John Raba is entering his 24th season at the helm of the Wesleyan men’s lacrosse program in 2020. The NESCAC’s all-time winningest coach, Raba boasts an incredible 278-117 record, marking a .704 winning percentage while playing in arguably the most competitive conference in the country. In his 23 years as head coach, the Cardinals have finished with a winning record 20 times with just one season below .500, his first in 1997. He has guided Wesleyan to a National Championship (2018), four NCAA Final Four appearances (2006, ’07, ’17, ’18), and two NESCAC titles (2009, ’17). Raba, who was named the 2017 USILA Division III National Coach of the Year, took over Wesleyan in 1996 and also serves as an adjunct professor in the physical education department as well as an assistant director of athletics.
Last year, the Cardinals entered the 2019 season ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in program history. Despite losing 15 seniors from its 2018 National Championship squad, Raba guided Wesleyan to a 13-4 overall record, an 8-2 NESCAC mark, and a third-consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals also finished in a three-way tie for the Little Three Championship, marking a third-straight year they won at least a share of the title.
The 2017 and 2018 campaigns marked historic years for Raba and Wesleyan. Coming off its best season in program history, expectations were high for the Cardinals and they did not disappoint. After winning the Little Three title outright for the second year in a row and tying its program-best NESCAC mark of 9-1, Wesleyan earned the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament for the first time ever. The Cardinals advanced to the NESCAC Championship game, the NCAA Tournament, and the NCAA Final Four for a second-straight year. This time, however, Wesleyan advanced to the national finals and upset powerhouse Salisbury at Gillette Stadium, 8-6, claiming the University’s first-ever national team title. Wesleyan’s road to the Championship featured wins over the top-three teams in the country; on the road against No. 2 Tufts and No. 1 RIT before knocking off the third-ranked Sea Gulls. Raba coached a program-record nine All-Americans in 2018.
A year earlier in 2017, after losing the season-opener, the Cardinals went on to win 20-straight games to mark the longest winning streak in the nation at any division. Wesleyan reached the NCAA Final Four and finished the year with a 20-2 overall record and 9-1 NESCAC mark to post single-season program records for overall victories and conference wins. The team also won the NESCAC Championship and Little Three titles outright as Raba earned National and NESCAC Coach of the Year honors, as well as the All-New England Co-Coach of the Year award. Additionally, Raba’s staff was named the Northeast Regional Coaching Staff of the Year as Raba coached seven All-Americans, including First Team selections Ted Bergman ’17 and Harry Stanton ’18. Bergman was also awarded the Ensign C. Markland Kelly, Jr. award, which is presented to the top goalie in Division III. The 2017 Cardinals received the James “Ace” Adams Sportsmanship Award as well, which is given annually to a college or university in each of the 11 officiating districts whose coaches, players, and fans exhibit the best sportsmanship throughout the season.
Throughout his tenure, Raba has earned three NESCAC Coach of the Year honors (2017, ’06, ’01) since the conference’s first season in 2001, and has received six NEILA Coach of the Year laurels (2017, ’09, ’06, ’05, ’04, ’01). He has also coached three national position players of the year, and 48 All-Americans. In 2019, he was inducted into the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
In addition to coaching lacrosse, Raba assisted with the football team during the fall from 1996 through 2007, working on the defensive side of the ball each of those 12 seasons with eight as defensive coordinator (1998-2005). He stepped down from that post in 2008, assuming the position of recruiting coordinator for the athletic department.
A 1993 graduate of the University of New Haven, Raba was an All-American lacrosse player for the Chargers as a grad student in 1994 after leading Division II in scoring as a senior in 1993. Also outstanding on the gridiron, Raba was a team captain, a two-time All-New England pick as a fullback, and earned team MVP honors as well. He was honored by UNH as its male athlete of the year in both 1991-92 and 1992-93. He was inducted into the UNH Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.
Before coming to Wesleyan in 1996, he served as an assistant football coach at Brown during the 1995 season and was a Graduate Assistant for the University of New Haven football team during the 1993 and 1994 seasons. Raba is a Long Island native and attended lacrosse powerhouse Farmingdale High School, graduating in 1989. He is married to his wife, Jen, who teaches in the West Haven School system and they have two sons, Jack (19) and Jason (16).