Every coach gets to that point in the season, it’s the crossroads. If you win that critical game your future is bright. The athletes will start coming out of the woodwork and everyone will want to be a part of the new winning tradition. However, if you lose that game, you can be mired in mediocrity for seemingly forever. In 2010, Bellevue HS Coach John Baumann came to that critical point of the season, again and again, game after game and finally crossed that road into a state championship game and onto the state championship in an OT thriller. How did the kid from Oceanside HS in Long Island, NY end up winning two of the last three high school championships in the state of Washington? Walax.com sat down with Coach Baumann for a conversation about his New York roots, his success as a coach in Washington State high school lacrosse and the future of lacrosse in general.
Let’s start with your lacrosse background, how old were you when you first picked up a stick? The local middle school lacrosse coach, Mr. Dapalido knew my father and recruited me to play in the 7th grade.
What was it? My first stick was a royal blue STX laser Hi-Wall. Mr. Dapalido gave it to me. As a matter of fact, I just picked up the exact same stick from a company back in NY. Old school!
What position did you play and where did you play? I attended Oceanside HS on Long Island where I played attack and then from there I went to Nassau Community College under legendary Coach Speckmann. I ended my college career playing at the University at Albany NY.
Do you have a favorite lacrosse memory as a player?Yes. As a college player at UAlbany, we won the ‘97 ECAC semi-final game. We were underdogs going into the game and we stunned Sacred Heart University 11-10. Also, playing against crosstown rival Siena College was always fun.
How about a game that still bothers you from College? Yes, in college the ‘97 ECAC championship game, we lost by 1 after being up all game.
What do you think has changed the most since you started playing lacrosse back in the 7th grade? The gear and sticks for sure which could be one reason the game is played more specialized and controlled. Also, more athletes from all over are playing with serious lacrosse skills so coaches have the ability to specialize every aspect of the game. I like things when they were more up and down, run and gun style. The new college rules are changing to get us back to this type of game.
Did you play more than one sport in high school? I played football up to the 9th grade. I also played on my high school ice hockey team as well as a regional hockey team that would travel a bunch. I was also a wrestler throughout my youth and high school years. All these sports helped in regards to lacrosse. Nowadays, it seems very hard to play as many sports as I did when I was younger. I hear the college coaches say they look for “multi-sport athletes” but yet they are on the sidelines scouting all year long. It’s a tough dilemma to find a multi-sport athlete when you recruit one sport year round.
So how did you get involved in coaching? I started coaching my younger brother’s 6th grade team when I had some extra time while I was attending and playing at Nassau C.C. When I graduated UAlbany, I went straight to working 10 to 12 hour days in NYC. The first year or two out of college I really wasn’t involved in the sport except for a HS or college alumni game. I really felt a void and wanted back into the sport I played and loved so much. I decided to switch gears, took a summer off and worked a few lacrosse camps, including one of the Mercer Island summer camps. After that summer, I decided to take a chance, pursue more lacrosse opportunities and I moved out west in fall of 2004 to take the Bellevue HS head coaching job.
Do you have a favorite memory from coaching high school lacrosse? As a coach, it would have to be both of the State Championship seasons. Both of those teams realized their full potential. It was great to be part of it. Another great memory was traveling down to Texas and beating reigning state champion Highland Park at their place in 2011. Also, this past season going back to Long Island and representing the state of WA.
Speaking of championships, who do you think will be in the DI finals this year? Bellevue & Mercer
So, is there a game that you lost that still haunts you that you wish you could change? Tough question as a coach, I feel there are a lot more you wish you could change. There was a “play in game” vs. Curtis HS in 2006. We played them in the regular season and won by 10 goals. We play them in is this “tie breaker” game and lose by one. It was very tough.
Do you do anything in the off-season to get ready for the next spring season? First, I try to take a complete break away from lacrosse in August. I think this is good for coaches and players to take a little break. Then in January, the coaches get together and start to take a really good look at our upcoming season. Sometimes, we spend a weekend together and strategize for the upcoming season.
When you are coaching do you have a favorite saying? I say “it’s a 6 by 6” a lot in regards to the size of the goal but apparently I still have a New York accent at times so it would be something like “go get some wartter” (water).
How about a favorite drill that you like to run? I like the full field continual fast breaks drill ending with a 6 v 6 (middie marathon).
Do you have a favorite college team to watch these days? Syracuse
Do you have any tips to help a player make varsity?You have to practice more than your counterpart trying to make that same team/position. Be hungry and don’t be afraid of healthy competition inside your program.
How do you decide on team captains?We started a new process this year. The coaches at Bellevue choose the captains after letters are written by players stating why they should be considered a captain. In the past the team would for vote captains but we like our new approach.
Do you have any advice for the new or younger coaches that are just getting started? Yes, don’t be afraid to use what works from the other master coaches.
Best advice for a parent coaching youth? Read up on the sport, take the online USL level I & II tests online, watch quality HS teams, see what they do and see what could work for youth. MAKE IT FUN!
Let’s talk a little about the state of Washington high school lacrosse as a whole, where would you rate WA lax on the West Coast? Top, middle or needs work? I believe our top tier teams are right there with the best of the west coast teams. Sure things vary year to year but, I feel our best are pretty good, we usually prove it at the Northwest Invitational each year. Bellevue traveled to Dallas, Texas a couple of years ago and they have very good lacrosse and we faired pretty well on both trips.
What does Washington lacrosse need to improve on to get us on the National Map?More top tier teams. I believe we need close to 10 strong teams that can compete with the best not just the 4 or 5 we have now.
What is the biggest challenge for Washington high school lacrosse moving forward? Creating those top 10 core teams and doing it the right way. Also, quality coaches and officials will help the progress of Washington lax in the future.
Do you see a day in the near future when there are multiple DI, DII and DIII lacrosse schools on the West Coast (Pac-12)? Why? I sure hope so. I feel there are so many good home grown players here and so many of them don’t have a good opportunity to play NCAA ball. I hope things will be different ten years from now.
Do you have a College Final Four picks for this year? No idea but I like the parody that is showing up in the top 20 the last few years. I believe this will continue with the growth of the sport.
So when you are not prowling the sidelines or coaching clinics, what is your favorite non-lacrosse activity? Currently it’s teaching my two young boys any sport they are interested in at the moment. I also like to mountain bike, snowboard and play golf but having young kids those things have had to take a back seat for now.
Best concert you attended? I’ve been to a lot. I must say Pearl Jam at the Gorge was amazing. I have also seen the Grateful Dead a few times when Jerry was around which was great and changed my music experience.
Who is your favorite team - Mariners, Sounders or Seahawks (or other)? Seahawks, NY Jets (yes, I know it’s miserable) and the future NHL team that I hope comes to Seattle.
And finally, now that you have been out here for a few years, what is your favorite part of the Pacific Northwest?The beauty of the area with it’s the combination of mountains, water, outdoor and city activities. It has so much to offer.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Good luck this season.