“I believe there were 60 varsity high school programs, and maybe two or three college programs at the time,” recalls Whipple.
In 2008, Whipple and his family moved from Rhode Island, where his father, Rory, started the lacrosse program at Bryant University. In New England, the sport had its devotees. In Florida, the sport was just beginning.
Fast forward a decade, and lacrosse is flourishing in the Sunshine State, with the Whipples at its core. Rory started successful Division II programs at both Florida Southern College and the University of Tampa, where he remains today as the winningest coach in NCAA Division II.
“In a ten year span, it’s grown,” said Whipple. “There’s over 200 high school programs, and more colleges than before. Each year it is growing more and more.”
Conor joined his father as a player and now an assistant coach for the Spartans, but is also building the sport in his adopted home state in a new way. He was drafted by the Florida Launch in 2017, becoming one of the first Floridians ever to be drafted into Major League Lacrosse.
It was an important step for not just his Tampa team, but the state of the sport in Florida in general.
“I just see (lacrosse) growing as players from Florida continue to reach new levels,” said Whipple.
Whipple set scoring records at Tampa, including setting marks for goals in a game (eight) and points in a game (12) during his junior season, and tallying 99 points in his senior year. After spending the first few months post-college coaching lacrosse in Australia, he joined the Launch practice squad for the 2018 season.
His variety of his experiences and his ability to go with the flow ended up being a benefit in Major League Lacrosse.
“To biggest difference between playing college and playing professionally is being able to hold yourself accountable,” said Whipple. “When you are working on your own, you have to do stick work, you have to stay in shape, get your exercise in.”
Whipple’s coaching positions help with keeping him accountable. “I didn’t have too much trouble most of the time,” said Whipple. “A lot of the time, I work with my team and swing in during shooting drills.”
Accountability isn’t hard to find when you love the game as much as Whipple does. It took devotion for him to even stay with the sport after moving to an area where football and baseball were king and opportunities to play lacrosse were few and far between.
“When I was younger, I didn’t look at practicing as work because I loved it,” said Whipple.
As he works with Florida youth and his own players at the University of Tampa, Whipple tries to impart that adoration of the game to them. If they learn to love the game as much as he does, lacrosse will continue to grow in the Sunshine State.
“Just have a stick in your hand and continue to work,” advises Whipple. “As long as you have a stick in your hand, you will be able to achieve what you want.”