The U.S. Naval Academy men's lacrosse program hasn't dominated the Patriot League this decade the way it did in the 2000s, and a 6-7 record in 2019 led to Rick Sowell's firing after eight seasons as head coach of the Midshipmen.
With a 54-56 career record, Sowell became the school's first losing men's lacrosse head coach and only made the NCAA tournament once. New head coach Joe Amplo, however, is not simply looking to exceed his predecessor's accomplishments. He wants to return Navy lacrosse to the powerhouse it was when the school made six straight NCAA Tournaments after joining the Patriot League in 2004.
"I grew up in the sport in the '90s and the 2000s watching Navy be very good and seeing the camaraderie and the friendships and the bandwagon that was built around that program," Amplo said on
Glenn Clark Radio
June 11. "I can sense that already. ... There is an excitement and a potential for all that to come back."
Amplo was the first-ever head coach of the Marquette men's lacrosse team, which had its inaugural season in 2012. He posted a 52-53 career record in eight seasons with the school. As expected for a new program, the Golden Eagles started slowly, but Amplo won 2014 Big East Coach of the Year honors in just his second season at the helm and led his team to two conference tournament championships in 2016 and 2017, earning automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament in the process.
Amplo came to Marquette with 11 years of collegiate coaching experience, 10 of which came at Hofstra, his alma mater. The 2016 season was Marquette's best year under Amplo, as the Golden Eagles reached their first NCAA Tournament appearance on the heels of a victory against No. 1 Denver in the Big East tournament championship. But Amplo's teams fizzled out and finished 6-8 his last two seasons.
Even after being a lacrosse pioneer for Marquette, Amplo sees his new job with Navy as a dream come true and an honor considering the program's rich history.
"First and foremost, the opportunity to work at what I consider to be the world's best leadership institution, above everything else, is the most exciting part of the opportunity for me," Amplo said. "The opportunity to work with young men who are going to go and be leaders within the military and do great things in the world, to me, means you're coaching for a higher purpose, and myself and my staff serve one small part in that development."
Amplo doesn't have a military background or many personal connections to the area outside of recruiting, but that doesn't mean he feels shy about embracing Navy's culture or the expectations from those surrounding the program to compete at the highest level. While he hasn't gotten the chance to form a connection with his players and staff yet, he said he's already spoken to the captains of his new team and expects the rest of his players to be upstanding young men as well.
"I walked through their Hall of Fame last week and that was the most impressive thing to me with this whole experience thus far, just walking in there and really understanding the responsibility that I have to bring the Naval Academy lacrosse program back to the national spotlight," Amplo said. "I think there's a true desire from the alums ... to be fully engaged in the program. I think that's something that's been missing recently."
Amplo didn't always see himself as a college lacrosse coach, let alone the head coach of one of the nation's best programs. He said he originally wanted to teach and coach at the high school level, in large part because of the great influences he had playing football and lacrosse at Sachem High School in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
He cited Sachem football coach Fred Fusaro and Duke men's lacrosse coach John Danowski as the two biggest influences in his coaching career.
"I knew I wanted to work in education when my grandmother passed away in my junior year of high school and [Fusaro] showed up at the viewing. When he did that, I said, 'That's the impact I want to have on young men in their lives,'" Amplo said. "If I can have a small impact like that on any young person in their formable years, then my job has been a success."
Amplo won't put any pressure on the Mids to produce wins right away because he feels spending time speculating on the future wastes time on improving in the present. He wants and expects to win, and says the best way to get to that point is to first have the mindset of a champion.
"Honestly, my only goal is to get better every day and demand the most out of my people. ... If I do that, we recruit well, I got a really good feeling that we're going to be able to compete at the highest level of our sport," Amplo said. "What that timetable looks like, God only knows, but I can tell you that we're going to act like champions from this moment forward and see where that takes us."
To hear more from Amplo, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marquette Athletics