By Marco Rosa | 9/6/13 12:30 PM
Loyalty, teamwork, tenacity, selflessness these are the words that come to mind when thinking about the success the 2013 MLL Champion Chesapeake Bayhawks. As we dig deeper into the team’s accomplishments we find out that most of it is due to the culture that owner Brendan Kelly and President/Head Coach Dave Cottle created as they took over the team.
A successful businessman and former lacrosse player, Kelly took over the team in 2010 and immediately instilled his values into the club.
“I bought the team because I saw the potential and believed it was time to take the Bayhawks to different level both on the field and off the field. The Chesapeake region needed to have Pro Lacrosse and I was able to make it happen.” Kelly said about the reasons that brought him to become an owner.
Kelly led the team to its second championship (the first in five years) with the help of former University of Maryland coach Dave Cottle.
“In 2010 I was asked to be a consultant by Brendan Kelly,” Cottle said. “He asked me to be a coach on the sidelines at Championship Weekend that year. I had familiarity with the players’ college career. The difficulty was not knowing how the players had developed after college and also not knowing how each team was and played.”
The transition was easy though as Cottle and Kelly went on to build a team that would buy into their system and win three championships in four years.
“2010 will always be a special year and was the start of the foundation,” said Kelly. “We took a new approach demanded more from the players and held everyone accountable including myself. Dave Cottle has been huge for the league and the Bayhawks and the game has forever changed since 2010. As owner it is great to see every year the new guys buy in to the Bayhawk way of doing business. Veteran or Rookie we hold everyone to the same standards.”
The players on the team all agree that some of the keys to the Bayhawks success are the values instilled from the top
“I think the secret is that we have an awesome group of guys and an organization in which everyone has an ‘all-in’ attitude,” said goalie TC DiBartolo. “Mr. Kelly goes above and beyond to treat us the best and the guys respond by working like professionals on and off the field.”
“Team first type guys with management to match,” echoed Kip Turner.
“This team has no egos,” said midfield Mike Kimmel. “That's what makes it so special. Everyone calls each other out and no one gets away with being selfish. Everyone is fair game which is why we all get along so well.”
Chemistry is also very important to the players.
“I think the secret to success in the MLL is having a group of guys who genuinely like spending time and competing together,” said attackman Drew Westervelt. “Ultimately you find and assemble a group that can buy into a system and work towards getting better each week.”
Defenseman Brian Spallina who won his sixth championship agreed. “Chemistry,” he said. “The Bayhawks team is made up of selfless players that will grind it out for the guy next to them. There is not one single person on our team who is selfish. Every guy plays for the name on the front of their jersey. We use the phrase family and that’s exactly what it is. On the field and off the field we are like brothers!”
“We are a close knit team, Good core of veteran players who know what it takes to win.,” said midfield Ben Hunt.
And the team principals agree as well.
“The key is simple,” said Kelly. “We are not better than anybody but as good as anybody. This goes for everyone in the organization front office to the field. When you look to your left or right everyone is all in and if you don't buy in your gone. Whether it is good or bad be accountable.”
“It starts from the owner all the way down,” Cottle continued. “We take care of the players and instill a culture of loyalty. We try to build the camaraderie they had in college and focus on the team goals, for the team and by the team. We tell the players what is expected of them and they all buy into our culture. All our players are tough, competitive people and it radiates through the locker room.”
One of the things that stands out when looking at the Bayhawks is the all-inclusive sentiment, especially for rookies like Dominic Sebastiani.
“It was real easy to adapt to the Bayhawks system,” Sebastiani said about his first season in the MLL. “Everything was real organized like college. Spencer [Ford, the team’s GM] did a great job keeping us updated and [Dave]Cottle did a good job getting the most out of practice.”
Thanks to the already proven system and the leadership of the veterans, Sebastiani fit in quickly.
“On the field all the guys let you learn on your own and just gave pointers as you played,” he continued. “Coach Cottle made you want to compete at a higher level so getting up to speed didn’t take as long as I thought. [Michael] Evans was there every practice and always brought the energy, seeing him do it made the team want to do it. He would give advice but he's a leader so it was easy to just follow how he carried himself on and off the field.”
As a young goalie, DiBartolo shares similar sentiments.
“I think the other guys on the team make it easy to fit into the system,” he said. “I didn't really know any of the guys coming into the league which can sometimes be weird when you’re playing together but they made me feel like I was part of the family from day one. That comfort level allowed me to just be myself and focus on just playing. For me I think all the veterans have brought some great piece of advice but the one big thing they all have taught me is that, with the Bayhawks, it’s not about being a great individual player, it’s about being a great teammate. You see that each week when guys sit out for whatever reason. The guys put the team first no matter what, that's what makes this team special.”
It was not the easiest road for the Bayhawks in 2013 with several one-goal games and overtime losses, the team fought for the playoffs all season. Several players cite the OT win against the Boston Cannons as a turning point and one of their favorite memories of 2013.
“The second game against Boston that resulted in and overtime win,” defenseman Mike Simon said. “We had three other OT games prior to that and lost them all. This game was really a turning point in our season and it galvanized us as a team.”
“Best memory is finally getting an OT victory vs. the Cannons. Drew Westervelt with the winner,” Turner concurred.
“The come from behind win vs. Boston at home,” said Hunt. “Crowd was electric and our team never quit.”
“I would have to say the Boston game at home,” Spallina echoed “What a great game! Anytime you get a win in the MLL it’s a great game but the events at the end of that game were quite memorable. Rookie defenseman Bernhardt makes two spectacular plays to get us the ball back when we were down one and veteran Casey Powell ties it up with seconds to go to push us to OT. Westy sealed the deal moments into OT!!”
Veteran Casey Powell, who had made his return in the Boston game, cites the semifinal game against Hamilton as his favorite game of 2013.
“I thought the semifinal game against Hamilton showed a true testament of our character,” he said. “We were able to come back from a three goal deficit to give our team an opportunity on Sunday [in the Championship Game]”
While most players with multiple championships agree that every ring has its own special meaning, most feel that the last two Bayhawks ones are especially close to them.
“They're all great,” said Powell who won three championships with three different teams. “This one is freshest and makes for a great year ahead. 2013 Champs!”
“All the Championship wins are special in their own way,” Spallina said. “This one may be the one as a team we had to work the hardest for. We had a wild ride with so many one-goal games through the season. We had to work for this and any time you get the best final result it proves that hard work pays off. As a team we never doubted and that paid off for us in the end.”
“I've gotten to be part of the last two championships,” said DiBartolo. “For me, I think the first holds a special piece in my heart because a year before that I was pretty positive that my competitive lacrosse career was over. The Bayhawks were the only team to give me a chance to tryout and I have been fortunate enough to be part of the best franchise in the MLL.”
“Last year  was special for me being the first title I had won in the MLL,” said Westervelt. “It was such a relief to get through that weekend successfully. They each have their own "thing" that identified them. Our ability to stay the course and ultimately reach our goal was special. We lost a lot of tight games [this year], games we had won in previous years. I think our ability to get better and play our best in the post season is a great memory for me.”
“2013,” Hunt, who was a member of the last three Bayhawks Championship teams, echoed. “We weren't favored to win. Denver had an undefeated season and was the clear-cut favorite. I felt like we established a dynasty of winning tradition for the Bayhawks. We won 3 in 4 years.”
“In 2010 I was a motivator,” said Kelly. “In 2012 and 2013 I was the happiest owner in pro sports. I think us and the league have made the move forward and will never look back.”
Whether you call it a dynasty or not it is clear from listening to everyone involved in this Bayhawks organization that they all believe that the team has a very bright future.
“The names may change but the core covenants of teamwork and loyalty will stay the same,” said Cottle. “We will try to find the right players who fit our culture.”
“First and foremost we believe in the league,” Kelly concluded. The founders of this league we owe so much to for taking the chance and weathering the storm. Without Jim Davis, Jake Steinfeld and [Dave]Morrow, pro lacrosse would not exist. The future is bright in Bayhawk country. We will continue to commit 100% to our loyal fans and continue to bring home the Stienfield cup if it’s our turn to win.”