Sun Up for Sundown: RIT's Larson Sundown Cherishes NCAA D-III Title


Larson Sundown spoke like a man reborn. There was an air of confidence in his voice.

Mere days after capturing a NCAA Division III men’s lacrosse championship with RIT, Sundown sounded as if he was still right there on the field celebrating.

“I tell everyone that I’m going to remember this one,” Sundown said.

Sundown, who transferred to RIT from Division II Limestone after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, has won a national title before. The attackman from Basom, N.Y., spent two years at Onondaga Community College and won an NJCAA championship in 2017. In 2019, he went to the title game with Limestone but lost. Getting there with RIT and sealing the deal was special, bringing his journey combining both lacrosse and self-reflection full circle. 

“We had a great team anyway, but he brought some positive emotion,” RIT coach Jake Coon said. “He talks about the Creator’s Game; he brought that up throughout the playoffs, to respect that.” 

The title game was the textbook definition of a thriller — a 15-14 double-overtime triumph in which Dawson Tait fed Ryan Barnable for the winner. RIT faced defeat in the waning moments of regulation before Quinn Commandant fired home the equalizer with 12 seconds to play. It might have been the best championship game of the 2021 spring season, a year in which any championship experience was welcomed after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stoic and composed in the interview for this story, Coon said he was so caught up in the moment that his players were concerned. In the huddle, Coon is often all business. Not this time.

“The guys commented that I was smiling and laughing in the huddle after the first overtime period going into the second overtime period,” Coon said. “To a degree, that’s a little different than what I usually am.” 

Perhaps it was a combination of giddiness and nerves. Maybe he knew something special was about to happen. Either way, the demeanor shown by Coon exemplified the mindset training he and his players underwent during the season.

The journey of RIT’s 2021 campaign has been defined by the team’s ability to cherish every moment. That was the theme of 2021 across college athletics on the whole. But RIT took it to another level, ending a frustrating run of near-misses that included championship game losses in 2013 (to Stevenson) and 2017 (to Salisbury). 

The Tigers worked with mindset coach Mike Moor from Z-Winning Mindset, focusing on scheduling “planned distractions” to help take pressure off the sometimes monumental tasks at hand — like competing for a national title. 

That led to an unorthodox pre-championship morning. RIT players didn’t watch film. They didn’t drown out the outside world with noise-canceling headphones and their favorite music. 

They went to Dave & Buster’s to play arcade games for an hour. 

There was Marley Angus, hours away from notching one goal and one assist against Salisbury, piling up tickets on the “Kung Fu Panda” game. A couple of freshmen felt the need for speed and raced the team’s bus drive in “Tokyo Drift.” The players combined their tickets at the end of the session to — fittingly — redeem them for two stuffed white tigers. 

“We are the first team — I guarantee — in NCAA history to go to Dave & Buster’s before the NCAA championship game,” Sundown said. 

The relaxed nature is reflective of Sundown’s renewed sense of self. At press time, Sundown is 11 months sober, a lifestyle change that’s completely reshaped his vision. It’s not lost on his teammates or coaches, who say he’s turned his life around. 

“He’s a good human being,” Coon said. 

Sundown, who had 50 points this spring but will forego another season at RIT so he can fulfill his lifelong NLL dream and join the NLL’s New York Riptide, said his sobriety can be an example for Native youth everywhere. 

“I truly appreciate the opportunity to share that personal landmark for me with the lacrosse world and for Native kids to see they can do it without alcohol or drugs,” he said.

A shorter version of this article appears in the Championship Edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

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