Creating a Special Culture

My college athletic eligibility expired years ago.
And lacrosse was never on my radar until I was well into my 20’s.
 
But if I could go back in time and actually had the speed and skill set to play what’s considered America’s oldest team sport, I’d want to play for Mikey Thompson at Christopher Newport University.
 
Thompson is a 2006 Collegiate graduate, a football and lacrosse player par excellence, and a January 2019 inductee into his alma mater’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
 
He went on to play four years at the University of Virginia, served as a captain during his squad’s run to the 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference championship, then worked as an assistant coach in 2011 when the Cavaliers won the NCAA championship.
 
His next stop was CNU, where he worked as an assistant for four seasons (while also playing three seasons of professional lacrosse for the Denver Outlaws and Charlotte Hounds) before assuming the reins of the program in 2016.
 
During his head coaching tenure, the Captains are 51-23. They finished this season 12-7 overall and 4-2 in the Capital Athletic Conference, which placed them third behind nationally ranked York (2nd) and Salisbury State (3rd).
 
Last year, Thompson’s crew was ranked as high as 15th in the USILA National Coaches Poll and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Division III tournament. He was honored as Virginia State Coach of the Year in 2016 and 2018.
 
That’s all good and well, but why would I want to play for him?
 
He’s a players’ coach. That’s why. He has expertise and boundless energy, positivity and passion for the game, and a fierce competitive streak. Those attributes enabled him to excel as an athlete. Those same attributes have made him the coach that he has become and have attracted several Collegiate athletes, including senior Michael Brost, who will join the Captains’ lacrosse program this fall.
 
“I played club ball (Amped Lacrosse) for him,” Brost said. “I saw him around so much, in Virginia Beach and up here. He was such a nice, personable guy. When I went down to visit (CNU), all the guys on the team talked about how great he was and how much fun he is to play for.
 
“You know he’s gone through what we’re going through. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s trying to pull the best out of us. He’s such a great person. You want to do well for him. It’s that personal connection that sold me.”
 
Lacrosse has been part of Thompson’s life since he was a six-year-old first grader at Collegiate. He remembers vividly the day he arrived home from school and his father shared a letter that had just arrived in the mail.
 
“It said that a new youth lacrosse league (Geronimo) was starting,” Thompson recalled. “At the time, that was the best news I’d ever gotten. I wanted to play the sport. I wanted to play against my friends and with my friends.
 
“My dad (Mike Thompson, Collegiate’s head boys lacrosse coach from 1984-1992) asked me if it was something I’d like to do. He knew the answer. I was so excited.”
 
So began Mikey Thompson’s journey, which included All-Prep League (’04, ’05), All-VISAA (’04-’06), and All-American (’05, ’06) citations.
        
A four-year starter, mostly at midfield, Thompson amassed 198 points (including 134 goals), collected 444 ground balls, and won 59 percent of his face-off opportunities.
 
“Lacrosse is the perfect combination of all the other sports I love,” he said. “It has the physicality of football, the free-flowing nature of soccer, and the pick-and-roll and defensive concepts of basketball.”
 
His signature accomplishment – the performance that established him etched in Collegiate lacrosse lore – came in the 2006 VISAA playoffs.
 
Playing as an attackman on an severely injured knee that had sidelined him much of his final season, he scored 12 goals in the tournament including six in the Cougars’ 14-11 victory over Norfolk Academy in the finals. For his against-all-odds showing, he was honored with the Bob Sandell Award as the tournament most valuable player.
 
“Mikey has always done whatever it takes to be excellent,” said Andrew Stanley, Collegiate’s head boys lacrosse coach. “He has a heart and desire to grind that was incredibly unique. His teammates didn’t have a choice but to follow him. Mikey has an ability to empower others.”
 
Thompson, a captain in ’05 and ’06, was surrounded by outstanding athletes, but his strength of will became a difference-maker.
 
“We lost a heartbreaker to Woodberry Forest for the state championship my junior year,” he said. “We had a great class of lacrosse players. There was a sense that nothing would get in our way the next year. Everyone doubled down on their commitment to the team and to preparation to get it done. That was the memory: knowing that you can give a little bit more, commit more, work harder. Do that, and you can accomplish your goal.”
        
Thompson also starred as a running back/receiver on Collegiate’s 2004 and 2005 state championship football teams.
 
“Football was a sport I grew up playing in the back yard and at recess,” he said. “My friends and I tested the boundaries of the rules. We played physical. It was pickup sports at its finest. Our parents and teachers were telling us to play touch, but we ended up playing tackle. That’s how we got so good at football.”
 
Favorite football memory?
 
“My junior year at Fork Union,” Thompson said. We were down a touchdown late in the game. We had this hook-and-ladder play where (quarterback) Russell (Wilson) threw to me, and I lateraled to (wide receiver) Zach Mendez going down the sideline.
 
“We ended up scoring on that drive. We went for two. Russell threw me a sweep pass, and I threw it to Zach for the two-point conversion that won the game.”
 
As a senior captain, Thompson earned first team All-Prep and second team All-State honors.
 
“Mikey was a fantastic athlete, unbelievably talented in a lot of different areas,” said Charlie McFall, Collegiate’s football coach from 1986 until 2006. “He was everything you’d want in an all-around, great player. He was the kind of player every coach wants.”
 
And the kind of coach for whom athletes want to play.
 
“I love the relationships I’ve been able to form with my guys from the recruiting process through their time as seniors,” Thompson said.   “Everything I’m helping them with throughout their four years (at CNU) will apply to their life after college. Every kid is a little bit different. Every kid needs a little bit different coaching to help him be the best he can be.”
 
Such an approach has created a close-knit team at CNU.
 
“The guys, first and foremost, have a growth mindset,” he said. “They have mentality that they can always get better and are open to new ideas. They come in a wide-eyed freshmen. With that mentality, there’s no limit to how good you can get.
 
“Our number one goal is being a great teammate. If you can understand that, you have guys committed to each other and doing great things. Having a growth mindset and being a great teammate…that’s what creates a special dynamic and a special culture.”
 
 
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