Lacrosse coach and seniors from the left, Cooper Kelley (attacker), Dustin Rich (head coach), Nick Eckart (long-stick midfielder) and Tim Harvatin (attacker).

The Missouri State lacrosse team has begun their season, having already played four games and won three in a row allowing them to have a 3-1 record in the Lone Star Alliance Conference in Division 2.

Head coach Dustin Rich attributes this success to their defense and to “suffocating” their opponents.

“The way we ride the ball, which is once the other team gets the ball and they try to clear it into their offensive half, how we defend that, has given some of these early teams a real problem,” Rich said. “Our offense has done a fantastic job of maintaining possession. So not only are we making it difficult for teams to get the ball and play offense, but once we have the ball we’re suffocating them.”

During the three-game win streak, no opponent has scored over five goals against Missouri State, while the Bears have scored six goals or more each game.

Moreover, senior attacker Tim Harvatin sees this team’s ability to take criticism as one of the reasons they have been able to keep offensive possession of the ball.

“Compared to the past few years, this is the first team that is actually willing to learn and take criticism,” Harvatin said. “They actually take what you say and put it on the field. So, it kind of works out, and that’s why I think our offense has done a pretty good job of keeping the ball, passing the ball around and keeping possession.”

Even though the team is winning games early, they’re still focused on the postseason. After going to the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Tournament for the first time since 2010 in 2017, the team has set high expectations for themselves.  

“It’s hard not to look forward and put your expectation on the postseason, on the national tournament, on winning your conference, and all that stuff,” Rich said. “I think one of the things we try to focus on just every day and every week is just improving. I mean it’s so cliche, but it’s what it takes to get there in April or May.”

Not only does Rich have high expectations, but so does senior midfielder and captain Cooper Kelley whose goal this season is to “win a game at nationals.”

During the season, Rich is trying something new by allowing captains to oversee the practice. Senior long-stick midfielder and captain Nick Eckart says letting the captains run the practice shows he “puts a lot of trust in us.”

The team has also added a new design on the helmets, a teal ribbon for Rich’s wife.   

“My wife was diagnosed in July with stage 4 cervical cancer,” Rich said. “In the fall one of our players approached me and said, ‘We got these made, you know these teal ribbons. Would it be ok if we put them on our helmets?’  So that was a player’s idea or the players’ idea and it means a lot to me and it means a lot to her. I’m not sure if she had seen the picture and I showed her the picture just within the last week of those helmets, so it means the world to both of us.”

Missouri State’s next game is against Saint Louis University at SLU Medical Center Stadium Friday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.