April 29, 2013

Making Sense: Apprenticeship Complete for Slavik

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

Cortland junior Joe Slavik started his career under the wing of Chris DeLuca, but now it is Slavik playing the role of mentor for the Red Dragons. However, he is still an apprentice during the summers.
© Bill Danielewski

When he was just 14 years old, Joe Slavik knew he was going to be a part of the family business. He was hanging out in the shop or running around the warehouse at Piccirilli-Slavik & Vincent Heating and Plumbing in Binghamton, N.Y., doing whatever he could to help his father. As he got older, Slavik became further immersed in the business, joining the company's plumber apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship is a four-year program, and involves classes and hands on training with licensed plumbers. It also makes for a long offseason for Slavik, a junior captain for the Cortland men's lacrosse team.

"Every summer that's what I do as a full-time job. I work 45 hours a week," Slavik said. "I do schools and big hospitals. It takes a lot of out of my summer."

Plumbing and HVAC installation is rough job, and Slavik doesn't get any slack just because his old man is in the corner office.

"He sticks me with the tough stuff," Slavik said with a chuckle. "He doesn't take it easy on me once I'm there. He makes me work, but it's all good."

The plumbing apprenticeship will lead, perhaps, to Slavik one day taking over the family business, but it was another type of apprenticeship that helped him evolve into one of the best midfielders in the country.

Slavik knew he was going to be a contributor right away for Cortland. The Red Dragon staff shared his beliefs, inserting him on the first midfield line as a rookie in 2011. Slavik's stature wasn't that impressive. He was only 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds when he showed up — one of the reasons he didn't get much interest from mid-to-high level Division I programs — but he had an uncanny ability to deliver from his midfield position.

"Some people got scared off by his size," said Cortland head coach Steve Beville. "He wasn't really a big guy and he's kind of lean, but we noticed he had an ability to create. He was able to free himself up and shoot and he had a non-stop motor. He just played hard every minute he was on the field. We thought, 'Well, size doesn't matter when you can create like he does.'"

Every freshman, even the most talented ones, has to transition from high school to college. A lot of times it has nothing to do with skills or fundamentals, but more about just learning how to prepare and play the game at a higher level. Often times it takes an upperclassman to mentor rookies in the subtleties of the college game.

For Slavik, that was Chris DeLuca. A senior on that 2011 squad, DeLuca was the Division III player of the year as a junior and was named USILA's midfielder of the year at the conclusion of his final year.

"He was just such a positive influence," said Slavik of DeLuca. "He knew the offense and [the opposition's] slide packages so well. He knew where the spots would be — where you want to dodge to, where you want to shoot in the alleys. He was a positive force. I can't say enough good things about him."

Apprenticing on the first midfield line with DeLuca, Slavik finished fourth in scoring with 31 goals and 14 assists, one point ahead of DeLuca. Who got the points was inconsequential. That was one of the lessons learned.

"DeLuca really helped Joe out that first year with some of the finer points of the game," Beville said. "He led by example with leadership and work ethic. Joe had it in him anyways, so it was just a real natural thing. We never really had to foster any of it. It was just was one of those great things in sport where guys put their egos aside and decide they are there to help the younger guys coming in. Joe has carried that torch on. He's our best player, but he is also the best teammate and best leader."

Beville readily admits that this mentor-apprentice relationship among numerous players at different positions has been crucial in Cortland's recent success. But Beville has also adopted what he calls a blue-collar mentality with his team, fostering an atmosphere where the players shouldn't be afraid to do the dirty work.

Slavik was a perfect fit in that regard.

"That was one of the things that we really liked about him," Beville said. "He's from Binghamton, and it doesn't get any more blue collar than Binghamton. He has always had an outstanding work ethic. We have days when we tell the guys it's time to strap it on and grind it out for a full practice and maybe just put in one good hour of footwork or fundamentals. Slav works as hard as anyone on those. He buys completely into the blue-collar work ethic that we have at Cortland."

There's also an inherent toughness to Slavik. He has put on 10 pounds since he joined Cortland, but is still only 165. Having a smaller marquee player invites opposing teams to get a little physical.

"You'll see teams taking late shots at him," Beville said. "You see teams coming at him and trying push him around a little bit, but it never works. He takes the hits and never complains. He just keeps grinding away."

It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Slavik, who admits that last year he ran into a stretch of three games when he wasn't matching his normal production. He has drawn a long pole pretty much from his freshman year, but he was having difficulty shaking them as he normally did, causing his points hiatus. It was something he and DeLuca had talked about, but he just needed a refresher.

"I became quite frustrated and I sat down with coach and watched a bunch of film and took a breather," said Slavik. "Last year's experience matured me a lot. Now I think I'm doing alright with [the pole]. I've grown into the role more than I did last year."

What was Beville's advice to Slavik?

"We basically just said, 'Keep shooting,'" Beville said. "'Hey, man, you're too good of a player for this to continue going on, so just make sure you're getting your seven or eight shots per game, distribute the ball to the guys who are wide open and let the game come to you.'"

Slavik is now the veteran on Cortland's first midfield line as he is bracketed by sophomores Matt Rakoczy and Mike Cantelli. As such, he is trying to pass on as much sage advice to his two apprentices that he received.

"They are great players and I've been doing the same things that Chris did for me," Slavik said. "Be on them and let them know what they can do and make adjustments. They are learning a lot, and they are really good players."

Slavik is unquestionably a leader for the top-ranked and undefeated Red Dragons. He was voted a unanimous captain by the players and staff — and impressive honor for a junior. Even DeLuca, who was the national player of the year his junior season, didn't wear the 'C' until his final year.

Slavik's lacrosse apprenticeship is long over and he is now the mentor. The cycle is coming full circle, and will hopefully be repeated again down the road.

"Slavs has certainly done his job of keeping everybody focused and on the same page without ego," Beville said. "It's very important. You can see that those sophomores have really improved both on and off the field. You know that one day, it will be their turn to be that guy."

Players of the Week

NCAA Division II
Craig Owen
, A, Sr., Chestnut Hill

Playing in his last home game with the Griffins, Owen made sure the entire senior class went out in style. Owen scored five goals and set up a sixth, leading Chestnut Hill to an 18-8 rout of No. 10 and defending national champion Dowling. Owen posted a natural hat trick to break the game open in the second period.

NCAA Division III
Ryan McMahon
, G, Soph., Ohio Wesleyan

With an NCAA tournament berth on the line in the NCAC tournament championship game, McMahon made sure the Battling Bishops got their postseason chance. He made 17 saves, including a point-blank stop with just seconds remaining, to preserve OWU's 10-9 victory. He has a 6.21 goals against average this spring.

MCLA Division I
John Lambrecht, A, Jr., Boston College
The Eagles completed their perfect regular season thanks to the play of Lambrecht. On Friday, he buried three goals and set up a fourth in BC's 9-6 victory over Beanpot rival Northeastern. He followed that up on Sunday with two markers and three dimes in the Eagles' 14-10 triumph over defending PCLL champion Buffalo.

MCLA Division II
Josh Puckett, A, Jr., Indiana Tech
In a CCLA quarterfinal clash with Aquinas, Indiana Tech was a heavy favorite, but Puckett took all the drama out of the affair. He scored 11 goals and set up two others — keeping a hand in half of the Warriors' production — as IT rolled to a 26-6 triumph. Pucket enetered the game with 22 goals and 10 helpers.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Merychurst (14-0) – Seton Hill never had a chance. There just aren't many holes on this team right now.
2. Limestone (15-1) – The Saints would love to get an opponent in the stifling Gaffney heat in the NCAA quarterfinals.
3. Adelphi (12-1) – With top billing in the NE-10 tourney, it would appear that the Panthers are just playing for NCAA seeding now.
4. LIU Post (10-2) – All that stands between the Pioneers and an NCAA bid is a nasty game with a dangerous Chestnut Hill squad.
5. Merrimack (11-2) – The Warriors should probably treat their eventual game with Le Moyne as a tourney play-in contest.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (15-0) – So nice, they'll play it twice. Potsdam returns to CNY for another crack at the Red Dragons Wednesday.
2. Dickinson (15-0) – I'm guessing the Red Devils could take a loss in the Centennial and still be the No. 1 Southern seed.
3. RIT (14-2) – St. Lawrence played the Tigers just close enough to make the Liberty title anything but a formality.
4. Roanoke (13-3) – Sometimes the worst thing for a hot team is a two-week break. We'll see how the Maroons respond.
5. Middlebury (13-2) – It's five straight wins for the Panthers and the knowledge they won't be leaving Vermont for several weeks.

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado State (15-0) – Is the two-week break before the RMLC tourney a good or bad thing? Or does anything matter with the Rams?
2. Colorado (14-1) – Scoring will be the question mark with this team. They just aren't a dynamic offensive squad.
3. Chapman (13-4) – The last three seasons, Chapman and ASU have met in the SLC title game. This year, it'll be the semifinals.
4. Boston College (11-0) – Western snobs might scoff at the Eagles schedule, but talent and confidence are a dangerous mix.
5. Michigan State (11-2) – In the same mold as BC: tough, experienced and just begging for an overconfident foe in Greenville.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (13-0) – Hopefully the weather is nice in Greenville for the Tommies so they can work on their vacation tans.
2. Westminster (11-4) – I am completely on the edge of my seat as I think about how the RMLC tourney is going to play out.
3. Liberty (16-1) – Once Elon got bounced in the SELC tournament, Liberty's championship was essentially assured.
4. St. John's (11-2) – The Johnnies were the bridesmaids once again in the UMLL. Wonder what round UST and St. John's will meet again?
5. Concordia (10-3) – The Eagles better make a deep run this year because they lose a chunk of talent off the roster.


NCAA Division II: Limestone isn't playing on Selection Sunday this year, but they aren't resting.
NCAA Division III: Coaching Plattsburgh isn't a job for Ryan Cavanagh. It's a quest.
MCLA Division I
: Georgia Tech came so close to the tourney, but there are a lot of reasons the Yellow Jackets should be optimistic.
MCLA Division II: Sam Houston State is in the tourney once again. Will things be different this year?

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