Air Force coach Eric Seremet found comfort in his team in the months following the October 2013 car crash in which his wife, Sonia, died.

Galvanizing Force: Rallying Around Falcons Coach Seremet

Air Force coach Eric Seremet liked what he saw in the minutes before his team’s season-opener Feb. 5 at Duke. The Falcons looked confident and businesslike as they warmed up at Koskinen Stadium. Equally important, they didn’t look tired.

The team’s first flight out of Colorado Springs had been canceled, and they arrived late Friday night into Durham, N.C., for the next day’s afternoon game.

“The travel was a whole disaster,” Seremet said. “We got in after 9 o’clock, just in time to go to bed.”

Still, despite the long trip, the pressure of a No. 18 preseason ranking after a 15-3 season in 2016 and the major unease of debuting a freshman goalie against the No. 8 team in the country, the Falcons were unfazed.

“There wasn’t a lot of rah-rah,” Seremet said. “It was, ‘Hey, here’s the scouting report. Here’s what we know about Duke. Let’s start the season.’”

This is the Air Force team, and attitude, that Seremet has been building for nine years in Colorado Springs — a team with talent from 17 states, a national ranking and a belief that it can finish high-pressure games against elite teams like Duke.

The rookie goalie, Paxton Boyer, a Colorado native, made 14 saves. Junior Nick Hruby, a Texan, scored four goals. And a defense anchored by sophomore Brandon Jones from Ohio held off the Blue Devils in an 11-10 upset.

Seremet played for powerhouses, first at West Genesee (N.Y.) and then at North Carolina, where he won an NCAA championship in 1991. He had stints as an assistant at Stony Brook and Cornell before landing at Air Force as an assistant.

When Seremet was hired as the head coach in 2010, however, he inherited the team at its nadir. The Falcons had just 31 active players after a large group was kicked off the team for alcohol issues, a major violation at the military academy. Box scores from that season show games in which Seremet played as few as 14.

“I’m a single dad,” Seremet said. “I’ve got to make sure they get to school, make sure they’re clean. But we talk about Mommy all the time."

Air Force had a single bright spot that year, an overtime win over Army, the school’s first-ever over another service academy. The Falcons didn’t win again.

“We had to change everything,” Seremet said. “We really had no choice.”

For 2011, Seremet and assistant Bill Wilson, a former head coach at Dartmouth, overhauled the team’s recruiting, focusing first on Colorado and other non-East Coast states where the sport was growing fast. Among their first local finds was Erik Smith, a football and lacrosse star from Denver who had been headed to Dartmouth. In more traditional hotbeds, Seremet and Wilson sold their small roster to players like Mike Crampton, a New Jersey attackman, as a chance for playing time.

 “I didn’t want to go somewhere and ride the bench for three years,” said Crampton, now an Air Force instructor pilot in Columbus, Miss.

“The culture started to change with that group,” Seremet said. “We started to recruit a little better in defining the responsibilities here and the expectations of cadet life.”

The 2011 roster rebounded to 47 — including 23 freshmen. To encourage leadership and accountability, Seremet instituted a system of inter-team competitions, breaking the roster into six “tribes,” each named for an Iroquois Nation. Each tribe had a “Sachem” responsible for the tribe’s performance, someone who reported to the team’s captains. Performance in practice was graded and scored as a tribe, as were the team’s annual “Trifecta” workouts, three quad-burning trail runs up nearby mountains. High scoring tribes were rewarded, while the whole tribe paid for mistakes or disciplinary missteps.

“You all felt kind of responsible for each other when you’re out there on the endline running with them, doing the punishment,” Crampton said. “It might sound silly at first, but guys really bought into it.”

Tribes picked their own new members, holding a draft for freshmen, complete with a “combine” evaluation. As the system took hold, Seremet said, the staff began to see improvements.

“We had better leadership in the locker room,” he said. “We started to see change on the field as well. They were better in the classroom, and doing better in the squadrons.”

As 2011’s freshmen entered their senior year in the fall of 2013, the pieces were in place for a breakout season. But starting Oct. 1, in the heart of fall ball, a federal government shutdown in Washington meant Seremet and his staff, all civilian employees, were not allowed to come to work.


Just outside Hartsel, about an hour west of Colorado Springs, Seremet's vehicle skidded off the road and rolled three times. Sonia, 37, a former elementary school teacher, died in the crash.

Five days later, when the team had been scheduled to fly to a fall tournament, Seremet and his wife, Sonia, instead took their young daughters, Emelia and Anabel, then 4 and 2, on a drive up into the Colorado mountains. About an hour west of Colorado Springs, they broke out of the mountain passes onto a wide grassland, a flat basin between mountain ranges made famous by the TV show that took its name, South Park.

Just outside the town of Hartsel, Seremet’s vehicle skidded off the road and rolled three times. Sonia, 37 and a former elementary school teacher, died in the crash. Eric and both children were flown to area hospitals but eventually recovered.

As their coach lay in the hospital, the Falcons were about to learn just how close they had become.

“You can’t help but feel helpless,” Crampton said. “But then you figure out little things you can do.”

“As captains, we had to meet and say, ‘First, how are we going to support Coach?’” Smith said. “What does the team need to do? And second, how are we going to approach the team with the news and go through the practice plan when our heads are everywhere else?”

Seremet’s extended family arriving from out of state stayed with Smith’s family in Denver. Teammates took turns stopping by Seremet’s house to check in and cover household chores. 


Seremet and his two daughters survived the crash, and the girls are always around the Air Force team. "We talk about Mommy all the time - at night before bed or anytime we look at the starts," said Seremet.

At Christmas, Crampton’s mom sent presents for Emelia and Anabel from New Jersey, dresses from Frozen. The girls sang the songs for hours.

On campus, as the federal lockout went on another week, the team ran its own practices, with captains relying on the tribe’s sachems to keep their players focused.

“A lot of us turned to lacrosse to get away,” Crampton said. “Even on days off, guys were going down to the locker room to be with each other.”

Seremet returned in time for a preseason game with Notre Dame. The Falcons beat the nationally ranked Irish and, despite the horrific events the previous fall, a breakout season was underway. The team finished 11-6, the school’s first winning season since 1997. The Falcons won their conference and earned Air Force’s first NCAA tournament bid in nearly 30 years.  Both Smith and Crampton were named All-Americans, the first Falcons since 1997 to earn that distinction.

But the 2014 team’s most important legacy, Seremet believes, is a legacy of confidence on the field and accountability off of it, traits forged during those terrible weeks in the fall of 2013.

“It’s the story behind the story behind the story,” Seremet said. “You have to move on. You can’t stand still or go back in time. No matter what happens in your life, you have to take a step forward. It might not be that big a step, but you have to move forward.”


Seremet's daughters Emelia and Anabel were 4 and 2, respectively, when their mother died in a car accident in the Colorado mountains.

Today, Emelia and Anabel are grade schoolers.

“I’m a single dad,” Seremet said. “I’ve got to make sure they get to school, make sure they’re clean. But we talk about Mommy all the time — at night before bed or anytime we look at the stars.”

The freshmen from that 2014 Air Force team now are the seniors who took a late flight to Durham and woke up expecting to win. After a 15-3 finish in 2016, and with three of the team’s top four scorers back in Hruby, Andrew Tien and Chris Walsch, expectations are high.

“From a lacrosse standpoint, to win that [NCAA] first-round game is next on the horizon,” Seremet said. “It’s tough to do. Last year was a lot of one-goal games we had to grind out, and we need to see if this year’s team had what last year’s team had. If our [players] get in trouble, if they get hurt or have adversity, you’ve got to tell them, ‘You have no choice. You have to get up the next day and take on the day. You can’t quit.’”