Kyle Keenan’s Empire State Games Destiny

July 12, 2010

As the son of two coaches, Kyle Keenan emerged from the womb with the DNA of an athlete and the mentoring to make it happen. The rising senior at Smithtown West High School is considered one of the nation’s top boys lacrosse players.

It comes as little wonder considering his father, Sean Keenan, is the Smithtown West boys lacrosse coach. He played for Long Island legend Joe Cuozzo at Ward Melville and was an All-American at Adelphi University.

“He put a stick in my hand when I was 2 years old,” Kyle Keenan said. “We were always having a catch before dinner. He taught me to love lacrosse.”

The 5-11, 160-pound attack capped this third varsity season with a Long Island-best 53 assists in the regular season and a run to the Suffolk Class A semifinals. He committed last fall to reigning national champion Duke.

And yet Keenan has another sports destiny just as deeply embedded.

Bridget Keenan played for the Long Island open women’s soccer team at the 1992 Empire State Games in Albany. Twelve years after her first Empire experience, the ‘92 Games marked her final trip as a player. Unknown to her at the time, Keenan – an Adelphi grad who met her husband in college – was pregnant with her first child.

The Long Island women’s soccer team earned a silver medal that summer. Kyle Keenan was born eight months later. Bridget Keenen coached the open women for three more summers then gave it up to focus on her growing family.

“She was a big soccer player at the Empire State Games and she won a lot of medals,’’ Kyle Keenan said, proud of the family legacy.

All these years later, Kyle Keenan battled through a tryout process unlike anything in high school sports – he was among 712 teenagers to try out for the Long Island scholastic boys lacrosse team – for the right to play at the 2010 Empire State Games.

It was clearly important to him. He had heard the story of his mother playing pregnant at Empires too many times for it not to have an impact. So Keenan arrived early and was third in line to register for tryouts at Bay Shore High School. Yet the first day left him frazzled.

“A lot more kids. The games were short. I wasn’t getting the ball. I didn’t think I was on a good team,’’ Keenan ticked off the issues. “So I didn’t have a great first tryout.”

Even still, Keenan’s ability shone through and he made an impression. He sailed through four rounds of tryouts to earn a spot on the final 20-man roster and fulfill his destiny. Keenan was so anxious, he stayed up past 2 a.m. awaiting the congratulatory email, checking his iPod Touch every few minutes.

He’d chugged up and down the soccer field in his mother’s belly, competing at the Empire State Games. The five-day, Olympic-style festival has been going strong since 1978. Now he’s an Empire player himself, transforming the Games into a multigenerational celebration.

“I’ve heard about Empires since I was a little kid,” Keenan said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be an Empire player. This is awesome. This is what I’ve wanted since I was a little kid.”

The Long Island scholastic boys lacrosse team has already played nine games to prepare for the Empire State Games, which are in Buffalo from July 21-25. At the Tri-State Tournament in Princeton, N.J. on Saturday, Keenan scored twice against the Dukes – a travel team consisting of the best athletes from the Delaware Valley (Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) – to help Long Island finish the day 4-0.

The Dukes featured several future Division I players, including fellow Blue Devils commitment Tanner Scott (Conestoga High School, Berwyn, Penn.). Two duo, along with Whitman midfielder Myles Jones, another Duke recruit, shared an embrace and some conversation afterward.

At this elite level, Keenan proved he belonged.

“I go to the cage hard, see the slide and there’s always someone open,’’ said Keenan, who looks to pass first. “That’s my game. It’s instinct.”

No doubt. It’s in the DNA.

Blog originally posted at LI

LI Pulse: Empire Of Riches

July 1, 2010

Long Island Pulse magazine July 2010 issue featuring Empire of Riches: Long Island lacrosse at the Empire State Games.

Long Island Pulse magazine July 2010 issue featuring Empire of Riches: Long Island lacrosse at the Empire State Games.

Title: Empire of Riches: Long Island lacrosse’s Empire State Games opens doors and as a tradition, is second to none
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: July 2010
Start Page: 42
Word Count: 1,059

Max Seibald is one of the most recognizable names in lacrosse.

Just in the last year the 22-year-old midfielder was chosen second overall in the 2009 Major League Lacrosse draft, led Cornell to the NCAA title game and won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the college player of the year.

Yet his rise from unknown high schooler to elite prospect seemingly happened overnight at the Empire State Games, New York’s annual Olympic-style festival. Earning a roster spot on the Long Island scholastic boys’ lacrosse team is a sure ticket to stardom.

Look no further than Seibald, who tried out after a strong junior season at Hewlett High School. But he was among 500 other Long Island hopefuls vying for 20 spots in June 2004. Seibald auditioned the previous summer and was cut the first day. What were the odds a kid with only moderate Division III interest could turn heads and land a job?

“Coming back the next year, it was intimidating,” Seibald said. “You see college coaches on the sidelines. It motivated you but also made you grip the stick a little bit tighter. This was my first experience at this level and I wanted to make things happen.”

Seibald not only made the team, he starred. His roommate on the road that summer? Notre Dame goalie Scott Rodgers, a Wantagh native and MVP of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Empires put Seibald on a new trajectory. On the first day college coaches could make contact, the Hewlett teen received an early-morning phone call that woke him up. Then-Princeton coach Bill Tierney was on the other end. The offers came pouring in from there.

That’s the Empire effect.

“It’s been a springboard for kids to get into college,” longtime ESG lacrosse coordinator George Fox said. “There were some kids who have made this team that were surprises. And there were some kids expected to make this team who didn’t.”

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala agreed. Before he grew into one of the great defensemen in lacrosse history and won two national titles as a coach, Pietramala was an unassuming junior at St. Mary’s High School. Then he earned a spot on the inaugural 1984 Empire State Games squad.

“I wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now if I hadn’t played in the Empires,” said Pietramala, who was recruited to Johns Hopkins as a player only after his ESG performance. “That’s the God’s honest truth. I would have never gone to Johns Hopkins.”

The Empire State Games resumes in Buffalo from July 21-25 after a one-year hiatus forced by recession fears and a state-wide budget crunch. The event draws 7,000 teenaged and adult athletes in 33 sports and has been a summer staple since Gov. Hugh Carey opened the first Games in 1978.

These Games are more cash conscious than ever before. Buffalo area businesses pledged $1.1 million in cash and in-kind support. And for the first time, ESG decided to charge athletes a $10 registration fee.

While some grumble whether the Empire State Games should even move forward at a time when the state threatened to close parks, others are glad to see the Games back. They are a rite of passage, especially in the lacrosse community.

For lacrosse players, the void was filled by the Long Island Showcase Games, an event sponsored by the Nassau and Suffolk coaches associations. As much attention as it garnered for the sport, the Showcase couldn’t replicate the Empire experience.

“I was disappointed. But I was disappointed for Long Island,” Sachem North coach Jay Mauro said. He was a former player and now he’s the Long Island coach. “This is prestigious. It’s great for the kids. We’ve medaled every year. I’m just glad they brought it back this summer.”

That’s why a record 630 players showed up at ESG boys lacrosse tryouts in 2008, and why another 558 registered to compete for a Long Island roster spot by the end of May. And the alumni? A who’s who of lacrosse greats.

Scholastic girls lacrosse, introduced to the Empire State Games in 2001, has medaled each year and won the last three golds. The girls boast the same talent, if not the tradition.

“It’s really the flagship sport,” Fox said. “It means a lot to the kids to make this team. They realize they are representing Long Island. This is the highest level, a select all-star team in an event that’s been important over the years.”

With Fox at the helm, Long Island’s scholastic boys lacrosse team has developed into an elite program with a demanding schedule that’s served to sharpen any rough edges on the assembled talent. Five days of tryouts in each county were followed by a Top 50 game. The final team was announced with fanfare at Hofstra on June 25th.

Then comes the hard part: A month of practice to go with three out-of-state tournaments. All of it serves as a warm-up to the Games themselves—five games in three grueling days in the heat of summer followed by a medal round at Canisius College in Buffalo.

“That is a high-profile sport on Long Island,” Long Island region director Bob Kenney said. “We are the team to beat. And who knows what it would be like if we had an open team?”

True enough. The 2008 Long Island squad drilled Western, 14-3, in the gold medal game. Rocky Point’s Matt Palasek scored five times and West Islip’s Nicky Galasso, the top prospect in the class of 2010, added a goal and three assists.

To the chagrin of the state’s other five regions, the victory locked up Long Island’s fourth straight gold medal and 15th overall. The scholastic boys have medaled every year since the sport’s inception in 1984, a feat on par with the Harlem Globetrotters.

As if playing for a college scholarship or Long Island pride weren’t enough, the 2010 team has a unique opportunity at history.

“We’ve never won five golds in a row,” Fox said.

One way or another, this collection of talent from every corner of Long Island will turn heads. Whether they bring home gold medallion keepsakes, or a scholarship offer or an unforgettable memory, the Empire State Games experience is rich and lasting.

Lacrosse: West Islip State of Mind

June 22, 2010

An SUV parked at Bay Shore High School last week was as obvious as a billboard. Scrawled on the rear window in blue and yellow paint: # 1 WI Lax NY State Champs. That’s right, West Islip was in the house.

But these rock stars of boys lacrosse needed no introduction. West Islip won its second straight state Class A championship – and fourth in five seasons – with a 13-5 victory over western New York power Fairport on June 12, and claimed an even bigger prize in the process. The Lions were also crowned mythical national champs, according to

So the large contingent of West Islip players – freshmen, sophomores and juniors – cut an intimidating profile among the hundreds of fellow Suffolk lacrosse hopefuls who showed up at Bay Shore to try out for both the Long Island Showcase and the Olympic-style festival known as the Empire State Games.

“It’s been exciting after winning a state championship,’’ West Islip sophomore goaltender Jack Kelly said. “And then trying out for the Empire team? Real exciting.”

When state budget concerns killed the Empire State Games a year ago, the Nassau and Suffolk coaches association scrambled to create the Long Island Showcase, all-star teams divided by grade and county. It was an instant hit.

One year later the two events are sharing resources. The coaches associations have always played a key role in selecting the Empire squad. Now the athletes who don’t make the Empire team can still earn a spot on the Showcase roster. A record 712 teenagers showed up at tryouts last week at Syosset and Bay Shore high schools for the chance.

“I’m not too nervous,’’ West Islip junior midfielder Mike Diggle said at a tryout on June 16th. “I don’t know if I’ll make it or not. But I don’t think about the odds. You just focus on how well you can play.”

Diggle didn’t make the cut. But in Suffolk, 113 athletes were invited back for a second round of tryouts on Monday, June 21. Eight West Islip players were among them, including star goalie Kyle Turri and his backup, Kelly.

“We’re close,’’ Kelly said. “We respect each other and support each other. He’s one. I’m two. I support him.”

That’s all well and good on the West Islip lacrosse field. But at Bay Shore on Monday, the two were rivals. The backup and the star were still very much alive in the quest for an Empire jersey.

No big deal. If West Islip is synonymous with anything over the last decade, it’s competition. After dropping the season opener, the Lions won 21 in a row and dominated in the playoffs. That confidence was evident at tryouts.

“The first day was mass chaos. It’s a lot of people,” West Islip junior midfielder Mike Sagl said. “The second tryout – it’s fun to play with guys who have top skills and see what you can do against them.”

Despite a turf field which seemed to soak up the heat and wear down the players, the West Islip contingent made its presence felt. The blue and yellow helmets each donned were impossible to miss. They always seemed to be around the goal.

“I feel we have the edge,” said Sagl, a two-year starter. “We just finished playing last week. All these other guys are a little rusty. It’s a little tiring in one respect but pretty cool in another.”

The field will be pared to the top 36 players in each county on Thursday, June 24 at 8:30 p.m. at Veterans Park in East Northport. The Empire State Games team, a 20-man roster with 10 alternates, will be announced the next day.

The Long Island squad goes for its fifth straight gold medal at the Empire State Games in Buffalo from July 21-25. Don’t be surprised if one or more West Islip players are in the middle of it all. It’s what they do.

Blog originally posted at LI

Another championship for Huntington lacrosse

June 1, 2010

That was Zach Howell holding one corner of the national championship trophy on the field in Baltimore on Monday, mugging for the cameras. The Duke University junior attack was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team after a brilliant postseason capped off with his school crowned champs in men’s lacrosse.

It was a familiar scene. Howell did the same years earlier at Huntington High School. He helped lead another Blue Devils squad to a 63-1 mark and state Class B championships in 2005 and ’06 before losing as a senior in the 2007 state semifinals.

So he’d done this all before. But after scoring two goals and adding an assist as Duke beat Notre Dame in overtime, 6-5, Howell acknowledged this title was even more special.

“I’ll cherish this because I understand now how much hard work it took to get here,” Howell said by phone on Tuesday. “It’s been three years of hard work for me. It was probably the best moment of my life.”

Led by former Hofstra coach John Danowski, Duke knocked off ACC rival and top-ranked Virginia, 14-12, in a wild semifinal. Then the Blue Devils broke through to win their first national title in 14 NCAA Tournament appearances with the thriller over Notre Dame.

Howell was a key figure in each win. He laid the foundation growing up in Huntington. And he never forgot where he came from because he never could shake it. That Huntington squad also featured Rhamel and Shamel Bratton, who are each standouts at the University of Virginia. Stony Brook University senior goalie Charlie Paar helped guide the Seawolves to the NCAA quarterfinals.

In other words, the path to the 2010 NCAA title ran directly through Huntington. First the Brattons took down Stony Brook. Then Howell upset the Brattons in the semifinals.

The Bratton brothers led Huntington to a Suffolk title in basketball in 2006. And with Howell at quarterback, the threesome won a Long Island championship in football in 2005.

“It’s great to see all my buddies from Huntington doing well in college and I’m really proud of those guys,’’ said Howell, who has faced the Brattons seven times now. “We had great careers as high school players and were able to carry that forward.”

Against Notre Dame, no sooner had C.J. Costabile scored off the opening faceoff of OT than Howell dropped his stick and jumped on his Duke teammate. They were quickly bowled over by the entire bench, which rushed onto the field in a wave that crashed into the Notre Dame goal.

“It was really disbelief,” Howell said.

Now Howell, a history major, moves into a long off-season of celebration close to home. He will intern at HSBC Bank in New York City over the summer.

No doubt he’ll also get together with a few of his former high school teammates. With each passing season, that Huntington lacrosse dynasty looks more and more special. They can reminisce about the glory days of years gone by. And they can take heart in the fact that the glory lives on.

Blog originally posted at LI

Division II Lacrosse’s Postseason Problem

May 24, 2010

C.W. Post and Le Moyne will face off to decide the national championship in Division II men’s lacrosse, but how these schools got there has generated as much buzz as the games themselves. That’s because lacrosse coaches from the Division II ranks are pushing for an expanded NCAA Tournament field after a one-loss team was shut out of the postseason.

It began on selection Sunday, May 9. Teams across the East Coast gathered to see the bracket announced live by CBS Sports. For Division II, it meant a late night and disappointment for most of the schools watching. The NCAA Division II Tournament in men’s lacrosse extends bids to just four schools. Six get in to the D-II women’s bracket.

This season saw more parity than any previous. There were 13 teams at the D-II level with a .643 winning percentage or better, including five one-loss programs. So someone deserving was going to be shut out.

The bracket flashed across the screen some time after 10:30 p.m. To the elation of the players, coaches and fans at C.W. Post (14-1) and Dowling (12-1), their respective seasons were still very much alive. Limestone (12-1) and Le Moyne (14-1) also earned bids.

That left the players huddled together at Mercyhurst College – a small, Catholic liberal arts school in Erie, Pa. – stunned. After all, Mercyhurst went 13-1, a .929 winning percentage, and led D-II with 374 points. The Lakers beat Dowling and suffered their lone loss, 11-9, to defending national champion C.W. Post. Mercyhurst also is the No. 1 D-II team in the latest poll, a computer rating which includes RPI, strength of schedule and quality wins.

Yet their resume was deemed not good enough by the NCAA selection committee.

“I definitely feel like the bride that’s been left at the altar,” Mercyhurst coach Chris Ryan said. “It’s unfortunately the nature of the beast at this time in Division II lacrosse. The question isn’t why are we left out? It’s more why aren’t we all in?”

Mercyhurst wasn’t alone in asking that question. Long Island schools NYIT (9-4) and Adelphi (10-5) played competitive schedules and won the bulk of their games. They too were denied a chance to compete in the postseason, although they realized weeks earlier an NCAA bid wouldn’t be coming.

“We definitely need expansion,’’ said NYIT coach Bill Dunn, whose program won the national title in 2008 and failed to qualify last season despite a 10-2 record. “The last few years it’s come down to the criteria of a committee. I just think the parity right now in Division II is such that it’s better off playing the games on the field instead of letting a committee decide who is going to get into the NCAA playoffs. It’s absurd to me.”

“We were a couple of goals away from a Final Four bid,” said Adelphi coach Gordon Purdie, whose team lost three games by four goals. “That’s tough to swallow.”

Coaches universally would like to see the NCAA Tournament expand to six (in line with women’s lacrosse) or eight teams. Jeff Jarnecke, assistant director for championships at the NCAA, said the Division II bracket would be reexamined at meetings in July.

One of the proposals for expansion is to realign into two regions – north and south. Three schools from each region would qualify. That wouldn’t really alleviate the problem, according to Dunn. The bulk of the quality lacrosse programs populate the Northeast. So the pool would still be limited. Dunn said a fairer outcome would be two bids from each region followed by two at-large bids.

“There really isn’t a magic number of schools needed at the Division II level for them to look at expansion,” said East Coast Conference commissioner Bob Dranoff, who also is a member of the NCAA Division II Championship Committee. “There are a lot of factors at play when deciding when to expand brackets. I have a feeling it’s going to happen. I just don’t have a timeline on it.”

The snub has forced Ryan to study the case for expansion by comparing it to other sports at the D-II level. He said of 242 baseball teams, 48 get NCAA bids. That’s a 5-1 ratio. The curve in basketball is even less with 64 bids split between 289 teams (a 4.5 ratio). Men’s lacrosse, which has 37 schools and five more on the way in 2011, currently has a ratio of 9.5. And women’s lacrosse suffers from a similar problem.

“Why the inequities?” Ryan said. “It’s unfair. So this isn’t a Mercyhurst problem. This is a Division II men’s and women’s lacrosse problem.”

Jarnecke said one problem unique to men’s and women’s lacrosse is that the sport at the grass roots level is growing at a faster rate than any other. With more colleges starting lacrosse programs, there will be an opportunity to expand the bracket in time. But the time is now, according to people involved with the sport.

“It is time to look at expansion,” Dowling coach Tim Boyle said. “We’re hoping this scenario sparks some conversation with the NCAA. And Division II has come a long ways. I remember the days when there were just two teams. I know they are interested in doing what’s best.”

The controversy this season arose from the competitive nature of the East Coast Conference. Mercyhurst beat Dowling early on. Dowling bounced back to edge C.W. Post. And then C.W. Post beat Mercyhurst. Each loss to a conference rival turned out to be the lone misstep in a great run for C.W. Post, Dowling and Mercyhurst.

But because the East Coast Conference has no postseason tournament, there was no clear way to separate the three teams.

“As much as you can look at Mercyhurst and say, ‘What a shame,’ that conference had an opportunity to create a postseason tournament,’’ Adelphi’s Purdie said. “It gives purpose and meaning for the student athletes to play out the season instead of losing a game or two and wondering what are you playing for at that point.”

Adelphi plays in the Northeast-10 Conference, which has a conference tournament. Interestingly, Merrimack upset Le Moyne, 12-11, in overtime of the Northeast-10 title game but failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. There are no automatic qualifiers. Merrimack finished the season 13-3 and as conference champs. But it’s Le Moyne who is still alive and capable of winning a national championship.

In the case of the ECC, the tournament would have at least provided some level of separation among the three one-loss schools. Budget and travel issues have been the main stumbling blocks for a conference tournament in the past, according Dranoff. Yet after this latest controversy, he admits the ECC will look once again at establishing a postseason tournament.

“There are schools which see it as valuable,” said Dranoff, who is headquartered in Central Islip and is all for an ECC Tournament for men’s and women’s lacrosse. “And from a promotional aspect alone I believe it would be an amazing event here on Long Island. The positives outweigh the negatives, but that’s something the athletic directors have to look at.”

Limited postseason opportunities could have a chilling effect on Division II lacrosse in more profound ways, from scheduling and recruiting to the very viability of programs.

It begins with scheduling. Why fill your non conference schedule with teams capable of beating you if you have to be near perfect to be considered for the postseason?

Adelphi’s Purdie said it’s already happening. The decades-old rivalry between Adelphi and C.W. Post was not renewed. These are two teams who have met in the NCAA title game four times. But when Adelphi moved to the Northeast -10 after last season, the two programs were no longer conference rivals. And the two opted not to schedule one another.

“If you schedule a loss, that’s a season-ender,” Purdie said. “So what you find is that various schools won’t play other schools. For instance, Le Moyne can’t find a game down here on the Island. No team will play them because if they lose to Le Moyne, they are out of the Final Four.”

Recruiting only becomes tougher for a program that’s not already on top. What student athlete wants to go to a school with a limited postseason history and only the slimmest of chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament? And when programs can’t compete, they get cut. School budgets are tighter than ever in this shaky economic climate. Administrators are looking for line item expenses to delete. Look no further than Hofstra football, which was axed in December 2009.

“I got a call from a coach this week,” said Ryan, who has become the unlikely standard bearer for expansion after his team was shut out of the NCAA Tournament. “He said an administrator wanted to know if they had just started a sport that they couldn’t compete in. Now they support the sport fully and they are going forward with it. But that’s not the outlook you want a school to have on a program.”

That’s a troubling sentiment.

While the fight is just beginning to save – and grow – Division II lacrosse, a new national champion will be crowned on the field this week. The NCAA Division II Tournament kicked off Saturday as C.W. Post beat rival Dowling, 9-8, while Le Moyne downed Limestone, 11-7. The title game is May 30 at 3 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

“For these four teams to get into the tournament really speaks highly of these four teams,’’ Ryan said. “This is a tough road. We just proved that we had to be perfect this year to get into the tournament.”

Landmark Win For Stony Brook Lacrosse

May 17, 2010

Charlie Paar deflected a point-blank shot, scooped it out of the air and then ran off, far from the shadow of his goal. His teammates gave chase. And for good reason. Paar’s save was the final masterstroke in a landmark victory for the Stony Brook University men’s lacrosse program.

The Seawolves, appearing in just their second-ever NCAA Tournament game, held the visiting Denver Pioneers to just two second-half goals to earn a 9-7 win before a record crowd of 4,262 Saturday at LaValle Stadium.

“The whole team is excited,’’ said Paar, a former Huntington High School standout who recorded five of his nine saves in the fourth quarter. “We don’t know what’s coming next. But we want to keep playing. Every game is something new. It’s uncharted territory.”

Stony Brook (13-3) ran its winning streak to nine in a row and advances to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Seawolves host No. 1 Virginia on Sunday, May 23 at 2:30 p.m.

Virginia comes in a big favorite. The Cavaliers were an 18-4 winner over Mount St. Mary’s in the first round and beat the Seawolves, 13-8, in February. Then again, Denver also beat Stony Brook earlier this season and look what happened?

“It’s huge for us as a program,” said former Hauppauge standout Tom Compitello, a senior midfielder. “You come here with high expectations of winning the America East championship, which we got to do this year. And you come here wanting to compete at the highest level. This is a dream come true. This is why you come to Stony Brook.”

Stony Brook has a surprising edge against Virginia. The school was selected before the season to host two NCAA quarterfinal games. Who knew the Seawolves would get a chance to play on the big stage too? Certainly not fourth-year coach Rick Sowell.

“At the beginning of the year, we knew the quarterfinals would be here,’’ Sowell said. “And there was some talk about maybe Stony Brook [might be in the NCAA Tournament], which I couldn’t relate to. For a program that just went to one Tournament, to think that we would get into the Tournament, win and be sitting here as one of the final eight teams – that was just too far off for me to really comprehend. When the whistle went off and we won, I couldn’t believe we did what we did.”

It was a shockingly superb performance, highlighted by the early play of Compitello (three goals) and a fourth-quarter flurry by junior midfielder Kevin Crowley, who was recently named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award as the national lacrosse player of the year.

With his back to the Denver goal and a flag down, Crowley flicked an over-the-shoulder ball from 10 yards out on the left side. It caught everyone flat-footed and put Stony Brook ahead for good, 7-6, with 11:29 left. He added his third goal of the game to make it 9-7 with 3:37 remaining.

“They’ve got a gorilla and he’s tough to stop,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said. “He had three and they were all big, powerful goals.”

Tierney, a lacrosse legend who got his start coaching at Great Neck South and Levittown Memorial high schools before winning six NCAA championships at Princeton, was complimentary of the Seawolves, from the defense to the coaching.

That’s because Stony Brook played with discipline and fire. As much as Crowley stole the show with his playground goal, the Seawolves held the ball and controlled the tempo. They won 12 of 19 faceoffs and scored twice off them.

“There were times when I first got here I was thinking, ‘How the heck am I going to get this done?’” Sowell said. “Albany was a machine when I first got here. And then UMBC took over the baton. Next thing you know they are winning the league and playing well in the Tournament. We had a lot of work to do.”

Sowell recruited well, set modest goals and everything came together this spring. The team’s lone objective was to reach the America East championship game. Stony Brook not only got there, it won. Now it’s on to the Elite Eight.

The lacrosse program’s first NCAA Division I victory adds to what has been a watershed school year for the entire athletic program. Football finished tied atop the Big South Conference standings, men’s soccer won the America East Tournament and men’s basketball took the regular season title and qualified for the NIT.

“You’re a jock school,” Newsday’s John Jeansonne told Sowell in the post-game press conference.

“It’s becoming that way,” Sowell said and flashed a smile. “I’m just glad to join the party. The basketball team. The soccer team. The football team. This is so much fun. It’s great.”

“We got a good thing going here at Stony Brook,’’ Sowell added. “Get used to it. Because we’re not going away any time soon.”

Blog originally posted at LI

Stony Brook Lacrosse: Charlie Paar’s Big Save

May 10, 2010

Charlie Paar’s path was clear until it wasn’t. The second-generation goalie led Huntington High School to a state boys lacrosse championship as a senior in 2005. And then? He embarked on an odyssey which led him to the brink and back.

Paar is a senior at Stony Brook University, and he fulfilled the promise of a lifetime over the weekend. He was named MVP of the America East men’s lacrosse championship game on Saturday after tying a career-best with 18 saves in goal as the Seawolves beat Albany, 11-7.

The victory also earned Stony Brook its second ever berth in the NCAA Tournament. The 16-team bracket, released Sunday night, awarded the Seawolves the No. 8 seed and a home game. Stony Brook (12-3) will host Denver (12-4) in a first round game Saturday, May 15 at 5 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 631-632-WOLF.

“This is really like a dream,” Paar said.

Dad Mark Paar was a Newsday All-Long Island football player at Huntington and a standout goalie on the lacrosse field. But in 1972, Long Island sports was akin to life on Mars. His father won a county title as a junior, but never had the opportunity to play on the big stage. There was no state tournament.

Little wonder father began coaching up his son as a third grader, passing down his legacy and knowledge to the next generation.

“It all started down at PAL with great coaching,” said Charlie Paar, a history major who wants to teach and coach someday. “The group of people I was with was always strong. And when we got to high school, we won.”

Paar was named a high school All-American after Huntington captured the state Class B crown with a 14-3 thrashing of Jamesville-DeWitt. That’s right. Paar allowed just three goals.

A Division I scholarship awaited him at Towson. But Paar wasn’t ready. He stumbled in the classroom and left college after his freshman year, a missed opportunity that could have marked the end of his lacrosse career.

“My grades weren’t the best,” Paar admitted. “You go from living at home your whole life to living by yourself. It was tough. So I had to come home and do a couple of years at Nassau and straighten out. The grades had to come first. Then lacrosse. It worked out for the best.”

Paar enrolled at Nassau Community College. He stayed two seasons and led Nassau to an NJCAA championship in 2008, where he was named defensive MVP of the tournament. With his classroom obligations finally on track, Paar earned a second chance at big-time lacrosse when Stony Brook offered him another shot at Division I.

The reward? Five years later, Paar is playing for an NCAA title while Towson is not.

Three other Long Island programs reached the postseason this week. Hofstra (9-4) also qualified for the NCAA Tournament and travels to face No. 3 Maryland (11-3) May 15 at noon. In the Division II bracket, defending national champ C.W. Post (14-1) hosts rival Dowling (12-1) in a semifinal on May 22.

If the Seawolves can get past Denver, a possible showdown with No. 1 Virginia awaits in the NCAA quarterfinals. That includes a matchup against two of Paar’s former high school teammates: Rhamel and Shamel Bratton.

“This team reminds me a lot of my senior year at Huntington,” Paar said. “We had never won a Suffolk County championship [since 1975]. We had never won states.”

Stony Brook hadn’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2002, its last America East championship season. After his junior season was cut short by injury, Paar played non-stop over the summer. Now he’s seeing the ball better than ever, has a .538 save percentage and is a leader on defense.

“This season has been a blast,” Paar said. “It’s been everything we wanted it to be.”

Blog originally posted at LI

Hofstra Lacrosse: Corrine Gandolfi’s Last Dance

March 22, 2010

Sometimes the journey starts off so well, like cake and caviar at a catered affair, and you believe the good times will never end. Abby Morgan and Corrine Gandolfi know this feeling all too well.

They were instrumental ingredients as the Hofstra women’s lacrosse team earned just its second ever appearance to the NCAA Tournament. It was May 2007 and Morgan was wrapping up a memorable first season as head coach after three years as an assistant. Galdolfi was the prized freshman recruit from Northport and an instant sensation.

What a debut.

Yet three seasons later, Morgan is a veteran coach and Gandolfi her senior leader, and the two are still looking to recapture that elusive magic, still looking to crash the invitation-only affair known as the NCAAs.

“I definitely felt [we’d be back],’’ Gandolfi said. “Going into my sophomore year, we were young but still had the talent to make it where we should. Then last year we were right there. Then we had one bad weekend. That ruined our chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament. So this year there is no ‘next year’ for me. It’s do or die right now.”

After two postseason-less springs, Hofstra women’s lacrosse is nationally ranked and a factor once again. The Pride improved to 5-2 with a 17-7 thrashing of Stony Brook on Wednesday, March 17. Gandolfi, a speedy midfielder, poured in five goals and added an assist. Its two losses came by a combined two goals to nationally-ranked Notre Dame and Penn, and were offset by a double-overtime win over No. 20 Rutgers.

Hofstra, ranked 19th nationally, travels to face Stanford March 31 before hosting Colonial Athletic Association rival William & Mary on April 9. The Pride head into CAA play with confidence—and an intimate sense of how things can go from right to wrong, oh so fast.

“We really don’t talk about or think about rankings,” Morgan said. “It really doesn’t matter where we’re ranked. It’s nice to get the recognition. But our team is about where we are and how we feel about where we are. And right now the feeling is we’ll continue climbing the ladder and keep improving.”

Hofstra struggled through a 7-9 season in 2008 and rebounded last spring with a 9-4 start and national ranking heading into the final week of the regular season. Then came back-to-back losses to Old Dominion and William & Mary. It dropped the Pride from first to fifth place and out of the CAA Tournament.

Morgan and Gandolfi vow not to take anything for granted this time around. Their focus is on the next ball in the back of the net.

“Without a doubt it is disappointing,” Morgan said. “You want to go back and play the games over. Last year we were playing well and were tied for first in the conference. And then two games and we’re out of it. That’s how our conference is.’’

Gandolfi isn’t accustomed to losing. She teamed with one of the great school girl athletes to ever hail from Long Island. Jill Byers starred in soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Northport High School and was one year senior to Gandolfi. But while Byers moved on to Notre Dame and became a four-time All-American, Gandolfi proved she could carry a team too.

In 2006, Gandolfi led Northport to a Suffolk Class AA title in basketball and a Class A crown in lacrosse. She was named Suffolk player of the year in lacrosse and a Newsday All-Long Island pick.

“There was so much competition in Northport, you had to be the best to play,” said Gandolfi, a physical education major.

She chose Hofstra because she wanted to stay close to home. The move paid off immediately. Morgan, then the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach, was elevated to the top job.

The rookie coach wasted little time in showcasing her top recruit. Her talent was so immense that Morgan moved a senior from midfield to attack just to get Gandolfi on the field. Gandolfi started 11 games as a freshman in 2007 and scored 24 goals, including five in the CAA title game against James Madison.

The win gave Hofstra a berth in the NCAA Tournament, something Gandolfi and her teammates have been thinking about ever since.

“It makes us want it even more,” said Gandolfi, a third-team All-American as a junior and a member of the U.S. developmental squad. “We have nine seniors. We know what it takes to get there. We’ve done it.”

It’s cake and caviar time for Hofstra women’s lacrosse. Gandolfi and Morgan won’t be satisfied with anything less.

Blog originally posted at LI