Sowell named new St. John’s lacrosse coach

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By Everett Fell

St. John’s University officially resurrected its men’s lacrosse program by introducing Rick Sowell as its head coach at a press conference July 9.

St. John’s originally had a lacrosse program that started in 1981, but it was discontinued in 1995 as a Title IX casualty, making room for St. John’s women’s volleyball.

The lacrosse team, which ironically was reinstated as part of a sweeping Title IX-influenced athletic department restructuring, will join the ECAC conference for the spring 2005 season.

The Red Storm’s schedule will include Division I schools such as Georgetown, where Sowell was an assistant coach from 1991 to 1998, the University of Massachusetts, Rutgers and Penn State.

Until then, Sowell must persuade young lacrosse players to join the new program at St. John’s.

“I’m going to have to reach out to the kids,” Sowell said. “I’m prepared to hear a lot of no’s, but I also know there’s going to be kids who are going to be excited about being a part of something that’s happening for the first time.”

Sowell joins St. John’s from Dartmouth University, where he led the Big Green to the Ivy League title in 2003, as well as an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

“When this search began a few months ago, one name kept on coming up as an ideal candidate for us, and that was Rick’s name,” said St. John’s Athletic Director Dave Wegrzyn.

Sowell was named Dartmouth head coach in 1998 and improved from a 5-8 record in 1999 to an 11-3 mark last season.

“About a month ago, leaving Dartmouth was the last thing on my mind,” Sowell said. “For me to leave Dartmouth it had to be the right situation.”

The opportunity to coach in New York City drew Sowell to St. John’s. Sowell was born and raised in upstate New York and played lacrosse at SUNY College at Cobleskill and Washington College in Charleston, Md.

A small-town boy all his life, Sowell said he is ready to take on the foreboding task of promoting lacrosse in the big city.

“I wanted the opportunity to be in an area like New York City so I can take advantage of all it has to offer,” Sowell said. “I grew up in a small-town area, but it’s great to have the best of both worlds.”

Sowell began the recruiting process a day before the press conference. He traveled to Pennsylvania for a camp made up mostly of Long Island players, knowing how tough it would be to convince local players to stay home and play at St. John’s.

“It’s not going to be easy to convince kids not to go to Hofstra or Rutgers,” Sowell said. “We’re going to have to get kids excited about starting a program from scratch.”

Sowell also brings with him an impressive record of play as a collegiate and professional athlete.

In 1985, while at Washington College, Sowell was named NCAA midfielder of the year. His professional career lasted from 1987 to 1993, and during that time he was named First Team All-Pro three times and was captain of the Baltimore Thunder.

“His background in building the program at Georgetown, in doing the same as the head coach at Dartmouth coupled with his experience as a Division III player and professional lacrosse player really gave him a tremendous background,” Wegrzyn said. “He is a formidable coach for us in a program we are going to be very proud of.”

Sowell now waits another year and a half to step onto the field for real competition.

“I’m going to miss not being able to coach next spring,” Sowell said. “Being a college coach requires me to recruit for nine months a year, so I can do what I really want to do for only three months.”

Reach reporter Everett Fell by email at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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