East grad achieves lacrosse coaching dream
On July 30, 2010, that destiny was fulfilled and Anken’s dream became a reality — Anken accepted the men’s lacrosse head coaching job at the Virginia Military Institute, becoming just the second West Seneca graduate to be currently coaching at the NCAA Division I level.
“Since he was a player, he told me that he wanted to be a Division I lacrosse coach,” Cantafio said. “I was proud to give him his first coaching job as an assistant for our JV team.”
After playing collegiately at Medaille College from 1996 to 2000, Anken returned to his roots and became part of Cantafio’s first coaching staff at West Seneca West. Anken coached for a bit as the first-ever West only JV team before moving on to coach collegiately at Pfeiffer University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Mars Hill College and Lycoming College.
“I couldn’t put it into words how it felt to get that call,” Anken said of learning he would be VMI’s next coach. “I wanted to start coaching when I was 16-years old and still playing. Ever since I had coached in a summer league program, it was clear that coaching is what I wanted to do with my life.”
Guiding his programs to steady improvement as he moved up the coaching ranks, Anken is hoping that trend will continue as he inherits a VMI squad that finished 2-13 overall in 2010.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have success at the Division III and Division II levels, and that’s been because of the relationships I’ve built up with the players and their families,” Anken said. “Keeping the family atmosphere up and maintaining those bonds is really important to me. I think it’s good to let prospective players know that you’re taking things on the right way.”
Anken’s path to lacrosse started between the pipes in hockey rinks. A good friend happened one day to invite him up to Canada to check out a league he
was playing in and the rest, as they say, is history. was a baseball guy in high school, but
“I actually was a baseball guy in high school, but growing up living next to Orchard Park helps your interest in the sport, especially when we were just starting up lacrosse in West Seneca,” Anken said. “A good friend of mine had played in Canada and he told me it was just like hockey. So, I met up with him up there and tried it out, and I just fell in love with the sport.”
Anken’s experience with the game obviously led to him wanting to stay involved with the sport once his playing days were over, and the teams he’s been involved with have been the benefactors — both with his time with the program, as well as by the high standards that he set for future squads upon his departure. That’s a tradition Anken hopes continues as he gears up for an extended stay at VMI.
And Anken knows that things are going to be different at the Division I level than they have been in the past, but that challenge is part of what drives Anken to be the best coach he can be.
“I’ll probably wind up putting more pressure on myself than they’ll put on me,” Anken said. “VMI’s Athletics Director understands that there’s a process. They haven’t had consistent success here at VMI, and that’s something I want to bring. You want to win no matter what level you’re coaching at.”
Anken knows he has a bit of work to do before he can hopefully recreate the successful transitions at VMI that he orchestrated in his previous posts, but he is ready to dive into the challenges of Division I athletics, especially at a school as unique as VMI.
“VMI is a great, unique place because we’re dealing with guys who are making a great commitment to the military,” Anken said. “It’s definitely a different type of student athlete than I’ve ever recruited. My first goal is to change the mentality of things from last year and have the guys buy into the new system I’m putting into place. I’m confident that the wins will come, but in the meantime, I just want to get people excited about the direction that the program is headed. Plus, for me, it’s pretty neat to be playing in the same league as Canisius. I’m looking forward to being back in town at least every other year.”