February 11, 2010

With Big East, Villanova Antes Up for Lacrosse

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Villanova defenseman Bryan McCartney strips Penn States Matthew Mackrides in the teams' 2009 matchup.

© Kevin P. Tucker

The Villanova men’s program made a big move forward when it reached the NCAA tournament for the first time. The Wildcats make an even bigger move 1 p.m. Saturday when they take on Ohio State in their first game as a Big East school.

“It’s awesome,” said Wildcats head coach Mike Corrado. “We are really, really excited about it. On our campus, there’s a lot of excitement for us. We’re playing teams that our other teams play.”

Villanova is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association after winning the conference tournament in 2009. Its Big East opener isn’t until March 29 -- at defending national champion Syracuse to further cement the significance of the move.

“We made a nice step last year and we want to build on it,” said Corrado, who is in his fourth year at the helm. “We want to go into the Big East and compete. Syracuse, they’re the 11-time national champion. They’re the class of the Big East right now. We want to catch up. We’re looking forward to measuring ourselves to see where we’re at. That’s what’s great about this year. We’ll see where we’re at and what we have to improve.”

The move to the Big East is the start of a new commitment to lacrosse from Villanova. Randy Marks left in 2006 after 24 years as the head coach because the school would not offer the part-time coach benefits. Marks sees the progress from afar, now as an assistant at Division III Franklin and Marshall.

“I’m happy for the kids and the staff,” said Marks, who is in his 41st year coaching lacrosse. “Through four ADs and two presidents, none of them gave any justice to the lacrosse program. My part-time assistants were making $3,000 a year.”

Corrado, one of four members of the staff that played for Marks and a former assistant under him, is still a part-time coach. He teaches history at Upper Darby High, but Villanova is moving to make his job full-time.

“There’s more of a commitment with the coaching positions and more with scholarship dollars,” Corrado said. “They’re phasing them in. It’s all coming. It’s positive. It’s all going in the right direction.

“We’re fortunate. Villanova is a great school in a great location. With an increased commitment from the school, it’s going to get better. All the facilities and the staff, that’s always been terrific. We just haven’t had the dollars.”

Marks led fundraising to keep the program going strong, and his alumni players were some of the most generous contributors of any Villanova program’s. The Wildcats regularly drew thousands of fans for their toughest opponents.

“We had an awful lot of success for the limitations we had,” Marks said. “We were doing the right things.”

Now the Wildcats have the administration beginning to back the coaching staff and players. Corrado expects their ability to recruit and attract higher caliber players to improve.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get two or three of those next-level kids and the types of kids we’ve gotten,” he said. “The last five years, we’ve been in the top 20 two or three years without it.”

The lacrosse budget also will be increased to allow for greater travel and player expenses. Villanova has until 2013 to meet Big East compliance minimums. This weekend, though, the Wildcats are taking a seven-and-a-half bus ride to Ohio State rather than a more expensive plane ride.

Said Corrado: “It’s a lot of movies on the bus.”

When they arrive in Ohio State, the Wildcats will face an unfamiliar opponent. The teams played two years ago at Villanova, but couldn’t find a date for the home-and-home series last year.

“We won’t have much to go on,” Corrado said. “It’s much more about us than about them. We want to win the game. It’s kind of a unique situation. From that standpoint, they won’t have a lot on us either. We’re excited. It’s a great opponent.”

Villanova will face a similar challenge of unfamiliarity in its first year in the Big East.

Said Corrado: “We played Notre Dame on a pretty regular basis. We played Syracuse once. We haven’t played Rutgers, St. John’s and Providence. We’ll be very unfamiliar with some opponents. Drexel and Delaware are still on our schedule from the CAA, so we’ll be more familiar with them.”

The Wildcats will lean on their defense in the early going, though it lost two important keys to graduation in goalie Andrew DiLoreto and defenseman Eddie DiDonato, a captain who was second on the team in caused turnovers. Last month, DiDonato was shot six times in Philadelphia and continues to recover in a hospital.

“Initially everybody was in shock that it happened,” Corrado said. “It’s a member of our family and when something like that happened, it brought everyone in closer than they were. We talked about it a lot. We visited him. He’s in our thoughts and prayers. In talking to his dad, he’s getting better every day.”

The Wildcats would like nothing more than to see DiDonato out of the hospital and in attendance. There’s a lot to look forward to as Villanova opens a new chapter of Big East play.

“Overall, we’re very excited,” Corrado said. “It’s an exciting part, especially for the future of our program.”

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