Senior Spotlight: Ken Clausen
SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: KEN CLAUSEN
Leaving a Legacy with Flair – by Cayce Troxel
One glance around the field during a Virginia lacrosse game, and even the most casual fan can’t help but notice Ken Clausen. A two-time first team All-American, the Cavalier defenseman is known for shutting down the best attackers in the country with his hard checks, lightning quick speed, and heady decision-making; but it’s one characteristic of Clausen’s in particular that sticks out from all the rest-literally.
“I cut my hair after my sophomore year, and I haven’t had it cut since,” the senior said. “Ever since I graduated from high school, I could count the number of times I’ve gotten it cut on one hand.”
“With that hair flowing out the back of his helmet, he makes a strong early impression on you, that’s for sure,” Virginia head coach Dom Starsia said.
Clausen hasn’t always been able to rely on the long locks to draw attention, however. Since hair past the collar wasn’t permissible where he attended high school at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., it was Clausen’s stick that first intrigued college coaches like Starsia. Receiving phone calls from 25 lacrosse programs across the country on July 1 before his senior year-the first day coaches are officially allowed to contact recruits-the high school All-American signed a national letter of intent to attend Duke.
“We just can’t recruit everybody and so I wasn’t surprised that he chose another top school,” Starsia said. “I just wasn’t particularly looking forward to playing against him for four years.”
When the Blue Devils’ 2006 season was cancelled and it became questionable whether Duke would even field a lacrosse team the following year, the nation’s top ranked defensive prospect began looking elsewhere.
Fortunately for Clausen, his high school coach runs a camp with Virginia assistant Marc Van Arsdale over the summer and was therefore familiar with the school’s storied program, then in the midst of an undefeated season and fourth national championship run.
“Clearly at that point in time, Virginia was the premier team in the country,” Clausen said. “It was in the ACC-the best conference in the country-and the coaching staff doesn’t get better than Coach Starsia and Coach Van [Arsdale]. Virginia seemed like a great fit.”
It took only as long as Clausen to be officially released from his scholarship at Duke and the necessary paperwork at Virginia to be processed for it to become clear just how great of a fit it would be.
Now in his fourth season with the Cavaliers, Clausen has started all 60 games of his collegiate career up to this point. More impressively, he has recorded a ground ball in all but two of those games while also leading the team in caused turnovers his sophomore year-all despite typically being matched up against opponents’ best attackers.
“He’s always had a little flair,” Starsia said. “He’s very athletic, and his ability to pick the ball off the ground is really unique-he’s just fast and determined on ground balls. He makes some dramatic plays.”
An honorable mention All-American as a freshman in 2007, Clausen became the youngest defenseman since 1987 to be named to the first team his sophomore season-an accomplishment even he admits never to have imagined in his “wildest dreams.” When he was again awarded the honor in 2009, Clausen became only the eighth two-time first team All-American in Virginia history.
Despite being a domineering presence on the field, however, Clausen’s play-just like his hair-has proven to be a bit unruly at times. Blaming himself for taking risks at the wrong time or place on the field in seasons past, Clausen has strived to become a more intelligent player this spring.
“Being a senior now, I feel like I understand the defense and the game more-certain areas where I need to be, positioning I need to be in,” said Clausen, who has led the Cavaliers to two straight Final Four appearances but has yet to win a national championship.
While the senior might still have a hard time choosing his favorite flavor ice cream-after much deliberation, he finally settled on Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food-his decision-making on the field has improved dramatically and he’s also become more conscious of where his teammates are around him according to Starsia.
“It’s not a matter of mano-a-mano anymore,” said Starsia. “He’s become a little more of a coach on the field right now and so he’s gone from being a great individual player to being a much more complete team player. I think that that’s one of the key things that has made a difference early in the season for us defensively-his evolution as a leader.”
Unanimously voted a team captain by his teammates before the season began, Clausen has been seen gathering the Cavaliers together before games to go over assignments and review the opponents’ tendencies.
“He’s not just obsessed with his own play, but what everyone else has to do also to get this done right,” Starsia commented.
During a year in which much of top-ranked Virginia’s scoring has come from underclassmen, the senior’s command of the defensive unit has been invaluable-as the stats illustrate. The Cavaliers have allowed eight goals or fewer in six of its eight games this season, including an impressive 12-4 win at No. 8 Cornell.
“I think we’re playing like we have a chip on our shoulders,” said Clausen, who plans to play professionally after graduating in May. “We’ve caught a lot of flack over the years, and this year especially, we wanted to make a statement. We want Virginia to be known for defense, and we want teams to fear our defense as much as they fear our scoring ability on offense.”
While it may seem such a remark can only come from an intimidating figure, Clausen has proven repeatedly that he’s more than just a hard-nosed defenseman. The creator of the fundraiser Mustache Madness, Clausen helped the Cavaliers raise over $32,000 for prostate cancer awareness last fall. The history major and avid Philadelphia Eagles’ fan will also host three kids’ lacrosse camps of his own this summer with aims of eventually creating his own company, ‘Stache Lax, sometime in the near future.
“You see a guy who’s athletic and in the mix of things, but I see a good kid who takes everything to heart and is just thoughtful and respectful of the process and the people around him,” Starsia said.
Perhaps the selfless side of Clausen’s character is best revealed by his response to the possibility of becoming the first-ever three-time first team All-American in Virginia school history.
“The thought of that just blows me away,” Clausen said. “But really, I would trade any amount of personal accolades-I would give them all away to win the national championship hands-down. That’s the ultimate goal-to win that one-and to celebrate with your team.”
Regardless of whether Clausen concludes his Cavalier career with a ring or not, the defenseman will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on the program-as a player and as an individual.
“He’s going to be very difficult to replace-both from a personality side and even more prevalently from a lacrosse side,” Starsia commented. “I haven’t seen everybody that’s played lacrosse at Virginia, but I can fairly confidently assume that he’s on a fairly short list of the top guys that have ever played here in Charlottesville.”