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UCLA men’s lacrosse leverages expanded roster ahead of 2023 season

Coach Larry Turkheimer addresses the UCLA men’s lacrosse team. Turkheimer brings 40 years of coaching experience to the Bruins as the team attempts to succeed this season. (Dylan Du/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Amelie Ionescu

Oct. 18, 2022 10:12 p.m.

Lacrosse has boomed in popularity in Westwood in recent years.

With its coaching staff and team size having tripled in a span of three years, the Bruins are ready to put that newfound strength to good use.

“We have not necessarily performed for the last few years,” said senior midfielder and captain Nathaniel Kuffner. “We’re ready to make a statement and kick some teams on their ass and show them we got what it takes to compete in the league.”

In Kuffner’s first year with the program, UCLA men’s lacrosse had 17 players with roughly 14 active players throughout most of the season. By comparison, an average Division I lacrosse team has 30 to 35 players, making the Bruins’ 2018-2019 club squad almost unplayable, Kuffner said.

However, a motivated group of then-freshmen, including Kuffner and fellow senior midfielder and captain Liam Bertrand, was all the team needed to become what it is now.

“It wasn’t a very big program with a lot of upperclassmen on the team, but there was eight freshmen,” Bertrand said. “We made it a goal to expand the team from there and make it a team that people want to be a part of.”

(Esther Ma/Daily Bruin staff)
Senior midfielder Liam Bertrand runs with the ball. Bertrand has watched the team grow over the past few years and is currently a captain for the Bruins. (Esther Ma/Daily Bruin staff)

The team has steadily grown in numbers since the captaining duo’s freshman year, hitting a four-year high of 36 players signed up for the 2022-2023 season.

Building its numbers has allowed the team to work harder in practice, as more players means tougher drills, and fighting for spots on the field serves as motivation for the team. Practices have become more serious with a boost in the level of competition, Bertrand said.

Nevertheless, it’s the brotherhood the growing team has cultivated on and off the field that Bertrand said has meant the most to him.

“It’s hard to build a community in anything. … It took a lot of hard work and dedication,” Bertrand said. “Regardless of anything on the field, the community and the friendships we made are something to be proud of.”

The coaching staff has also ballooned over the last year, growing from two coaches in 2018 with an offensive and defensive coordinator to a five-coach staff in 2022 complete with a head coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, a strength and conditioning coach, and an assistant coach.

For the last three years, UCLA alumni Zack Winters and Andrew Nuss served as the primary coaches for the blue and gold. But as their personal lives began to take over, both knew they needed to leave their positions with the team.

Nevertheless, Winters opted to stay on with the Bruins as the director of lacrosse operations, a back-end role that deals with paperwork and scheduling and helps take the workload off the new group of coaches.

“They set the foundation. … This was a good time to transition and to bring in some new, fresh talent,” Kuffner said. “The projection that this program is on is definitely very exciting. … We could likely see this program potentially going Division I five, 10, 15 years down the line.”

(Esther Ma/Daily Bruin staff)
Senior midfielder Nathaniel Kuffner handles the ball. In his fourth season with the Bruins, Kuffner is currently a captain and has watched the team triple in size since his freshman year. (Esther Ma/Daily Bruin staff)

The revamped coaching staff has allowed the team to practice in different ways than in the past, in turn pushing it to explore different styles of play.

While the previous coaches focused heavily on technique, new head coach Larry Turkheimer has taken a more physical approach to the sport.

“We’re really impressed with him and his dedication,” Bertrand said. “He’s going to accept nothing but everybody’s best effort at practice every day, and we’re going to be working really hard. But we’re all committed to that, and we’re ready to get behind him and work hard to get to our goals.”

Turkheimer grew up with lacrosse, playing throughout high school and receiving a scholarship to play in college at North Carolina. In his collegiate career, Turkheimer was a four-year starter, captain and honorable mention All-American as well as a member of the All-Atlantic Coast Conference First Team in 1979.

His coaching career began at Georgia Tech as an assistant coach out of college. Two years after he first stepped into Yellow Jacket territory, Turkheimer flew across the country to Los Angeles to serve as an assistant coach once again, this time at Whittier College. As his collegiate coaching career came to a temporary close, Turkheimer continued to stay with lacrosse by coaching youth and high school programs.

Over the summer, Turkheimer had the opportunity to apply to coach at UCLA – a program he’s been following on and off throughout the years – and return to collegiate coaching.

“The biggest plan I have right now is to change the mindset of these young men,” Turkheimer said. “They’ve been looked upon and played as club sports athletes, and I want them to think of themselves as student-athletes at UCLA.”

With a bigger team and a deeper coaching staff, the coaches can now focus on tailoring their teachings to the individual players and their specific positions rather than just coaching the sport in general.

Having more knowledgeable coaches will allow both the players and team as whole to grow, according to Turkheimer.

“These boys have a good chemistry with one another,” Turkheimer said. “They have the capabilities to be better than they have been in the past if they focus and compete every day they step on the field.”

After a season in which they finished at the bottom of the Southwest Lacrosse Conference, UCLA’s players and coaches are envisioning a run at the postseason – the first in a long time for the Bruins.

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Amelie Ionescu | Sports senior staff
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
Ionescu was previously an assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, swim and dive and rowing beats, and a contributor on the women's tennis beat.
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