May 20, 2010

Stony Brook's No Fluke, Athletic Director Says

by Chris R. Vaccaro | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Rick Sowell leads the Stony Brook men's lacrosse team into the NCAA quarterfinals against top-seeded Virginia. The Seawolves have advantage of hosting.

© Joe Rogate

When Jim Fiore was appointed director of athletics at Stony Brook University in 2003, forging an athletic brand was at the top of the wish list for school administrators.

Now almost seven years later, his plan has developed effectively and this weekend’s NCAA Division I men's  lacrosse quarterfinal between the eighth-seeded Seawolves and top-seeded Virginia marks another impressive sporting event on a laundry list of noteworthy accomplishments from the 2009-10 school year.

It started with the football team winning the Big South Conference last fall and snowballed into the men’s basketball team earning a bid to the NIT, where Stony Brook garnered major attention hosting the University of Illinois.

Now, the men’s lacrosse team is coming off a 9-7 NCAA tournament first-round win over the University of Denver. The men’s soccer and women’s cross-country teams also won conference titles in the midst of this trophy parade.

Lacrosse coach Rick Sowell might have been content with just winning the America East Conference. This is gravy.

“It’s an exciting time here at Stony Brook,” he said. “More and more people are finding out what a great university it is.”

A passionate Fiore speaks of Stony Brook as Long Island’s new mecca for academic and athletic superiority, surpassing Hofstra University at the head of the table, especially with this year’s success on the sports fields.

“It starts and ends with sports emphasis,” said Fiore, who played football and graduated from Hofstra before he set off into the world of athletic administration. “The athletic department lacked swagger when I got here. We believe in the brand and the product and have been able to sell it.”

The branding included the building of and renovations to Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium, which is already sold out for Sunday’s games, also including an NCAA quarterfinal tilt between tournament darling Army and Cornell. It focused on creating catchy marketing material, implementing an aggressive and dominant logo and of course hiring coaches like Sowell and Steve Pikiell, who was an assistant at the University of Connecticut before he took over at the helm of Seawolves men’s basketball.

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central


Fiore made it clear Stony Brook -- which opened in 1957 and didn’t start awarding athletic scholarships until 1986 -- is not some one-year wonder and will continue to make statements.

“At the end of the day, this is all about people skills and passion,” he said. “Athletics are very simple. The third key here at Stony Brook is potential.”

With bucket loads of untapped prospective still in the wings for the Seawolves, Fiore is pleased with the ascertainment of tradition the university has built.

At one point he had the athletic department give out shirts that said, “What’s YOUR ring size?” on the back.

“Now we don’t just want to win,” he said. “We know what it takes to win and we’re changing the culture. We’re not stopping anytime soon.”

Sowell, echoing Fiore’s sentiments, is as confident as a coach can be when he’s tasked with playing the top team in the nation on his home turf.

“Our ultimate challenge is Virginia,” he said, “but we’re hopeful. We feel we’re capable of playing at that level.”

Would you expect less? Stony Brook has ridden the magic carpet all year long. Another page to its scrapbook would be par for the course.

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