At Transylvania It’s a New Era With a Familiar Tune

(Photo Courtesy of Transylvania Athletics)

In the heart of Lexington, Ky. on North Broadway sits the small, quaint campus of Transylvania University. Having been originally chartered in 1780, it’s the oldest college in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and through its nearly 250 years of existence has churned out some of the most prominent figures in their respective fields who have won at every corner.

So it only makes sense that when Transy became the third college (2nd DIII) to add men’s lacrosse in the state, all they would do was win. And that is exactly what the Pioneers have done through their first nine seasons of existence under head coach and Kentucky lacrosse legend Terry Justice.

Under Justice, Transy has boasted an impressive 93-45 record (39-3 in conference play) and with the exception of 2014 where they went 7-7, have never not had a winning record by season’s end. On top of that, the Pioneers have won six consecutive Conference titles, the past four in which have led to NCAA Tournament appearances. That includes a season in 2021 in which they went 13-3 (4-0 HCAC) and saw their year end with a loss to Colorado College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

After nine seasons at the helm of the Pioneers, Coach Justice, a Kentucky lacrosse institution, decided to hang it up and retire, bringing an end to an era at Transy in which not only the foundation, but also standard was set. A standard of excellence.

Following in the shoes of the giant is Logan Otto, who was promoted to head coach after serving eight seasons as an assistant for the Pioneers. Calling Lexington home since his sophomore year in high school, Otto played under Justice at Lexington Catholic before eventually joining his staff at Transy. In essence, he was prepped and groomed for this moment over the years by the legend himself.

“Terry did a fantastic job of building the foundation of our program and left the cupboard full, and really put this program here at Transylvania in a good spot to continue to succeed.” Transylvania head coach Logan Otto said. “It’s been great to learn under him and be able to learn what it takes to lead one of the up and coming college lacrosse programs in DIII.”

Spending so many years under Justice as both a player and later as an assistant coach, the transition for Transy hasn’t been nearly as rocky as what can be seen with other coaching changes in the sport.

“Because I was with a coach like Terry Justice it allowed me to get the experience and be ready for this opportunity, so the transition has been pretty seamless. It is something that I have looked forward to and a job that I have always relished the opportunity to have, and now that I am getting on the field and getting to build our staff it’s something that has become an exciting reality.” Otto said.

The familiarity aspect with this coaching staff doesn’t stop with the head coach position either. Otto has kept defensive coordinator Josh Stewart, who has head coaching experience at both the college and high school level in Kentucky, and hired Pioneer great TJ Toivonen as an assistant coach.

An Oregon native, Toivonen played at Transy from 2017-2021 where he set records as the program’s all-time leader in caused turnovers and, along with Trenton Sneed, was one of the first two Transy players selected for the USILA Senior All-Star Game in program history. He now moves from playing on the field to walking the sidelines.

“He (Toivonen) has always been a natural born coach and I have seen that flourish throughout his college years. To get a player like him who holds program records is really cool, and he has been able to be a really great bridge between the team and myself…The guys really trust him so it was a natural fit to bring him on and an opportunity for him as I think he can be a rising star in coaching.”

Toivonen’s move to the sidelines, along with the graduation of four-year starting goalie Michael Webb, leaves some big holes to fill on the back end for the Pioneers coming into the 2022 season. The pair helped lead a defense that allowed just 7.94 goals per game as the 27th-best scoring defense in DIII a season ago.

Noah Alexander is the eldest statesman on the Pioneers’ defense, returning for a fifth and final season of college lacrosse after being a four-year starter at close for the Pioneers. He had 13 ground balls and seven caused turnovers a year ago. Junior Chase Parker, who was second on the team in caused turnovers (19) and had 21 ground balls a year ago, and senior Evan Deskins (24GB/6CT) also return as leaders at close.

“No one person can replace what we had in TJ and Mike, especially as communicators and the orchestrators of a defense,” Otto said. “It’s about having those guys who we have developed being able to take on a higher leadership role and take on that next big matchup, and on top of that being ready to play as a team…if we can as a team to do our best we should be in a really good spot.”

On the opposite end of the field, the Pioneers do lose some talent with the graduation of Trenton Sneed, who was the team’s second-leading point-getter a year ago with 49 points (21G/28A), but do return four of their top-five scorers from a year ago. That includes the duo of Bryce Lowe and Andrew Hammill.

Former high school teammates at Trinity in Louisville, the now senior and sophomore reconnected on the lacrosse field last spring and combined 105 points. Lowe put up 58 (44G/14A) as the Pioneer’s leading scorer while Hammill had 47 points off 43 goals and four assists.

“Andrew Hammill is one of the craftier finishers I have ever coached, to a fault where I don’t think people realize just how good of a one-on-one dodger he is. And Bryce Lowe is a great shooter and tremendous with the ball in his stick, but his impact on our team doesn’t end on the sidelines on the lacrosse field…He is a tremendous leader for us as a captain. But the beauty of both of those guys is that they rely on their teammates and are just super unselfish.”

The Pioneers also return Kayd Aquino (26G/5A) and Siever Utsey (19G/9A) as top-five scorers from a year ago on the offensive end. And at the faceoff dot, Peyton Bray returns for his senior season. Bray went 229-for-358 (64%) at the dot a year ago.

On top of the head coaching change, the Pioneers are also heading into a new era as far as conference alignment is concerned with the program’s move to the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) as an affiliate member in men’s lacrosse. The conference will be a bit tougher than the Pioneers’ prior home with teams such as Illinois Wesleyan, who has won the conference each of the past three full seasons and is coming off an NCAA DIII Elite Eight appearance, now on the schedule on a yearly basis.

“In the past we have really stacked our out-of-conference schedule to get us ready for NCAA play, and while we have kept that our in-conference schedule has certainly changed from our last conference and our young men are really excited about the challenge and opportunity to play multiple teams that on any given week could be voted into the top 25.” Otto said.

On what you can expect from the Pioneers in 2022, Coach Otto said he wants this team to be one that is gritty and prides itself on ground ball play. He says if they can do that this team can be in any game on any given day.

The Pioneers open up their season February 12th on the road against Marietta and their home opener is a week later against Wittenberg. They open up conference play at home against Illinois Wesleyan on March 26th.

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