Fixed on the fringe of the lacrosse frontier, Butler remains a curiosity in the sport. Back at home, the Bulldogs appear relegated as a campus oddity.
So where does Butler fit in?
Answer: the NCAA tournament.
Despite little recognition, endless road trips and an uphill recruiting battle, Butler did it. In only their sixth year, the Bulldogs will play No. 5 Maryland at Homewood Field on Sunday in their first NCAA tournament game.
"We've come a long way in a short time," said coach Jon Hind, who began the program in 1993. "At summer camps, I always felt like the Maytag repairman. I would be sitting all alone at my table with Butler on it, and there would be 20 or 30 kids in line at the tables beside me."
A majority of the lacrosse community couldn't pinpoint Butler on a map. By the way, the Bulldogs are from Indianapolis.
Butler's local newspaper occasionally runs just the final score and isn't planning to send a reporter to Sunday's game. And the Indiana folks seem to be warming up to the sport but still can't refrain from quizzically looking at those guys carrying the obscure long-handled sticks with the net at the end.
The Bulldogs (11-3), who have increased their win total each year, remember seeing those same puzzled stares in their season opener in Chapel Hill, N.C. Setting the tone for the season, Butler stunned North Carolina, 13-12, marking the Tar Heels' first loss to a Midwestern school in their 49-year history.
"I think some guys were shocked," said attackman D'Arcy Sweet. "We were beating Carolina 8-1 and I think some guys said to themselves, 'Hey, we're a pretty good team.' "
A week later, Butler handed Ohio Wesleyan, Division III's top-ranked team, its only defeat of the season. After losses to Georgetown and Delaware, the Bulldogs reeled off a school-record seven straight wins. Butler's 11 regular-season wins are the most by the Midwest tournament representative in six years.
"I've been telling people for years that Butler was for real," said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan, whose Fighting Irish had won all five previous meetings with the Bulldogs. "And now their teams lose to Butler, and they realize it."
Butler won four games during that seven-game streak by two goals or less and have posted three one-goal wins. Those victories can be attributed to the closeness of the team. But that's what happens when you put 34 players on a bus for 84 hours over a nine-week period.
With nine of its first 12 games on the road, Butler has made a couple of 13-hour hauls to North Carolina as well as treks to Delaware, Pennsylvania and Ohio in a two-month period.
"The bus thing doesn't really bother us," midfielder Cory Kahoun said. "We're definitely a tight-knit group. We would have to be. We watch lots and lots of movies and you get to hear a lot of good stories, too."
However, Butler will be changing its accustomed travel plans by flying here this weekend. The Bulldogs also unanimously voted to travel around town in vans rather than a bus.
"I don't ever have to go the movie theaters anymore," Hind said. "I catch up on every movie out there in the spring."
Athletic director John Parry, who was familiar with the sport during his 11-year tenure at Brown, needed a sport that could attract students out of state as well as be played on Butler's vast grass fields. So lacrosse was born in the heart of basketball country in Indiana, which had only two high schools fielding lacrosse teams last year and none within a three-hour drive of the school.
But Hind has beaten the odds at the 3,700-student school, attracting higher caliber athletes each year. Butler has no one on its roster from Indiana, drawing 13 players from the Midwest, a half-dozen from Long Island, five from upstate New York and two from Maryland.
And don't expect Hind to be so lonely at camps this summer. After the upset of North Carolina, three recruits who had passed on Butler earlier in the year called Hind about possibly playing for the Bulldogs.
Hind warmly accepted all three back. Maybe there isn't an identity crisis at Butler after all.
"When I was home over winter break, people came up to be, saying, 'Butler? Where's Butler? Why Butler?' " said defenseman Kevin Grizzle, a Severna Park native who admitted not knowing Butler's location before last year. "It didn't bother me though. Butler was one of the few Division I schools willing to give me a chance and I knew we were going to be good. Now I'll get my chance to tell them when I get home."
Far and away
A look at the automatic Midwestern bid's 1-11 record in the NCAA tournament:
Yr. School .. .. ..Opp. .. .. .. .. ..Result
'87 Mich. St. .. ..UNC .. .. .. .. .. L 21-5
'88 A. Force .. ...Loyola .. .. .. .. L 19-8
'89 Mich. St. .. ..Adelphi .. .. .. . L 16-10
'90 N. Dame .. .. .Harvard .. .. .. . L 9-3
'91 Mich. St. .. ..Syracuse .. .. .. .L 28-7
'92 N. Dame .. .. .Hopkins .. .. .. ..L 15-7
'93 N. Dame .. .. .Virginia .. .. .. .L 19-9
'94 N. Dame .. .. .Virginia .. .. .. .L 23-4
'95 N. Dame .. .. .Duke .. .. .. . ...W 12-10
.. .N. Dame .. .. .Maryland .. .. .. .L 14-11*
'96 N. Dame .. .. .Hopkins .. .. .. ..L 12-7
'97 N. Dame .. .. .Loyola .. .. .. ...L 21-5
* -- Quarterfinals
Pub Date: 5/08/98