Lebanon — Old school will be in session when the Lebanon High boys lacrosse team begins practice in roughly three months. The Raiders will assemble with first-year coach Rob Fett, 63, at the helm.
However, it’s not the new guy’s age as much as it is his approach that might be a bit jarring.
Fett’s predecessor, Lochrane Gary, is in his early 30s and coached the team the previous three years. The former Florida State club team player wore his baseball cap backwards, usually above wraparound sunglasses, and reveled in the exhuberant “lax bros” spirit that has simultaneously grown and tarnished the sport during the past two decades.
The Raiders were 13-31 under Gary’s guidance and reached the 2015 playoffs after winning just one game the year before his arrival. He was credited by some players for establishing discipline, but Lebanon seemed to lack concrete plans on offense and defense and paid mightily for inexperience in goal, finishing 4-10 last spring. Gary said last April that he planned to move out of the area during the summer, accompanying his wife, who was relocating for her medical studies.
Fett has been a Lebanon girls team volunteer coach the past five years. He said he isn’t overly concerned about switching to the boys side or inheriting a program that hasn’t posted a winning record since going 9-5 under Nick Yager in 2012. The Raiders also lost standout attackman Mike Fleury to the prep school ranks before the current school year began.
While the Raiders didn’t perhaps sweat the small stuff under Gary, it sounds as if they will be perspiring mightily under Fett, a 1975 Roanoke (Va.) College graduate whose brother, Bert, is the career scoring leader at the University of North Carolina.
“I’d be over on the girls (lacrosse) field the past few years, and the boys team would start after us and leave before us,” Fett said. “If we have things to still work on this year, practice is going to end when the sun goes down.
“I’ve told the players I’ve met that you are going to be most fit team out there, that you’ll probably be mad at me at the end of practice, but we’re going to have fourth-quarter wheels. Lacrosse should be fun, and I don’t know anyone who has fun when we’re losing.”
Fett added that he expects to repeatedly drill fundamentals, an area in which he said the Raiders have recently been deficient. Offensive plays, of which Lebanon hasn’t had many during recent years, will be installed early and often. Initially, however, the main focus will be on defense, where the team has struggled mightily.
Ambidexterity is common among high school players in lacrosse hotbeds like Maryland, Virginia and New York, but it’s not often seen in NHIAA Division III. Fett said he’s intent on the Raiders developing it.
“I can’t teach them anything until they can use their left and right hands for shooting and passing and scooping,” Fett said. “There’s going to be a learning curve for them and for me.”
Fett’s also not a fan of overly physical play, in which the Raiders engaged heavily during Gary’s first season before dialing back on numerous bodychecks and stick fouls the past two campaigns.
“What I’ve heard a lot of in New Hampshire so far is that kids can’t wait to get out there and smack somebody,” Fett said. “But I don’t like crazy, wild hits.
“It’s a gentleman’s game, and that’s how I’m going to present it. It’s a team game with no foul language, and we’ll pass the ball. The assist is bigger than the goal.”
Sara Ecker, Lebanon’s longtime girls lacrosse coach, came to rely heavily on Fett for advice and insight. Year after year, the former Hanover High and Lehigh University standout turns small rosters without extensive lacrosse experience into playoff teams. She credits Fett for his work with her goaltenders and said his poise and ability to understand teenagers were critical to the Raiders’ success.
“He was in tune with the personalities on the team,” Ecker said. “He has a real understanding of Xs and Os and how the game should be played. He runs a tight ship, but I also think that the boys will see his true love for the game and how committed he is to the program.”
Fett grew up in Garden City, N.Y., the Long Island home of Adelphi University, where men’s lacrosse debuted in 1948. His father, an orthopedic surgeon, had played lacrosse at Williams (Mass.) College and Rob’s brothers were stars. In addition to Bert, another sibling, Mike Clavin, played at the University of Virginia.
Rob Fett earned a graduate degree at Long Island University and became a Wall Street bonds analyst. He remained connected to lacrosse through playing, coaching and administration in the New York Athletic Club and through youth coaching in the New York-New Jersey region. After a divorce and seeing his daughters through high school, he moved to the Upper Valley in 2010, following Clavin, another Wall Street refugee and the owner of Grantham’s Rum Brook Market. Fett is also now a resident of that town.
Seeking to keep a hand in his lifelong association with lacrosse, Fett, who describes himself as “semi-retired,” landed on Ecker’s staff. Sensing something of a disconnect as a coach who wasn’t on campus, he began substitute teaching and recently completed a long-term gig at Lebanon Middle School.
Now, back into the general substitute pool, he rises early each morning to await a possible phone call that will send him to any junior high or high school classroom in the district. It’s allowed him to begin to know the players he’ll soon be coaching and to talk up the lacrosse program in hopes of increasing numbers.
“I’m setting the table,” Fett said, who, on the days he’s not called in for teaching, begins his morning by running with his dog. “It’s nice to earn a little spending money, but really, it pays dividends when you get the kids you’ve gotten to know out on the field.” Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.