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For the love of the Game

By Eric Benevides (Valley Breeze Sports), 08/24/17, 11:30AM EDT

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CUMBERLAND – When it comes to lacrosse, there's no downtime for Andrew Fink.

The Cumberland resident has spent the last 14 seasons as the head coach of the Mount Ida College men’s lacrosse team, which competes in the Division III Great Northeast Athletic Conference, and during his career with the Mustangs, he's posted an overall record of 163-82 and led the team to eight conference championships, including six in a row (from 2004-09) in the North Atlantic Conference and two straight (2011 and 2012) in the GNAC.

His resume at the Newton, Mass., school is an impressive one, but it's only a fraction of Fink's involvement with the sport he's grown to love since his days as an All-State player for the Rocky Hill School in the mid-1990s.

• Fink is also the co-owner of XCEL Lacrosse, a company that he said specializes in "growing the game and getting it exposure" through leagues and youth instructional camps.

• He and his coaching staff have been regular presenters at LaxCon, the U.S. Lacrosse National Convention.

On several occasions, he's coached men’s and women’s travel teams in European tournaments, such as the Lowlands Lacrosse Tournament in Amsterdam, the Berlin Cup, and the Prague Cup.

• He serves on the board of directors for the Cumberland Youth Lacrosse Association and "jumps in and helps out in any way he can," such as working with the older players during their indoor sessions and dropping off used equipment that the league could use.

And if that wasn't enough, Fink accepted a role in mid-April as the new general manager of the Boston Storm, a women's professional lacrosse team in the second-year United Women's Lacrosse League, which on Wednesday, Aug. 2, in Lake Placid, N.Y., returned to the UWLL championship game to battle the undefeated defending champion Long Island Sound, but suffered a 14-8 loss in the rematch.

"We had a great season," said Fink. "Our team goal was to get back to the championship, and we got hot at the right time. We had some injuries, but people started to get healthy (by the playoffs) and we sort of ran through the playoffs before we lost to Long Island."

Fink took a break from his busy schedule on Friday afternoon to talk lacrosse, not only about his background in the sport and some of the ways he's currently associated with it, but also about the rise of the sport, which 20 years ago, barely registered as a blip on the radar, but today, has given the national pastime of baseball a run for its money in terms of popularity.

"Who would have ever thought that?" asked Fink. "I graduated in 1997 from Rocky Hill, which had lacrosse, and no one really had any introduction to it. But I think the draw, even 20 years ago, is that you could be physical and the game was non-stop. I think some of today's kids are looking at baseball and their friends playing lacrosse and saying, 'It's so slow, but over there, my friends are flying all around.' Even my son, who's 6 years old and plays for the (CYLAX's) Lil Laxers, loves the up and down (pace).

"From just the tournaments, the leagues, and the number of kids playing in high school, it's unbelievable what lacrosse has done to baseball and how the kids are just really attacking the game. It's taken off, and I don't see it slowing down."

Fink and his family, which includes his wife, Noelle, son, Meyer, and 3-year-old daughter, Micah, moved from Providence to Cumberland five years ago, and he said one of the draws to moving to this town was the growth of lacrosse in it.

"I'm pretty sure Cumberland has the largest youth program in Rhode Island," he added. "It's a big program, and it's still a growing program, and this is just a very good sports town. We definitely moved here at the right time."

While Fink's background in lacrosse includes his superb career at Rocky Hill, it also features a standout four-year career at the University of Hartford, where he was a three-year starter on defense, and as a junior, a key player in helping the Hawks win the American East Conference regular-season championship.

A few years after graduating from Hartford with a degree in communications, Fink took over Mount Ida's program and put together an impressive career that also included 12 appearances in a conference title game and four trips to the NCAA Division III tournament, as well as NAC Coach of the Year honors in 2004 and 2010, the GNAC Coach of the Year award in 2011, and Mount Ida College's Coach of the Year award in 2009 and 2011.

During his time at Mount Ida, Fink has also been hard at work with XCEL Lacrosse, which was founded in 2004 and focuses on developing lacrosse players of all ages and skill levels through training sessions, clinics, leagues, and tournaments. XCEL currently runs a competitive women's summer league on the Mount Ida campus and youth, high school, and women's leagues at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, and the company hosted a four-day youth camp last month at St. Andrew's School in Barrington.

"This isn't something that pays our mortgage," said Fink. "We want to offer programs where you can learn about the game, get exposure to it, and experience it, but we don't want it to mean that it's going to cost hundreds of dollars to do that."

As for his GM gig with the Storm, the experience was a different one for Fink, not because he wasn't doing any coaching, but because he was working with women in their 20s and not college-aged men.

"And it was a great experience," said Fink, whose team posted a 2-4 mark, but topped the second-place Philadelphia Force in the semifinals on Jan. 29 at Harvard University's Jordan Field. "I had a chance to do the drafting and help out on game-day events, and we've also been doing clinics ever since, supporting the growth of the game and getting it out there that young girls also have a chance to play pro lacrosse someday."

Because four of the Storm's six games took place in New England, Fink decided to focus this spring's UWLL draft on selecting mostly New England players, and among his selections were Portsmouth attack Caitlin Villareal, who starred at Division II Saint Anselm College, and Mount Ida head women's lacrosse coach Nicole Poli, who was a standout on defense at D-III Western New England College.

"Aside from a few players here or there, everyone else was from Massachusetts," said Fink. "We brought in players from all different levels – we were the first team to draft a D-III player and we had three Division II players – and I only recruited locals because we had so many local games, where some of the other teams had players from all over the country."

As for the future of the league, Fink thinks the UWLL is looking to expand in different markets, "but at the same time, they're trying to make the game-day experience better," he added. "They just secured Nike as their marquee sponsor, so to get Nike on board really changed the game. STX is a very good lacrosse brand – they've done all the gear and they're always there – but when Nike came in this year, I was impressed."

His first season as a GM behind him, Fink was back on the Mount Ida campus on Monday, getting ready for his team's fall workouts. He just wrapped up a youth clinic on the Cape, and he plans to conduct a few more in the fall.

"There's no downtime," said Fink. "I'd rather keep it rolling. This isn't a job – it's fun."