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Duluth Lacrosse: A Family Affair

By Dave Franklin, 02/19/19, 11:00PM CST

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This is a profile from the MCLA on some of the family values that have been a historic part of our program

The lacrosse program at Minnesota-Duluth is one that has had a long-standing, positive affect on the MCLA. More than most people realize. 

It was a big deal that the program had four alumni as acting head coaches competing for their respective championships during the 2014 national tournament. 

Sam Litman was the head man at his alma mater after spending years as an assistant on the UMD staff. Derek Daehn was steering the ship for St. John's while Mike Dubbelde was bringing the start-up FGCU Eagles into the national spotlight. And there was young Pete Nelson, who really brought Indiana to the next level. 

Two years later, the Bulldogs program was in transition. 

Conference realignments put the team in a position to go from an overlooked Division I conference to the most elite Division II league in the country. 

And as Litman's family and construction business grew, he knew it was soon time to pass the reigns. In true Duluth fashion, the program took on two recent alums – Alex McNamara and Ben Blaeser – as co-head coaches. 

Little did anyone know, the coaching change would bring the best player in Duluth history to campus in 2018.

Scott McNamara is the youngest of three boys and grew up around the Bulldogs as he looked up to his oldest brother, Alex. 

Picture #1

"Being in the same class as Alex, I was always close with the McNamara family," said Blaeser, "The summer after our freshman year, Scotty was a camper at the Bulldog camp that Alex and I were working. It's awesome to think that those experiences may have affected Scott's decision to eventually come our way."

The youngest McNamara got a lot of attention as a high school recruit out the Academy of Holy Angels High School. 

"It was evident pretty early that he was a special player," said Alex, who at the time was splitting assistant coaching duties at both Duluth and Holy Angles. "He was a strong, downhill dodger who was great at shooting on the run. He was hard to miss."

Upon high school graduation, Scott committed to play NCAA Division I lacrosse at Marquette. 

"I am eternally grateful for my experience with Marquette and their program as it shaped me at a pivotal point in my journey," Scott said, recalling his first two years as a collegiate student athlete. 

However, just as Scott is a student of the game on the field, the 2018 MCLA Scholar Athlete and finance major is equally as dedicated in the classroom. 

"I am adamant about my career and that much lacrosse was a large commitment,” Scott said about playing at Marquette. “To the point where I was uncomfortable with my academic progress and the right decision was to refocus."

The wheels started in motion for Scott's transfer to UMD. 

"I've had the luxury of growing up around [the Duluth] program and the culture is something I cannot praise enough,” Scott said. “The program's passion and vested interest in personal development is one that stuck with me from the early days at Bulldog camp to my time playing for Rob Graff and other UMD alumni with Team Minnesota. It's a deep-rooted love.”

There was also the fact that he would be reconnecting with his oldest brother.

“I attribute a lot of my moxie to my little brother mentality and having such good role models in both Alex and [middle brother] Luke,” Scott continued. “Alex was local right out of college and having his house to get away to and hangout with other Bulldog alumni was something I always looked forward to as a youngster. These moments really resonated with me and led to the desire to be surrounded by this type of people."

Scott finished 2018 with 103 points and all the accolades you can imagine: First Team All-American, Scholar Athlete, UMLC Offensive Player of the Year, etc. 

"The only award he cares about is finishing the season with a win at the MCLA Tournament," said Blaeser. "It's all business between Alex and Scott, we were fortunate to bring Scott in with four other NCAA transfers, so it was on our staff to really up our game overall to accommodate the new class that Scott was a part of.

“Scott has a high lacrosse IQ and is close with Alex, so they talk offline about things Scott sees at practice that we might not. That said, it's all for the betterment of the team. Every game is a business trip and the McNamara brothers treat it as such."

This Friday, the season-opening business trip could not get any more monumental for Duluth as they face defending MCLA D-II champions and conference foe, North Dakota State. 

Last year, the Bulldogs went 0-3 against the Bison, including semifinal losses in the UMLC and national championships.

"Everyone is pretty jacked to make a statement against the No. 1 team in the country right out the gate," said Blaeser, and was echoed by the oldest McNamara. 

"Scotty might have had three of his weakest statistical performances on the season against NDSU last year. He's a team guy who cares about winning more than scoring, so any personal vengeance he may have must be subconscious," said Alex.

Scott's response dictated as much. 

"The group we have this year is hell-bent,” he said. “The first game on the calendar is the most personal one for the returning group noting last year's shortcomings. I am convinced of our preparedness and the seniors have fostered a different attitude for this year. 

“Our last year of organized sport will ensure the type of energy we carry and the standard we set through the season."

* * *

In my season opening piece listing the top 19 moments from my MCLA journalism career, No. 4 was the 2012 season opening tournament game between top-seeded Cal Poly and No. 16 Duluth where the Mustangs needed overtime to fight off the Bulldogs in one of the most exciting lacrosse games I've ever had the privilege to announce. 

Alex McNamara and Ben Blaeser were seniors on that team and, despite the loss, both played great against Cal Poly that day. Alex scored five goals while Ben went 1-1 and was all over the field as a two-way midfielder.