Bobcats lose goalie Nick DiMuccio, and defensive starters Devin Naidoo and Matt Di Lella; Tommy Shaughnessy, yet another sophomore starter, does return.
Poli and the Bobcats have proven their resilience before. The program is part of an ambitious institution that, time and again, has shown a willingness to commit resources to its burgeoning national profile and winning sports culture.
If patterns hold true, Quinnipiac lacrosse could see much better times ahead.
Quinnipiac University and its Lacrosse Program
INSTITUTION: Quinnipiac University
LOCATION: Hamden, Connecticut
UNDERGRADUATE ENROLLMENT: 6,841
TUITION & FEES: $51,270
LACROSSE COACHING STAFF:
Mason Poli, Head Coach (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Alex Zomerfeld: Associate Head Coach (email@example.com)
Casey Eidenshink: Assistant Coach (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Raymond Esposito: Volunteer Assistant
2021 RECORD: 4-3
SOME NOTABLE RECENT MONMOUTH LACROSSE PLAYERS: Ryan Donnery ’24 (M, The Gunnery, Hawthorne, New York), Nick DiMuccio ’22 (G, La Salle Academy, Seekonk, Massachusetts), Will Abbott ’22 (M, Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton, Massachusetts), Jake Tomsik ’21 (A, Medway High School, Medway, Massachusetts), Foster Cuomo ’19 (M, IMG Academy, Oakville, Ontario, Canada), Will Vitelli ’18 (FO, Foran High School, Milford, Connecticut), Adam Bellamy ’18 (LSM, The Hill Academy, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada), Riley Palmer ’18 (D, The Hill Academy, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada), Brian Feldman ’18 (M, Canandaigua Academy, Canadaigua, New York), Jack Brust ’17 (Calvert Hall, Baltimore, Maryland), Ryan Keenan ’16 (A, The Hill Academy, Oshawa, Ontario, Canada), Connor Meth ’16 (M, Ridge, Basking Ridge, New Jersey), Chris Kendall ’16 (D, Dublin Jerome, Dublin, Ohio), Michael Sagl ’15 (A, West Islip, West Islip, New York), Carmen French ’15 (D, Calvert Hall, Baltimore, Maryland), Dylan Webster ’14 (FO, St. Edmund Campion Secondary School, Brampton, Ontario, Canada), Basil Kostaras ’13 (M, Episcopal School of Dallas, Southlake, Texas)
(Source of tuition and enrollment data: U.S. News)
David Parry is the founder and editor of LaxAcrossAmerica. A New York-based digital marketer and copywriter, he played Division 1 lacrosse as a walk-on at Brown.