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Making changes

New lacrosse club coach has a struggling team facing his proven, former team.

The distance between Florida State and USF may only be a little more than 200 miles, but first-year lacrosse coach John Matzke will tell you the two teams are worlds apart.

The ex-assistant coach for the Seminoles (12-1), Matzke has struggled to get the Bulls (0-10) their first win in more than three years, while his former team has dominated conference SELC as the No. 9 MCLA Division A team. USF is 0-30 since joining Division A.

Friday night, Matzke will face the Seminoles for the first time since leaving in January.

He said getting a win over a talented Seminole squad will be tough, but wants his players to model their play after his former squad.

“I bonded with the FSU kids,” Matzke said. “But my heart and my future is here.”

The 33-year-old New Jersey native has been coaching lacrosse for most of his adult life.

Coaching in Florida has been much different than what Matzke is used to – lacrosse is a northern sport that continues to gain popularity elsewhere – but said the players he coached at FSU were mature in an established program.

“We had kids who came to FSU to be a part of a big lacrosse program in Florida,” Matzke said.

However, this year has been the antithesis of his stay in Tallahassee. Matzke has players at USF who have never played a lacrosse game in their lives, something he isn’t used to at this level.

“I assume so much,” Matzke said. “When I coach, I assume they know what I mean. To some of the players it is like learning a foreign language, and I have to start with the basics.”

Goalie Micah Marazon was one of those players. When he walked on to the Bulls’ lacrosse team three years ago, Marazon had never played a game but knew he wanted to be a part of the club team. He said large improvements have come to the team since the arrival of Matzke.

“Things are more organized, more positive and motivated,” Marazon said.

Team president Mike Hayes has gone through four coaches while playing club lacrosse at USF, and even though the team has yet to break its losing streak, he has seen more productivity out of his team this year than in any other season. He attributes much of that to Matzke.

“(Matzke) is probably the best coach I’ve had at USF,” Hayes said. “We’re just more organized.”

Hayes said this is the first year the players have practiced a consistent four days a week and had a solid 25 players on the roster.

“Last year we got to the point where players were just coming out to the games,” Hayes said. “Now we’re actually out here wearing the same uniforms, and everyone is on the same page. And coming from what we’ve been through, this has been a big step forward.”

Hayes is confident the Bulls will be a bigger contender next year, and Matzke thinks the team will see an increase in the amount of players who will try out, even though nearly 90 percent of the team is returning, including Hayes.

“Every day I get e-mails from prospective players,” Matzke said. “With this many individuals reaching out, I think we will easily double our numbers next season.”

Matzke was offered a stipend to coach the lacrosse team, but chose to have his pay put into the team to help purchase new uniforms. He knows that even the smallest things, such as uniforms, can bring a group of players together and hopes a strong performance against FSU on Friday will set the stage for a successful 2008 season.

“At the beginning of the season, the team didn’t know my expectations,” Matzke said. “It has been a feeling-out process. I’ve never been a part of a losing team, but we haven’t lost any players yet and have progressed since Game 1.”