In Spring 2015, the men’s club lacrosse team made a name for itself.
The Owls, playing with a new coach and new attitude, traveled to State College, Pennsylvania and won the National College Lacrosse League Division II title. It was the culmination of an undefeated, 21-0, season that saw Temple knock off Club Division I powerhouse like Penn State and Rutgers University.
“It was pretty unreal,” club president and captain Eric Berkelbach said. “The whole season, we didn’t think about it, but we just kept winning games. It was a really cool experience.”
Now, as a senior, he has a chance to lead his team back for another championship run. But this time, it will be at the D-I level.
The Owls (11-5, 3-1 Liberty Division) were ranked No. 8 in the National Collegiate Lacrosse League Top 20 on April 18. They will play in the Sweet 16 round of the national tournament against Navy on Sunday at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. A victory in the playoff game will send Temple to the national tournament, also at Navy, on May 6 and 7.
“For myself and the other seniors, we remember winning sophomore year,” Berkelbach said. “But we know it will feel so much better at D-I our senior year. Once we get there, we are going to do whatever it takes to win.”
“This season has had a lot of ups and downs,” said Ryan Fitzpatrick, a senior defender and team officer who played on the 2015 championship team. “But we have a great team and I really think we could win the national championship again. First we just need to get to the dance and then anything can happen.”
Senior Tristan Karten leads the team in scoring with 27 goals and 12 assists while fellow senior Griffin O’Donnell has started in goal this season. Underclassmen are also among the team leaders. Freshman Luke Brennan has 11 goals and 10 assists, and sophomore Bailey Haines has tallied 14 goals and two assists.
On April 14, Temple went to State College to take on No. 1 Penn State. The Owls fell in overtime by a score of 6-5 in what Berkelbach called an “electric” atmosphere.
“It was a really competitive game,” Berkelbach said. “Penn State Club Lacrosse is a powerhouse and they thought we couldn’t hang with them. I told the guys that if you bring that energy to every game for the rest of the season, I promise we’ll be going to nationals.”
Coach Chris Berkelbach, Eric’s older brother, said games like that are representative of how the year has gone. The Owls took down local rivals like West Chester University and Drexel University with ease. Temple beat Drexel by five goals on April 13, and Karten scored five goals in Temple’s 10-5 win against the Golden Rams on March 3.
Temple, however, fell to more competitive teams like the University of Virginia and Navy, which are both ranked in the Top 25 of the Ratings Percentage Index. Temple is No. 31.
“Some of our losses feel like could’ve, would’ve, should’ve,” Chris said. “We could have won that game, we should have beaten that team, but we just couldn’t get the job done. But I think at this point, I’m very happy and the team is very close to where we need to be going into the playoffs.”
Chris started coaching the club team on a volunteer basis when he moved to Philadelphia in 2014 and is credited for turning the team around. The 26-year-old played club lacrosse at Rutgers and was an assistant coach for his high school coach’s club team.
After Eric continually complained about the lack of organization and competitiveness of the Temple club team, Chris decided to help. Eric said the team went from being the “most frustrating thing” he had ever been a part of to Division II champions in one year.
“The whole thing has changed since our freshman year,” Eric said. “More people started talking about us, more people started coming to our games and the whole thing just took a huge turn and for us. It was a lot of fun.”
Chris said he is not sure about his future with the team. While he originally joined to help his brother, he is now very much invested in the team and cannot see himself leaving anytime soon.
But this season is the top priority for the Owls’ coach. Temple is one victory away from reaching the national tournament in his brother’s final season.
“Making it to nationals would just be a great experience for our team,” Chris said. “In general, Temple Men’s Club Lacrosse is not viewed as a great team. So I think that making the trip to nationals would really get our name out there. And once we get there, anything can happen.”
Graham Foley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @graham_foley3.