October 2, 2013

30 in 30: Can Delfino Build Another Winner at RWC?

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Roberts Wesleyan will have the largest roster in its three-year history this spring, led by sophomore Dom Cianfarano (above), who posted a 50-goal rookie campaign in 2013.
© Chris Pessango

Rocky Delfino is a Luddite.

Technology is just not Delfino's thing. He's not a Facebook guy and doesn't have a Twitter account. Talking with the Roberts Wesleyan head coach, one gets the feeling he might have a CD player with a five-disc changer connected to his hi-fi.

"I'm also a terrible cell phone guy," Delfino admitted. "I don't carry my cell phone on me and that's been an issue. I can't text. But I'm trying to learn."

This can be problematic in the instantaneous recruiting world that coaches live in, but what Delfino can do is coach. It's something he's been doing for the better part of the last 33 years. Entering his third year as Roberts Wesleyan's only coach, Delfino is cautiously optimistic about what his young team will be able to accomplish this spring.

Not only is he expecting to carry close to 30 players on the roster – a long way from the 14 guys he had in the Redhawks' first campaign – the quality of those players has improved dramatically.

"Skill-wise, I think we're closer to having Division II-caliber athletes," Delfino said. "That was a big concern. The first couple of years if you had a pulse, you were on the team just to get bodies. This year we had a good class come in with really good skill players. We'll get some depth to the team."

This could be a scary development for the rest of Division II.

With 24 players on the roster last year and playing one of the stiffest schedules in the country – Roberts Wesleyan was the only team in D-II to play as many as five eventual NCAA tournament teams during the course of the regular season – the Redhawks had some promising results despite their 5-12 final record.

In a midseason conference road trip to LIU Post, Roberts entered the fourth quarter trailing only 5-4, eventually losing the game, 7-5. The Redhawks were tied with Mercyhurst at halftime, 3-3, prior to bowing, 10-5. That was the same outcome of a road clash with Lake Erie. Delfino's crew also had blowout losses to Le Moyne and NYIT – he labeled them "stink bomb games" – but hanging around with postseason teams was important for the growth of the program.

"It was a big step for the kids to see that we're not too far away," Delfino said. "It was a great confidence-builder for a lot of them. Hey, what we're doing is working and we just need to keep following the course."

Building winners is not new to Delfino. When he took over at Monroe Community College, a school located about 20 minutes away from Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester, N.Y., in 2003, he had two weeks before the first game and 14 kids on the roster. The Tribunes were coming off two consecutive down years, so Delfino had his work cut out for him.

In Delfino's fourth season at Monroe, the Tribunes were 15-3 and ranked No. 3 in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). It was the beginning of a streak of Top 5 finishes for Monroe that put it in the same discussion as Onondaga and Herkimer in the JuCo ranks.

"I'm using the same format that I used to build up MCC," Delfino said. "It seems to be working."

Transitioning from the JuCo ranks to a four-year school is not easy. While Paul Wehrum (Herkimer to Union) and Paul Barnard (Herkimer to Hamilton) have done it successfully, there are trials along the way. Wehrum admitted that he tried to change his approach when he arrived at Union, coaching his new players with a softer touch. Delfino understands that urge, but has stayed on a steady course.

"If you look at Herkimer and Union, you figure he's getting a more focused, intelligent kid than he would get at Herkimer. Same thing here between MCC and Roberts," Delfino said. "But they are all kids and they are all athletes. I don't treat my kids any differently. As I tell them, the restrictions and the guidelines and the rules are different [at four-year schools], but I'll always draw the line, especially for the kids on scholarship. If you want to continue to get a good education at a good price, you've got to be able to follow these rules."

Delfino readily admits that recruiting to a four-year school is more difficult than during his NJCAA days, and part of that ties in with his still-growing familiarity with social media and other technologies. In his first three years at Roberts Wesleyan, he has had a nice blend of transfers and rookies. There was the recently graduated close defender David Nye, who played two years at MCC with Delfino before joining the Redhawks, along with sophomore Dom Cianfarano, who finished seventh in the country in goals per game (2.94) and 13th in points (3.82) as a rookie in '13.

He keeps his doors open to anyone, but he's done much of his recruiting out of CNY. He admits to having an affinity for the greater Buffalo area, which he believes is under-recruited. With a concerted push by the school to get students from Long Island and the attraction that Roberts would have – "Being in the ECC, a Long Island kid is going to play half his games at home," laughed Delfino – the Redhawks will be branching out into all the fertile grounds.

It's easy to get lost in the ECC, but Roberts Wesleyan is on everybody's radar. The first two years have shown just what Delfino and the program are capable of doing, and you don't need a smart phone or texting plan to figure that there are a lot more wins waiting in the future.

"More wins will let people see that we're making that jump and getting better," Delfino said. "Building a program and getting the right kids and putting them in the right place, that'll improve the overall win record. We want to start turning the program in year three."

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