Bryant University's upset win over second-seeded Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament is a sweet victory for its coach, who has spent the past eight years building the program after he was fired as coach at Duke amid false rape allegations against three players.
"The word monumental comes to mind," coach Mike Pressler said on Monday after the 10-9 win Sunday over the Orange, one of the nation's top college lacrosse programs. "To pull that off was just a remarkable win. So proud of my guys, especially the senior class."
The Bulldogs are now preparing for Saturday's quarterfinals matchup against Maryland. It's the first time the Bulldogs have reached the quarterfinals in school history. They've played in Division I for just six years.
"Sometimes the stars are just in alignment, and Seabiscuit wins, and Bryant beats Syracuse," said Bryant President Ron Machtley, calling it a storybook win. "They've given everybody confidence that although we're a relatively unknown and small school, we don't worry about stepping onto a playing field with schools that think that they have a superior ability to win. We can win, and Mike proved it last night."
Pressler was used to high-profile success during 16 seasons at Duke. He had 153 wins there, including three Atlantic Coast Conference championships, and 10 trips to the NCAA tournament. He was named the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association's coach of the year in 2005.
But his career was nearly ruined in 2006, when a woman said she was raped during a lacrosse team party. The season was canceled and Pressler was fired, even though an internal university investigation later concluded he was the only school employee to take significant action when misconduct accusations arose. North Carolina state prosecutors later declared the players innocent.
When Pressler came to Bryant in August 2006, the Bulldogs played in Division II and the program was just a few years old. They entered Division I in his third season there and the team made the playoffs in its first year of eligibility last year. Pressler signed a 5-year contract extension in the fall to stay through 2019.
Pressler says the events at Duke are "very much in the rearview mirror," and his team's appearance in last year's tournament was more emotional than this year, when the goal is "to get there and go beyond."
He says he's asked about the possibility of his team facing Duke more than he thinks about it, and that their hands are full with Maryland.
"We've got a long way to go before that's even a thought. The only way we would possibly see Duke would be in the national championship game, I believe," he said. "If somehow that did materialize either this year or years to come, I think there would be a story there. But we don't have enough time on our hands to be thinking about those things right now."