Paul Wehrum’s coaching career has taken him all over the United States. On Wednesday it puts him back in a familiar spot.
Wehrum’s Union College Dutchmen meet the Red Dragons of SUNY-Cortland in the quarterfinals of the NJCAA’s Division III tournament. The game takes the Herkimer County Community College coaching legend back to his alma mater for a contest unprecedented in the 84-year history of Union lacrosse.
“I know how to get to the stadium,” joked a Wehrum, a three-time All-American at Cortland in the early 1970s who still holds the school record with 10 goals in a game against SUNY-Brockport in 1970. “It’s not going to be a problem finding it.”
Wehrum, who still resides in Little Falls, is now in his sixth year of coaching at the Schenectady school. The Dutchmen had not previously qualified for the Liberty League’s playoffs but won the league tournament for the first time last year when they made their first appearance in the national tournament.
“This team is playing the best it’s ever played,” Wehrum said. “I was hoping to make it a competitive program. The school has been supportive and we’ve caught lightning in a bottle.”
Wehrum described the success of the 14th-ranked Dutchmen, now 13-4, as “beyond my wildest dreams,” and knows the challenge that awaits at Cortland Stadium. Union has not beaten Cortland since May 16, 1966, “when I was a sophomore in high school,” and the Red Dragons already defeated the Dutchmen 6-4 to start the season March 3.
“We’re a completely different team now,” he said, “and they’re a different team, too.”
The two trips to the national tournament have come as Wehrum’s fingerprints have covered more of the Union program. The class of 2011 was the first departing group that he recruited and coached for four years.
“That’s been a little unusual for me,” Wehrum said. “I coached (at Herkimer) for 25 years and I never had four-year seniors before. Last years team had the first real seniors I’ve recruited.”
The Dutchmen won their first two tournament games at home. Union defeated Montclair State University 12-5 in the opening round May 9 then beat Bowdoin College 10-4 Saturday. Bowdoin, described by Wehrum as “heavily-favored,” was ranked 11th in the nation.
Undefeated Cortland is ranked second. The Red Dragons defeated the Stevens Institute of Technology 10-9 Saturday.
The winner of Wednesday’s 4 p.m. game advances to the national semifinals against the winner of a game between Tufts University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.