Pressler highlighted by Providence Journal

Coach Pressler on the sidelines
Coach Pressler on the sidelines

By Jim Donaldson
Courtesy of the Providence Journal

SMITHFIELD — This is a story about lacrosse, but only secondarily.

Primarily, it's a story about loyalty.

It's about what coach Mike Pressler has done for nationally 19th-ranked Bryant University, which now has won eight straight after trouncing Mount St. Mary's, the defending Northeast Conference champion, 17-9, Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Stadium.

And it's about what Bryant University — president Ron Machtley and athletic director Bill Smith, in particular — has done for Mike Pressler. "They gave me and my family our lives back." Pressler says it matter-of-factly, not dramatically. He also says it sincerely. He has seen the truth twisted, distorted and, for an agonizingly, torturously long time, ignored to the point where the whole sordid, sorry business seemed it was going to ruin his life, was going to destroy everything he'd worked so hard to build during a distinguished career.

So when you talk with Pressler, you know he's a straight shooter. What he says, he means. You can count on it. And you can count on him.

Books have been published about what happened to Pressler at Duke, including one by him titled "It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case and the Lives It Shattered."

This story isn't about that.

There's a new story, a better story, an uplifting story, being written at Bryant.

A story that has its beginning with Machtley hiring Pressler when nobody else would.

"I couldn't get a high school job," Pressler said. "I applied for three in Raleigh and couldn't even get an interview."

Then Bryant hired him, hoping he could raise the program to the Division I level.

"I was thrilled," Machtley said before Saturday's game.

Pressler wasn't just thrilled, he also was grateful — to the point where he says he intends to stay at Bryant for the rest of his life.

"He has had numerous offers from other Division I schools," said Machtley, "that are better known and offered more money. But he's made a commitment to stay. He has told me: 'You hired me when no one would talk to me. I'm going to finish my career here.' That's testimony to his character."

What Pressler is building at Bryant is testament to his coaching talent.

What schools like Butler and Gonzaga have become in college basketball, or like Union and Ferris State in college hockey, Bryant hopes to become in college lacrosse.

They've still got a way to go, but the Bulldogs clearly are on their way.

Mount St. Mary's has played other ranked teams, defeating Delaware when the Blue Hens were No. 16, 12-10, and losing narrowly to No. 18 Georgetown of the Big East, 9-8. But the Mountaineers were no match for Bryant, which has established its state supremacy by easily disposing of Providence College, 9-4, and edging Brown, 10-9.

"Players want to be part of our program," Machtley said, "because they know (Pressler) will take them to the top level."

"We're really coming together offensively," Pressler said after his Bulldogs scored a season-high 17 goals against Mount St. Mary's, four of them by sophomore midfielder Colin Dunster. Junior attackman Peter McMahon had six assists, as well as two goals.

And Pressler calls his senior goalie, Jameson Love, "one of the greatest goalies I've coached."

The bad times at Duke are in the past. Pressler now is having the time of his life coaching Bryant, where support for the program is evidenced by the first-class locker room the Bulldogs have beneath the stands of their small but attractive stadium, and the fact that unlike at Providence, the program is fully funded, offering the 12.6 scholarships allowed by the NCAA.

"I love coaching here," Pressler said. "I've had opportunities to leave, and I can't say "No!' quick enough. To leave now, to say, after what Ron Machtley and Bill Smith did for me, that I think it's time to move on, my gut, and my heart, tell me that wouldn't be right.

"It's never been about the limelight for me. I'm having so much fun here. This is so invigorating, to be taking Bryant University to the highest level in lacrosse. When we get there — talk about exciting.

"I'll never forget what I went through. Bryant University is the right spot for me. Coaching here is the right thing to do."

Among his players are Mason Poli, a tough defenseman who also has scored 10 goals, including one against Mount St. Mary's, and sophomore midfielder Patrick Emmer.

Poli is the grandson of Pressler's football coach at Washington & Lee, where Pressler was a Division III all-American at nose tackle. Emmer is the son of Jack Emmer, who was Pressler's lacrosse coach at W&L.

It truly is, after all, about loyalty.