February 14, 2014

#LMRanks: Watson's Return Lifts Adelphi

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

No. 1 Adelphi Panthers

Top Returner: FO Greg Puskuldjian (Sr.)
Puskuldjian (154-for-229, 67.2%) is a difference-maker for the Panthers. Don't be surprised if he ups his offensive (3G) production, as well.

X-Factors: LSM Brian Carney (Sr.) and LSM Ralph Fiella (Fr.)
The Panthers lost a game changer in Kevin Kennedy. Now there are just two long-stick midfielders on the roster and one of them is a freshman. 

The decision by Nick Watson, a native of Manchester, England, who started his career in the Division I ranks, to stay for another year has made Adelphi the team to beat. (Lee Weissman)

The Sunday conversation was surprisingly brief.

With Adelphi's painful NCAA tournament loss to conference rival Le Moyne just a day old, Panthers' head coach Gordon Purdie sat down with Nick Watson, a senior last spring, and laid out the facts.

Because of the obscurities between the Division I and Division II eligibility "clocks" and unbeknownst to him, Watson still had a year left to return to Adelphi for the 2014 campaign. It would mean being a part-time student in the fall and missing all those practices, but it would allow one last bite of the apple for the Manchester, England, native.

"It wasn't until after the [Le Moyne] game that we actually spoke to him and I didn't have to ask him twice," said Purdie. "I laid out the plan and said, 'Listen, we could try to make this happen,' and he was 100 percent for it. There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to come back for another year and get his degree here."

"It wasn't much of a decision for me in terms of coming back," admitted Watson, who had already locked down his engineering degree and was eyeing a Master's in sports management. "I love lacrosse, so if the opportunity was there, it was a no-brainer, really. Once you finish up college you don't get too many more opportunities to play at this level, so it was an easy choice."

Watson has had plenty of choices in his relatively brief life.

In a soccer-crazed country, he latched on to lacrosse – a decision akin to an American youngster embracing cricket. The hop across the pond was another choice, taking an offer to play for Division I Stony Brook. When that didn't work, he opted to head an hour west on Long Island and enroll at Division II Adelphi.

Making Watson a focal point of Adelphi's offense last year? Well, that choice was an easy one for Purdie. With a balanced, if slightly understated game, Watson finished second on the team in points, helping the Panthers finish with a 14-3 record and a berth in national semifinals.

"He's not a real flashy player, but he's tough and he's smart," Purdie said. "He's not a big guy, but he is a worker. He's one of those guys who wanted to become the best he could be. He doesn't do any one thing really well, but he does everything well. He is a real good team guy. He's not a me guy. He's going to be our quarterback and lead our man ups. The ball will always go through him."

"I try to make things happen," Watson added. "I see the field well. That's pretty much it. The creativity, seeing the field, and scoring goals."

As well as Watson plays, Purdie is perhaps most impressed with how well his quarterback handles being so far away from his family. Purdie, who was born in Australia and had to move halfway across the world to play his college ball at Adelphi, knows it's not an easy transition.

"When I came over, in my first semester I said, 'I can't do it,'" Purdie said. "I was so puzzled about whether I was doing the right thing in walking away from my family for basically three years of my life. The answer is you really have to love the game to do it."

"You buy in more than anybody else because your level of commitment is 100 percent," continued Purdie. "I say that because you are constantly reminded when you step off the field that your family is not there to enjoy what you are doing. Your love and passion for lacrosse has to be evident or you will never make it as an international player in the USA. I've seen people who are tortured because here you are playing Division II and you have an opportunity to play in an NCAA playoff game, and there is nobody to share it with."

As such, you tend to join a surrogate family.

"I'm close to my family and I miss them a lot, but you become a part of a team and they become your family in a way," Watson said. "Their families help you out. You make friends and they help you out. You can lean on them. They'll get you through any tough times. I've never been through anything major to deal with so far. Everything has been very smooth for me. I've got a good network of friends and teammates who help me out."

Watson's return is what helped catapult Adelphi to the top of Lacrosse Magazine's preseason ranking, as he is a perfect complement for offensive players like Joe Celano, Ikerson Hopper and Sal Tuttle. Throw in the best faceoff man in the game (Greg Puskuldjian) and an experienced goalie (Aiden Bennardo) and there aren't many weaknesses in the Panthers' lineup.

None of Watson's friends or family have made the trip to America to see him play a lacrosse game as of yet. There's one game in particular he'd love for them to see if Adelphi can make it that far.

"They haven't been out to see a game yet, but depending on how our team is doing come May time, they'll definitely pencil in coming out and seeing a game," Watson said. "Hopefully we can make that happen and get to the championship game."

"I said, 'Nick, if we go to the championship game, are they coming over?' He's not really sure either because it's not always easy to get on a plane," Purdie said. "That's why as an international player you almost question what you're doing because no one is here to enjoy what you're really accomplishing. That's where Adelphi has become a real part of his family. We've become his family."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks. 

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