By Kevin Anderson, Sports Information Director
As he stood there looking at the American flag waving before the start of the 2017 NEWMAC Lacrosse Championship game, lacrosse head coach Jeff Cohen '02 knew he was a long way away from that dreaded day in his senior season nearly 15 years earlier.
Cohen, a star midfielder and face-off specialist for the Cougars, had gotten the word from his head coach David Ashworth that their season was over with two games left on the schedule. There simply were too many injuries and not enough bodies to field a competitive team. So, the two-time captain and all-conference performer, saw his final season end at 0-11 – the fourth winless season in just the program's 12-year history.
He would move into coaching after graduation, making stops at Western New England, MIT and Division I Colgate where he helped guide the Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their program's history.
In 2009, he came back to Worcester to take over a program that even though there were a few spikes with win totals had never really gotten off the ground.
That 2010 season saw Clark win six games – already the second most in school history – and Cohen grab conference coach of the year honors. 2011 was another 6-8 season and so was 2012 where the Cougars missed out on the playoffs on an obscure tiebreaking procedure but was highlighted by a thrilling double-overtime win over Wheaton on the season's final day and another coach of the year award. The following year marked the program's first-ever non-losing season (7-7) but it was the arrival of a much-ballyhooed Class of 2017 that had everyone around the program abuzz.
Cohen's first year with the Class of 2017 was the 2014 season and they staked their claim as a team on the rise with the program's first-ever postseason appearance and another eight victories.
Two more seasons would go by, including a school-record ten win campaign in 2016, before everything finally came together. Cohen guided the Cougars to six straight wins and a regional ranking as they raced out to an 11-3 start. Included those six straight wins were the program's first-ever wins over annual league powers MIT and Babson which sent the Scarlet and White to a 5-0 start in conference play.
They finished the regular season with a 12-4 record and Cohen became just the third coach in league lacrosse history to win three coach of the year awards. Their 6-1 conference record tied for the first in the league standings which meant the first home playoff game in school history. The crowd, Cohen and the team didn't disappoint, as they rolled over MIT 13-5 to send Cohen and his Cougars to the title game.
So there he stood as the anthem slowly came to a close taking it all in. This program - built by the student-athletes who made the same walk up and down Beaver Street, just like he did 15 years before him – was where most never thought they could be and a lifetime away from 0-11.
And though the result in the title game didn't go the way Cougar Nation had hoped – Springfield won its tenth consecutive championship – it is clear, proof by their final No. 10 ranking in the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll, the rise is most definitely, real.