(Photo Courtesy of NC State Athletics)
A few weeks ago, I looked at the early days of college lacrosse in Georgia, specifically concerning Georgia Tech’s varsity stint, albeit it a short one, in the sport during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Well, this week we head six hours north to Tobacco Road, and take a look at another ACC school that once had men’s lacrosse, NC State.
North Carolina and Duke were two of the first schools in the south to field lacrosse programs, doing so in the mid to late 1930s. Both are still in the game today and are powerhouses of the sport. Well, NC State took a little bit longer to get in on lacrosse and they didn’t stay too long, either.
The Wolfpack started out as a club program under head coach Col. Robert E. Conroy in 1972 and were elevated to varsity status ahead of the 1973 season, where they went 3-8 overall and 0-2 in the ACC. The success of the team wasn’t any better in 1974, which was Charlie Patch’s first season at the helm of the Wolfpack lacrosse program, as they went 1-10 and 0-2 in the ACC.
In addition, that 1974 season was also the first time that Patch had ever coached lacrosse In 2011, Patch told the Wilmington Star-News, “Believe it or not, the first game I coached at NC State was the first full lacrosse game I’d ever seen.”
But after that rough first season of the Patch era, things started to go up for the Wolfpack lacrosse program. They increased their win totals started each season, going 3-7 and 0-2 in the ACC in 1975 and 5-8 and 0-2 in the ACC during the 1976 season.
The third season of the Patch era, 1977, was a historic one in Raleigh, as the Wolfpack lacrosse program started to rise. And the talent that helped the rise at NC State came from north of the border, as future U.S. and Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer arrived in Raliegh ahead of that season.
Behind a 52-goal freshman season from Cockerton, NC State churned out their first winning season, going 10-4 overall and being ranked as high as No. 14 in the nation. That season also saw the Wolfpack go 1-1 in the ACC, beating Duke, 14-6, on April, 13th to secure their first-ever win over an ACC opponent.
1978 saw much of the same from the Wolfpack, as they went 9-4 overall 3-1 in the ACC, beating Virginia, 24-19, North Carolina, 12-6, and Duke, 17-15, and being ranked as high as No. 9 in the nation. Those wins over Virginia and North Carolina were the first in program history for the Wolfpack.
Patch stepped down following that magnificent 1978 season and former Virginia assistant Larry Gross took over the Wolfpack lacrosse program and continued the growth and development that had occurred under Patch.
In the first season of the Gross era, 1979, NC State made its first and only NCAA Tournament appearance. As the No. 8 seed in the tournament, the Wolfpack was pitted up against No. 1 seed and eventual national champion Johns Hopkins in the first round (quarterfinals). The Blue Jays won 16-7.
The Wolfpack went 6-5 overall and 2-2 in the ACC in 1980, which marked the end of Cockerton’s college lacrosse career. He ended with 280 points (193G/87). His goals per game average of 4.39 sill ranks No. 1 in NCAA DI history and his points per game average of 6.36 still ranks No. 2 in NCAA history.
NC State went 7-4 overall and 1-3 in the ACC during the 1981 season, finishing ranked No. 11 in the nation. In their tenth and final season as a program, 1982, the Wolfpack went 5-6 overall and 1-3 in the ACC.
Despite the losing record of their final season of play, NC State had some bright spots, including future U.S. Hall of Famer Tim Nelson. The attackman tallied 49 points (15G/34A) during his freshman season at NC State. He transferred to Syracuse, where he won three consecutive Turnbull Awards and helped lead the Orange to the 1983 national title.
The Wolfpack lacrosse program was short-lived, only lasting ten years, but the height that they were able to reach in just that bit of time is impressive. The demise of the program is often attributed to Title IX by many, but the university never actually listed it as a reason for shutting down the program. Ultimately, with Duke and North Carolina being the only other in-state teams and all their recruiting having to be done out-of-state due to there no high school lacrosse programs in North Carolina at the time, there was a certain financial strain put on the program that led to its ultimate demise.
With Boo Corrigan, brother of Notre Dame head coach Kevin Corrigan and son of the late Gene Corrigan who was the head coach a W&L and Virginia, and later served as the AD at Virginia and commissioner of the ACC and president of the NCAA, being hired as the new AD at NC State in January of 2019, there could be hope for a resurrection of the Wolfpack lacrosse program. After all, Corrigan led the charge to bring women’s lacrosse to Amy during his time as AD at West Point.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated in February, Corrigan stated multiple challenges that NC State faces as it concerns to bringing back lacrosse. So, it doesn’t appear that the lacrosse world will be seeing NC State grace the lacrosse field any time too soon.