By: Sean Neidig, sports information graduate assistant
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Playing and coaching lacrosse in Central Ohio means being part of a tight-knit community, one where everybody knows one another. While there are no strangers in the Columbus lacrosse network, few can claim to be as much of an insider or cultivator of the game as Columbus native and Capital University Men's Lacrosse head coach, Dom Marzano.
Primed to enter his second season with the Crusaders, Marzano's resume also lists high school head coach, youth coach and camp organizer, Major League Lacrosse assistant coach, equipment manager, operations manager, broadcaster, and United States Lacrosse Central Ohio Chapter Board Member. And the list continues to grow even beyond his work with Capital.
"I'm so happy that everybody has given me the opportunity to help grow the game," Marzano said, flashing his trademarked smirk. "Starting youth programs, a high school program, a college program, and being part of a pro team, I've been very fortunate to be able to be part of that. It's been kind of surreal that it just keeps happening and happening."
Marzano played collegiately at Wheeling Jesuit University (W. Va.) where he was a dynamic four-year starter from 2002-06 and graduated as the program's leader in career assists. Coming out of Wheeling Jesuit, Marzano knew that he wanted to return to Columbus and coach. Marzano became "Coach Dom" after taking on coaching jobs in seventh grade soccer, basketball and baseball for a season. His first break in the lacrosse arena came soon thereafter as an assistant coach at Hilliard Davidson High School, his alma mater, where he soaked in as much knowledge as possible for two years before starting the boy's lacrosse program at crosstown rival Hilliard Bradley High School.
After several seasons of building the program at Hilliard Bradley, Marzano was presented with the opportunity to begin a program at Wilmington College. His only college experience at the time was as a volunteer assistant at Ohio Wesleyan University for a few weeks during fall ball in 2012.
Marveling at how quickly settings change, Marzano said, "I went straight from high school to being a head coach in college with zero kids on the team and starting a program. I'm a believer; I don't know if it's my attitude or confidence in myself…but you either make it or you don't. You can think about how you don't or can't make it the whole time, but I don't. It never crossed my mind. I think starting my program, I had confidence in my decisions and I was going to own it."
In only three years, Marzano led Wilmington to a winning record behind the most explosive offense in the Ohio Athletic Conference, all the while learning the ins and outs of recruiting, financial aid, the college application process, and how to overcome all the challenges that come with convincing young athletes to commit to a new program. In 2014-15, Marzano's third season, men's lacrosse was one of two programs at Wilmington with a winning record and led the OAC with 211 goals as the team took on its coach's fiery personality. In his four seasons at Wilmington, Marzano coached four All-OAC selections and eight players earned Academic All-OAC honors.
During his tenure with the Fightin' Quakers, he also jumped at the chance to get involved with the Ohio Machine, Columbus' Major League Lacrosse (MLL) franchise, as an assistant coach and the team's equipment and operations manager. All the while, he was still recruiting and preparing for the next season for the Wilmington.
The ability to interact with players who were almost exclusively former Division I All-Americans and professional coaches exposed Marzano to a completely different perspective of the game, one that made it easier for him to teach the game to others.
"What [joining the Machine] did for me as a coach is unbelievable," Marzano said. "The game has slowed down a ton. It helped me learn so much."
Marzano shifted into more of a behind-the-scenes role with the Machine in 2016 as a volunteer coach so he could give more attention to building the Wilmington program. Before the 2017 season, he transitioned into a role with the Lax Sports Network, serving as the color analyst for all home Machine matches. Although it was a job he had no experience with, taking on the challenge was something Marzano was never afraid of.
"I don't get nervous about opportunities," he said determinedly. "I look forward to them."
Low and behold it served as a natural fit that combined his strong communication and storytelling skills with his advanced knowledge of the game from different points of view.
Marzano has had a front-row seat as the Machine advanced to the MLL championship each of the past two seasons and won the title in 2017. He also remained heavily involved in organizing the Machine's annual Ohio High School All-Star Challenge.
When the opportunity to coach at Capital presented itself in the summer of 2016, he knew that it was the ideal next step in his journey. Two of the groomsmen in Marzano's wedding are Capital graduates and as a local boy, he had several friends who attended the university. He even remembers coming to Bernlohr Stadium in 2002 to watch one of those friends, All-American Kyle Hausler, snag four interceptions against Otterbein University as a member of the Capital football team.
"I already cared for Capital because it did so much for my friends," Marzano said, his voice filled with nostalgia. "It was a no-brainer. There would not have been other places I would have gone. This was the spot and the perfect situation for me."
After advancing to the OAC tournament championship and winning 10 games for the first time in his collegiate coaching career, Marzano's first season as head coach of the Crusaders was an unbridled success. Seven Crusaders were named to All-OAC teams, including four who earned places on the first team. Three players represented Capital on all-region teams while again playing the break-neck pace Marzano enjoys.
Before joining the Crusaders, Marzano and others wondered when Capital would hop on the lacrosse train coursing through the country and other parts of the state. He says that everyone held the university in such high esteem and figured lacrosse could thrive at Capital. Now with four straight years with winning records, the school has laid a strong foundation for sustained success and young players want to don the Purple and White.
"There's no punchline for me. I think Capital sells itself," Marzano says passionately. "As soon as you get here, you see the scholarships we offer, you see the facilities, you see the area, it's pretty easy."
Marzano also gives a lot of the credit for that success to the help he receives from the Columbus lacrosse community. As the network rapidly expands, the hours spent on practice fields and at games means coaches are always communicating with each other and quickly familiarize themselves with newcomers. Even the officials that refereed Marzano's high school games are still around to see him recruiting now.
"The connections have been extremely important to everything we did at my last school and everything we're doing at Capital," he said. "A lot of the guys I get at Cap now come from a lot of communication between me and the high school coaches. We just have so many people I can connect with to find those first couple [classes] especially. It was the help of the high school coaches and the Ohio community that really was a big difference for me getting a program off the ground."
That support will be needed again in the coming months as Marzano continues to play an integral role in the founding and operating of the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL). Indoor box lacrosse, long a staple of youth lacrosse in Canada, is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Played on a smaller surface with shorter sprinting shifts, box lacrosse helps with stick handling and keeps athletes playing competitively during the offseason.
The OCBLL is the second National Collegiate Box Series league in the U.S. after the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League started last year. The league will feature four teams based in Columbus and two in Cleveland comprised of teams with Division I, II and III college players. Games will be played at the Resolute Athletic Complex in north Columbus and partner with Resolute Lacrosse, a program Marzano has been involved with for years.
With the continued expansion of lacrosse in Central Ohio, Marzano is continuing the tradition of legendary Columbus-area coaches like Bill Wolford, who enters his sixth season as a special advisor to the Machine; Ted Wolford, winner of 16 Division I state championships in 25 years of coaching boy's lacrosse at Upper Arlington High School; and Chris Gallagher, a seven-time state championship participant and four-time winner at Thomas Worthington High School. Marzano remembers each of them from his time as a high school player when lacrosse was still in its infancy, and all three are still involved in growing the sport.
Marzano's admiration for these men is undeniable. "If in 20 years I can have a fraction of the success or contribute in ways that these guys have, I would be thrilled with that. They have done so much for the game and see it in ways nobody else can."
They have provided the blueprint that Marzano plans to incorporate as he builds his own legacy.
"You see the same guys give so much back to Columbus specifically," Marzano said. "When I graduated from high school there were 42 teams in the state in 2002. We're in 2018, it's a sanctioned sport in Ohio and we have about 140 teams in the state. It's an absurd amount of growth," he says excitedly with a smile and a laugh.
After years of orbiting Columbus, lacrosse is finally taking root in the city itself. Collegiate programs at Ohio Wesleyan University, Denison University, Kenyon College, and Wittenberg University have existed for decades with track records of success.
However, Marzano says that it was not until the Machine was founded in 2011 and Ohio State University Men's Lacrosse started making championship runs that the sport saw its popularity in and around the capital city skyrocket. The fact that Capital's lacrosse program and the arrival of Marzano to the coaching scene coincided with that rise is no coincidence.
For Marzano, at the young age of 33, it has been humbling to become so integral to the growth of lacrosse in Columbus and to see the web he is now developing himself.
"Lacrosse here has been good to me," said an enthusiastic yet humble Marzano. "I can talk about the city more than anybody because I lived it, and I love it. I still love it!"
As someone who says that he doesn't sleep, Marzano will continue to do his part to grow the sport in places he thinks it will succeed long term, and Columbus is clearly one of those places. He says he doesn't do it for himself though; he does it for the game.
"Everything I've ever learned in sports is [combined in] lacrosse. I think it's a great option for athletes. I think everyone should get an opportunity to play it."