Resetting The Record: A Rick Sowell Saga
One of only four Division I coaches to take three different teams to the NCAA Tournament.
"He lives in the LAX Box. And he checks every one of them."
With dreams of Dr. J and visions of the Super Bowl-winning 1972 Dallas Cowboys flickering on his family TV set in Upstate New York, Rick always knew he wanted to be in the pantheon of sports. But he didn't pick up a lacrosse stick until he was fifteen – and it was love at first play.
As a sophomore midfielder at Horseheads High School in his LAX Varsity season, Rick's team went 5-13 – and he scored no goals. Two years later, he scored sixty – and we went 14-5. Willing this change of athletic fortune proved an unwitting introduction to his future coaching philosophy laid on the twin bedrocks of player development and team rebuilding. The untapped potential of athletes and squads continues to be Rick's North Star every time he steps on the field.
He played every position back then – except in the goal (he's not that masochistic). At Washington College, Rick proved to be an All-American and Midfielder of the Year, helping lead the Shoremen to the NCAA National Championship in 1984 and 1985.
After graduating, he played Club Lacrosse for several years, selected to try out for the USA National Team on three occasions. While he unfortunately never made the team (came close), he claims it was the best lacrosse environment he ever experienced. He had the fortune of playing box lacrosse professionally for five years and was a three-time first-team All-Pro. All this playing experience proved unparalleled training as an LAX coach.
From The Cradle to The Whistle
Over a decade later, Rick was an assistant coach for the USA National team, claiming Gold over Canada on the world's stage in Manchester, England. And a long way from being a sophomore midfielder, his high school career earned him the accolades of Coach of the Year five times in three separate conferences and a Regional Coach of The Year in New England.
As for the college programs, Rick took them by storm.
He led Dartmouth, Stonybrook, and Navy to the NCAA tournament. During his collegiate career, he earned the reputation of a "program builder." Taking over teams with losing records and turning them around to implausible success stories, rewriting the schools' athletic programs' narratives in real-time. And in the case of Dartmouth and Stonybrook, those teams achieved a level of success they never had before or since he left.
As Rick looks back on my entire playing and coaching career, it's striking to him how he's been a part of so many builds/rebuilds. He didn't plan for this to be an integral part of his identity, of righting ships and resurrecting Phoenixes from the athletic ash. But apparently, he goes where he's most needed. He can't resist the gravity of a gritty challenge and the transformative glory of a hard-earned victory.
The Future of Lacrosse
Rick's approach to putting together our STJ club team is no different from when he coached at the Division I level. He's still about high standards, grounded accountability, and unmatched fun. He infuses tactics with the ethos of playing for something more than yourselves, being the best teammate, and taking pride in besting your opponents. Talent may be the fire in grasping a high level of success, but the oxygen of the program remains team culture.
And to that little kid in Horseheads, NY, awestruck by his favorite teams from afar half a century ago – Rick hopes he's made him proud. But as thrilled as his former self would be with all the game-time action he got in as a player, I think he'd be more impressed by how rewarding it is for him to coach and mentor the next generation of lacrosse greats.
Parents, we invite your players to join in this legacy as we continue to move the game forward. Become part of the future of LAX at The St. James.