A familiar face and — one with head coaching experience — has been tabbed to lead the Stillwater boys’ lacrosse team after Ryan Clark was selected to replace Travis Sanders, who resigned last month to become the head coach of the Bethel University club team.
Clark served as an assistant coach with the Ponies last spring, when the JV team he led lost just one game. He served as head coach for two seasons while compiling a 16-9-1 record at Rochester Mayo in 2009-10, leading the Spartans to a Big 9 Conference championship and 10-5 record in 2010.
“He’s very energetic and the players seem to like him,” Stillwater activities director Ricky Michel said. “His communication skills are probably a strength and he did a nice job for us (as an assistant).”
Clark is an Irondale graduate, who played soccer and lacrosse there before also competing in both sports as an undergrad at Bethel. After his two seasons coaching in Rochester, he also spent one year coaching at the University of Minnesota while working on his masters degree in kinesiology. Clark was eager to join the Stillwater program last spring because of the school’s tradition of success and similiar philosophies as Sanders, who has coached the Ponies since they became a varsity sport in 2008.
Stillwater has finished second in the Suburban East Conference each of the past two years after winning its first league title in 2010. Sanders led the Ponies to a 47-24 record in five seasons.
“Travis is the person who started it, the first varsity coach we’ve had, and he did a nice job starting the program,” Michel said. “I think Travis made a good name for Stillwater lacrosse and we were very competitive under his leadership. We wish him the best.”
Clark said he was content to continue as an assistant coach with the Ponies, but not entirely surprised by the opportunity to move into the head coaching role.
“I’m not surprised because Travis is an excellent coach and an opportunity like Bethel comes to people who are successful,” Clark said. “I was pleasantly surprised that it fell in my lap. I really enjoyed coaching with Travis and my preparations were planning on working with him, but very pleasantly surprised to have it work out like this. Stillwater is an amazing program and an amazing community, kind of a premier spot to be.”
Clark resides in Arden Hills and teaches physical education and health education while also serving as athletic director at Achieve Language Academy, a K-8 charter school located in northeast St. Paul. He said he doesn’t plan many significant changes, but is eager to remain competitive and build on the program’s previous success.
“I’m a firm believer in holding high expectations and supporting those student-athletes in achieving those high expectations,” Clark said. “I believe a win-loss record is the initial indicator of success, but I also firmly believe the quality of student-athletes you graduate from your program is a strong indicator of the health of your program. We’re going to be real competitive, but we’re also concerned with the quality of future workers and bosses and men as they leave our program. We want to turn young men into men, for the sake of others.”
The Ponies graduated seven seniors from a team that placed second in the conference behind White Bear Lake and finished 10-5 overall. Stillwater lost to eventual Section 4 champion and third-place finisher at state Totino-Grace 5-3 in the section quarterfinals.
“We do whatever we can to put our lacrosse players in situations for them and the team to be successful,” Clark said. “Stillwater High School and Stillwater the community is kind of a premier community academically and athletically. We have some boosters that have been working tirelessly. We have people who volunteer for youth lacrosse and we’re just reloading talent. We don’t do rebuilding, we just bring in talent that our youth program is preparing us with. We had a lot of athletes at the JV level who have developed and who in other programs could be varsity level players.”
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]