Bonnies Men's Lacrosse Aimed to Foster Bond with Nearby Seneca Nation


St. Bonaventure athletic director Tim Kenney said he hopes adding men's lacrosse will strengthen the school's relationship with the Seneca natives on the reservations.

Tim Kenney has fielded the question plenty of times in his two years as St. Bonaventure’s athletic director, one driven by the private school’s western New York geography and its lacrosse-loving neighbors. Up until mid-March, he couldn’t give the answer he wanted.

“We’re right in the middle of all of this,” Kenney said. “That’s why it makes sense. People were shocked when they asked, ‘How’s your [men’s] lacrosse team?’ and I’d say ‘We don’t have one.’”

Not anymore, at least as of the spring of 2019.

St. Bonaventure announced last week it would add the sport, becoming the 72nd Division I program. Kenney anticipates hiring a coach in the next few months, and explorations for a conference home are already underway.

To Kenney, a former administrator at Massachusetts who saw the sport’s benefits when the Minutemen advanced to the national title game in 2006, it was a logical sport to push given St. Bonaventure’s profile.

It was a geographic fit for a school located about a 90-minute drive from Buffalo, and the ability to be competitive quickly was part of the calculation. So, too, was the hope of it ultimately pay for itself by drawing a new subset of students and perhaps even creating greater awareness of St. Bonaventure among all students on Long Island, in Ohio and in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

As a small, private school, it also fits the profile of many of the institutions that have added Division I men’s lacrosse in recent years. There were just 54 D-I programs in 2004; when the Bonnies take the field, it will represent a 33-percent growth rate in just a 15-year span.

There’s also a built-in constituency for lacrosse near St. Bonaventure, which fielded a Division III team from 1989 to 1993 before moving to the club level. The Seneca Nation is based in western New York, and St. Bonaventure is committed to fostering a bond between the school and the indigenous population.

“It’s using lacrosse as a sport that can help them and can create opportunities for them to be close to home,” Kenney said. “It is their game. That relationship cannot be understated and we’ve started it already with certain initiatives. By bringing in a sport that as they call it is their Creator’s game, it will strengthen the relationship between St. Bonaventure and the Senecas over on the reservations.”

St. Bonaventure already has a women’s lacrosse team, and there is optimism both programs can help each other. The Bonnies established women’s lacrosse in 2000, and it has struggled to gain traction in the Atlantic 10 over the last decade.

That team is now playing on a turf field installed three years ago, part of a facilities upgrade that also included the addition of lights. The men’s team will also play on that field.

Kenney said he hopes to have a fully funded men’s lacrosse program within five years. But how rapidly St. Bonaventure gets itself to 12.6 scholarships will be done in consultation with the team’s first coach.

Given his background, Kenney logically leaned on the advice of Massachusetts coach Greg Cannella when pursuing the men’s lacrosse plan with the school’s board of trustees. But the Long Island native also received input from Denver coach Bill Tierney and several administrators throughout the process.

Like many of the start-up programs over the last decade, St. Bonaventure will have a two-year build-up to a debut. That model has served the likes of Boston University, Marquette, Richmond and others well, allowing schools to collect two classes of recruits and establish a foundation before taking the field.

“It gives us lead time behind the scenes,” Kenney said. “We know it’ll be tough going the first two years, but after that I think we could be competitive immediately. It gives us time to get into a conference.”

There are some logical destinations since the Atlantic 10 doesn’t sponsor the sport with only three current men’s lacrosse programs (Massachusetts, Richmond and Saint Joseph’s). The Metro Atlantic and Northeast conferences both have a presence in western or central New York and could be fits.

There was one league Kenney wisely dismisses as a possibility for his fledgling program.

“Someone mentioned that the ACC needs a team [to regain an automatic NCAA bid],” Kenney recalled. “I said, ‘What are you, nuts?’”

No, a start-up program’s best home would probably not be with five perennial postseason contenders. But make no mistake, the Bonnies are not adding the sport simply for the sake of having a team. With so many other schools finding relatively quick in the success in the sport and Kenney already understanding the impact of men’s lacrosse at its highest level, St. Bonaventure intends to invest in this program.

“It was phenomenal to have 55,000 people at the championship and just the way they do the final four and the atmosphere around it with the culture of young kids coming to games with lacrosse sticks, it’s completely energizing,” Kenney said of his 2006 experience. “When you look at the image of St. Bonaventure, people immediately think of basketball. There’s plenty of room to associate the image of this school with lacrosse as well.”

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