A History of the Denison Lacrosse Program

Thomsen's leadership skills and experience quickly translated into more wins. In just his second season, 1967, the team dominated in nearly every game during another undefeated season (12-0). The Big Red won its first 11 contests by an average of 7.5 goals per game before squeezing out an overtime victory over Oberlin on the final day of the season. "It was a thrill," said Mason, who stayed with the program as an assistant coach under Thomsen. "We were loaded with good talent and Tommy really knew the game."

The Big Red's success hinged on its All-American goalie, Denison Hall of Famer Bob Martin '69. A primary subject in a 1969 Sports Illustrated article about the Big Red, Martin posted save percentages that won't likely be touched by another Big Red keeper. During the '67 season, he recorded a nearly unimaginable .800 save percentage. He then stopped opponents at a clip of .771 when Denison was voted the first-ever college division national champion in 1968. Those marks still stand as the best single seasons by a Denison goalie.

Thomsen's early success more than secured his job. He stayed at the helm of Big Red lacrosse for 25 years, leading his teams to 11 conference championships and leaving a foundation that has carried on to this day. He retired in 1990 with a record of 255 wins and 97 losses and, on the date of his 200th victory, was one of only three coaches with 200 or more wins. All told, 32 players earned All-American honors under Thomsen's watch and hundreds more earned all-conference honors.

The Big Red mentor invested himself in his players and their welfare. "Tommy was a very patient teacher," said Steve Nazaruk '73, an All-American and Denison Hall of Famer. "He allowed us to grow at our own pace." He invited players into his home, introduced them to his family and, every four years, took his team to England for a three-week playing tour. As a result of his hospitality, selflessness, and kind nature, Thomsen became revered by generations of Big Red lacrosse players. Even after graduation, alumni wanted to stay close to their coach and the program. After coaching alongside Thomsen from 1975 to 1980, Nazaruk organized a Denison alumni team that played in the 1999 Summit Lacrosse Classic in Lake Placid. When his recruits found out Thomsen would coach them, 26 alums made the trip to play for their old coach.

When the NCAA launched its national tournament in 1971, all teams competed in the same division. Although in the running, the Big Red was never invited into the eight-team field. However, the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) hosted the Division III tournament from 1972 to 1979, and Denison was invited in 1972 and 1973. In 1980, the NCAA took the Division III tournament under its umbrella. When Denison earned its first berth in 1982, Thomsen got his chance to prove Denison's worth on a national stage.

The Big Red had amassed its highest win total ever in '82, finishing the regular season with a 15-2 record, earning the Big Red a No. 5 national ranking as it entered the national tournament, for which only eight teams could qualify until 1998.

"Absolutely my favorite season was 1982," said Andy John '84, Denison's all time points leader, and another Big Red Hall of Fame member. "We had a really great senior class that really stepped up and led the way for us." Leading that senior class was their captain and midfielder, Mike Riehl '82, who led the squad in goals with 52. Not to be outdone, John also netted 52 goals. John and Riehl's 1982 season is still third on Denison's single-season goal scoring list. The tandem's offensive prowess helped the team to a Midwest Championship and first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.

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2013-08-19



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