Dick Szlasa Selected for Induction into IMLCA Hall of Fame
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) has announced that former Navy men’s lacrosse coach Dick Szlasa, who directed the Midshipmen to 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, is among seven coaching greats who have been named to the IMLCA’s Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
The Class of 2017 - Avery Blake Sr. (Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania), Tom Hayes (Drexel University, Rutgers University), Sid Jamieson (Bucknell University), Jack Kaley (New York Institute of Technology), Dick Szlasa (United States Naval Academy, Washington and Lee, Towson University), and Morris Touchstone (United States Military Academy, Yale University) - will be formally inducted to the IMLCA Hall of Fame on Friday, Dec. 8, at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. To purchase tickets, visit www.IMLCACoaches.com.
“This is a meaningful moment for me to be selected for induction into the IMLCA Hall of Fame,” said Szlasa, who now resides in Westminster, Md. “Many years ago I looked up to coach named Avery Blake who basically created zone defense. One day I was able to meet him and he told me, ‘all you have to do is hang around lacrosse long enough to have something good happen to you’.” I guess I have hung around long enough to receive this great honor.”
Szlasa arrived in Annapolis in 1973 after serving as head coach at Washington & Lee from 1968-72 where he posted a 33-23 record and saw 13 players earn All-America recognition. For Szlasa, the task of replacing one of the most beloved coaches in Navy lacrosse history, Willis Bilderback, could not be a more daunting challenge, but one he met with open arms and one in which Bilderback in turn helped support.
“I can’t think of a finer or more humble man than Willis Bilderback,” said Szlasa. “Bildy stayed on for my first year and he would always leave a note of encouragement on my desk after a game. It didn’t matter if we won 20-0 or lost 20-0, he would always find some aspect of the game to compliment me or the team about. I learned a great deal from him, as he had a football mind and was the first lacrosse coach to break down film. I have great respect for him and I could not be more proud to be part of a hall of fame in which he, too, is a member of.”
Szlasa amassed an 85-44 record in his 10 seasons at Navy where he coached two national award winners and 49 All-Americans. In his own words, his most significant accomplishment at Navy was “leading the team to 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths,” a feat no other Navy lacrosse coach can boast.
Among the most celebrated years during Szlasa’s tenure at Navy was the 1975 season when the Mids produced a 10-5 record and appeared in their first NCAA Championship Game (1971 was inaugural NCAA Championship). Six of their eight regular-season wins were against teams ranked among the top 10. The third-ranked Mids opened the NCAA Tournament with a decisive 17-6 win over No. 6 Penn before dealing No. 2 Cornell a 15-12 loss in the semis. Despite a valiant effort by the Mids, No. 4 Maryland would go on to claim the title behind a 20-13 victory.
“The best victory during my 10 years at Navy had to have been the win over Cornell in the 1975 national semifinals,” recalled Szlasa. “Quite honestly, it was because of Jake Lawlor. We had played Cornell earlier in the season and they clobbered us (16-7). In that game we put our fastest defender on Eamon McEneaney and Jake on Mike French, both of whom turned out to become hall-of-fame players. Jake came to me a week before the semis and asked to switch the matchups. I wasn’t sure we should, but it proved to be the smartest decision and I credit him with winning the game for us.”
Following the season, Szlasa became the second Navy coach to be presented the Morris Touchstone Memorial Award as the nation’s coach of the year, while Lawlor was awarded the Schmeisser Cup as the nation’s top defenseman.
“Dick Szlasa had one of the hardest jobs in lacrosse when he came to coach at Navy,” said Lawlor. “He arrived during the Vietnam War and at that time, the war and the military were very unpopular, protests and civil unrest were occurring. As such, we were very happy to get a coach of his caliber to join us at the Naval Academy. He also had the challenge of following the legendary Navy coach Willis Bilderback which was not an easy task. Dick achieved success immediately and soon became a Navy coaching legend himself. His career statistics are more than impressive. Some of the best players in the country were recruited by Dick to come to play at Navy, including National Hall of Fame inductees Jeff Long and Mike Buzzell. The combination of playing and coaching talent put Navy in the NCAA playoffs every year for 10 consecutive years. In 1975, Dick’s Navy team played for the National Championship against Maryland, Dick’s alma mater. He was the reason why Navy made it to the National Championship game and went on to be named the National Coach of the Year in 1975 for his efforts. I consider him a great coach, leader and friend. I am extremely pleased that he is being recognized for his contribution to the sport of lacrosse.”
That same season an attackman by the name of Jeff Long began to make his presence known. Long earned Third-Team All-America recognition in 1975 and recorded a school-record nine assists in a victory over Hofstra the following year, garnering second-team honors. Although Navy was defeated in the 1977 national semifinals, Long established himself as one of the best attackmen in the country and earned First-Team All-America honors in his final season.
Long’s name remains splashed across the Navy record books for most assists in a game (9), season (53) and career (149), while also standing as Navy’s all-time career scoring leader with 233 points.
“The highlight of my day at Navy was going to lacrosse practice and of course ‘game day,” said Long, who has spent the last 30 years as the men’s lacrosse coach at Ithaca College. “Coach Szlasa was an integral part of my life on and off the field - everyday - for four years. He demanded a lot which I loved, was fair to everyone and allowed for personal creativity, which meant the most to me. He also believed in me which I appreciate to this day. He is a major reason why I entered the coaching profession. Having been recruited by him and by attending the Academy, he changed my life for the better. I will forever be indebted to him.”
Waiting in the wings, however, was a young attackman out of Syracuse, N.Y. named Mike Buzzell who was waiting his turn. Buzzell emerged his sophomore year, earning the first of three All-America citations as a member of the second team in 1978. He garnered First-Team All-America recognition in 1979 and ‘80 and in his senior season he was the recipient of the Lt. Col. Jack Turnbull Memorial Award presnted to the nation’s top attackman.
Buzzell and Long are the only two players in program history to score 200-plus points, while Buzzell remains the only player in Navy history to score 100 goals (111) and deal out 100 assists (111) over a career. Buzzell holds the school’s top two marks for most points in a season with 85 in 1979 and 78 in 1978, while his 13-point (5G, 8A) performance in a 1978 victory at Delaware remains atop the Mids’ single-game scoring list.
“I am so happy to hear that Dick Szlasa is being recognized for his truly great contribution to the sport of lacrosse,” said Buzzell. “He has given so much to this great game and has dedicated his life to the growth and success of this sport. I was fortunate to play for him during a record-setting four years from 1977-1980, that was a historical period for the Navy lacrosse team. His leadership and skill as a coach were the key components for the overwhelming success of our team. His critical insight, strategy and ability to organize in the challenging environment of the Naval Academy gave our team superior advantages that allowed for excellence. He had a unique ability to allow for each and every individual to grow within the boundaries of the military and to parallel that growth in athletics. This sometimes complicated dance between the commitments of a young midshipman and varsity athletics can be extremely difficult to manage. His calm guidance and ability to counsel each player and blend that into a successful team formula were the key reasons for our success. During practice and games, Coach Szlasa had a knack for refocusing my individual intensity toward the specific things that generated positive results on the field and it was his steady guidance that helped me in so many ways on and off the field. He could always get to the heart of the problem and find solutions to help me perform at the highest level. I am so thankful for his leadership, friendship and mentorship. I am proud to have played for one of the greatest coaches in the sport of lacrosse.”
A stroll back through memory lane is something Szlasa is most looking forward to when the IMLCA Class of 2017 is formally inducted in December. A chance to see some faces he helped not only to mold into sensational lacrosse players, but also tremendous leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps.
“The quality of young men that I was able to coach at the Naval Academy was something special. For me to see what many of them have gone on to become and achieve in their lives is something I can’t quite put into words.”
### Go Navy ###