The History of UCSB Men’s Lacrosse

As Told By Gaucho Original, Rick Stanley: 

I found a 1969/70 LaCumbre on eBay and snagged it as I remembered this picture. This is the original team. The picture was taken in late 1969 at maybe our third practice out in a field on Deveraux campus (Now called West Campus)This was before we had much equipment, uniforms or even a schedule.

Front Row – Rick Stanley, Reilly Ridgell, Jack Megarity, Pete Crim, Dave Lord, Larry Levin, John Newberry
Second Row – Tom Lendino, Brian O’Neill, Randy Coates, Doug Tomsom, Rob Almy, Jeff Shields.

We picked upon another half dozen before the first season started, got a set of used jerseys from the rec department and I think won only one game that first year.

The first season was not an easy one and the Gauchos finished 1-9. This article from El Gaucho (predecessor to The Daily Nexus) describes the first game. The only win came against San Fernando Valley LC 8-3.

Memories from 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee, Gary Pakele (class of 1973):

When I left the Air Force Academy and came to UCSB, the warmth, ocean, bike paths, and girls presented a new life far beyond Academy Lacrosse.  Life was perfect, but I thought lacrosse was over.  This is when I met Coach Tom Giambatista, a Naval Academy graduate, who played as a midfielder for Navy. He was the coach of UCSB Lacrosse team. His day job was being a pilot for United Airlines. His passion and hobby was coaching UCSB Lacrosse. I have no memory of any lacrosse program prior to the years that I played ’72 and ’73, so I can’t comment on when and how the sport officially started at UCSB.

I do recollect that in the two years that I played for Coach Giambatista, we went from a “rag ma tag” bunch of club guys to a pretty good lacrosse team, and won most of our games.  In those days, as now, being in shape was a big part of the game since you could win by outrunning your opponents instead of out stick handling your opponents. He made us a team that could always count on being able to outrun the other teams, which usually lead to success. He figured what our team lacked in skill and ball handling, we would make up in being in shape and team speed. He loved to play fast-break lacrosse. I recently learned that he has passed away. In my opinion, Coach Giambatista put UCSB Lacrosse on the map and created the real beginnings of a competitive lacrosse program at UCSB.

If you could put a coach in the Hall of Fame posthumously [you can], he certainly should be admitted. You see we had no structure without him. He brought what he had learned and experienced from Navy Lacrosse, which at that time was always in the hunt for a national championship against Maryland or John Hopkins, to UCSB Lacrosse. He conducted team practices much like he experienced at the Naval Academy, tough and grueling. He made us very competitive with other teams and we always fared well against other teams that were in their beginnings.

We did have a hard time playing one particular club team unaffiliated with any college called the Orange County Lacrosse Club. This club team had certain players that had graduated from back east colleges where lacrosse was a major sport including Jimmie Lewis and Johnnie Valestra, two NCAA all-Americans from the Naval Academy.

In reflecting back, some of the teams on our schedule were Pepperdine, Whittier, Claremont Men’s College, Loyola, OC Lacrosse Club, LA Lacrosse Club, and UCLA. As a point of interest, we finally beat UCLA 13 to 12 with a goal scored in the final seconds, which was the very first time we had beaten them.

As far as equipment was concerned, the new type of sticks with plastic heads and metal poles were just appearing on the scene. In the old days, a lacrosse player would normally go over dozens and dozens of sticks just to get the right shape of stick, and after acquisition would spend a lot of time trying to shape the strings made of gut to form the right pocket with the right shooting strings of gut across the top of the stick. It was way more complicated than choosing a stick today. As for me, at the time I started playing for UCSB, I still had a couple of new short modern plastic sticks from the Air Force Academy, and used those.  However, these were just relegated to attack players.  Midfielders still used the old fashion wood sticks of the past as well as defensemen. There were no long-stick midfielders or no long-stick defenseman as there are today.

On a final note, I remember a story from back in the day concerning Jim Brown who, as most young players will not know, was not only an all American in college football from Syracuse University but also an all American in college lacrosse. He, of course, became one of the greatest football players for the Cleveland Browns and was eventually inducted in the National Football League Hall of Fame. At Syracuse, he developed a one under-handed scoop shot on goal that was so good that no matter how well defended by the goalie, would always go in because it was so powerful that not only the ball but the goalie went flying into the goal. It was unstoppable. To this day, I have never seen anything as amazing.

It is great to see the phenomenal growth of college lacrosse out west, including UCSB.

Memories from Chris Vaughan (class of 1974) in response to the article below:

Thanks for sending the article. I had forgotten about it, so it’s nice to be reminded of past glory. I graduated in 1974, but stayed in the area and played the next year. In those years all the teams bent the rules on eligibility. Pretty much any vague association with a school got you on the team. In ‘74 we only had 13 on the roster, but all were good players and we switched positions a lot so guys could get a breather. John Morehouse was league MVP. Dave Borie (A), Tom Hollen (A), Morehouse (M), Rob Almy (D), Paul Gavin (D) and I (M) all were voted to the SoCal all-star team. We had others who should have made it, but we heard they didn’t want too many Gauchos.

Shortly after selections were made, we were told that Johns Hopkins, the NCAA champs were making an exhibition tour of California. One game in the south, one up north. Their opponents would be us in the south and another all-league team up north. This team was one of the best ever up until then. All-Americans at nearly every position. Having played on the East Coast, I had heard of guys like Jack Thomas and Frank Wittlesburger since high school. The thought of playing them was at once thrilling and appalling. There was another problem in that the game was scheduled the same day as graduation. It took some persuading for my parents to agree, but for me the choice was easy. Stand around in the hot sun, listening to speeches, or play the champs. I believe any Gaucho LAX player would do the same!

The game was decided early in the first quarter. I’d like to say it was because they were a team that had played together for years, while we were an all-star team that practiced together twice. Of course, the reason was that every player they put on the field was fantastic. They had better skills and they were fast, fast, fast. 

So about 5 minutes in, or about the time we were disabused of any fantasies of staying with these guys, we started to have fun. It was such a privilege to be on the same field with such talent. I lined up against a middle who was supposedly the best player in the nation that year. I may have slowed him down a bit, but not much. I remember having the ball near midfield on a clear, thinking I had plenty of time to make a pass. The next thing, I was on the ground, never having seen the guy that hit me. By the second half, their goalie was playing attack and everyone else was switching positions, attack on D, D on attack, etc. They kicked our butts on the field, we held our own at the party! And we didn’t have to go back East after the game. 
It’s been fun watching the growth of lacrosse in the west, especially at SB. I’ve watched a few games up here when the team played Cal. I’m sorry to miss the 50th. Please pass along my regards to Rob Almy and any other guys from my time. And give Rob a hard time…I think he was the last guy I saw who still played with a wooden stick! He was a beast on D and his stick was a real club!