May 12, 2014

MD3 Notebook: Greenberg's Fight Fueling Union

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

"The boys got over it as Nate got over it and got better and better. They've rallied around him," Union head coach Paul Wehrum said. "The No. 3 is all around campus right now because that's Nate's number, and as long as I'm at Union, nobody we'll wear the No. 3 except Nate Greenberg." (Union Athletics)

While the rest of his classmates were packing their clothes and securing all of the necessary items for their senior year at Union College this past fall, Nate Greenberg was heading somewhere else. He was on his way to the hospital for a consultation with a physician.

There was a hollowness found in the top of his femur, and that's never a good thing. It's one of the telltale signs of Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that typically manifests in the bones around the pelvis of young adults. As everyone feared, it was Ewing's sarcoma, and Greenberg's lacrosse career was over.

At least on the field.

Greenberg's struggles to conquer the insidious disease has been a source of inspiration at the Schenectady, N.Y., school, especially its men's lacrosse program. When the news of Greenberg's malady first made its way to campus, however, it was a shock to everyone.

"Honestly, some of the kids and the staff needed to talk to more professional people in that regard because of the anger," said Dutchmen head coach Paul Wehrum.

What Greenberg had to endure in the months following was brutal. His hip was replaced in order to stop any further tumor growth and he had to go through more than 15 rounds of chemotherapy – a cocktail of chemicals that attempts to kill off the cancer, but also takes its toll on the host.

"He's the toughest kid I've ever met, I swear to God," Wehrum said. "Even when he was really struggling with the chemo and the surgery, which was really tough because the chemo itself is devastating, he always had a great attitude. When you have a major surgery like a hip replacement and you're a 21 or 22 year old kid, the combination is devastating."

Greenberg has been winning his fight to this point. He has even managed to attend many of Union's games in the second half of the season. For Senior Day, the Union team donned yellow shorts and shirts – the color of Ewing's sarcoma awareness – in Greenberg's honor, and the Dutchmen have rode his recovery to the quarterfinals of the national tournament.

"The boys got over it as Nate got over it and got better and better. They've rallied around him," Wehrum said. "The No. 3 is all around campus right now because that's Nate's number, and as long as I'm at Union, nobody we'll wear the No. 3 except Nate Greenberg. I've been coaching for over 40 years and I've had tragedies, but I've never experienced anything like this when it stays with you every day when you reach out to talk to the kid or you talk to the mom and he's having a tough time with the chemo. But now he's doing great, he's been an inspiration when he has been on the sidelines for seven or eight games."

Greenberg is a member of a 13-man senior class that has been largely responsible for Union's success this year, and he was supposed to be living with eight of his peers in an off-campus house. The room that was designated as Greenberg's sits empty. "Nobody uses it," Wehrum said. "That's Nate's room." Greenberg has also been contacted by New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, who also tackled Ewing's sarcoma, to lend his support.

Prior to Saturday's game with Amherst, Greenberg made a quick tour of the Union locker room, giving out hugs and words of encouragement prior to the Dutchmen manhandling the Lord Jeffs, 17-11. It was great moment for a team that is trying to reach new heights with him as their motivation.

"He's got more hair than me," Wehrum said. "He was all smiles."

For as much progress as he's made, cancer is a tough opponent and there is still work to be done. Greenberg will have chemotherapy treatments on Monday and Tuesday, and hopes to have enough strength to be on the sidelines to watch Union face RIT in the quarterfinals.

Regardless of whether the Dutchmen win or lose, they will be thankful to have their friend and teammate with them.

"He's going to come back next year and graduate from Union," Wehrum said. "We kept him on our roster and he'll be on our roster. It's a good story, not a bad story."

Daly Hits Milestone

"I remember the first set of goalies and the first set of guys, and honestly that's what I take more out of this than anything," Tufts coach Mike Daly said. "It's all about the relationships and the names and the parents." (John Strohacker)

It was a statistical nugget that was completely lost during the run-up to Saturday's second round game between Tufts and Endicott. A Jumbos win would be the 200th in the career of head coach Mike Daly, who took over the program in 1999. Had it not been for an attentive former player, it might have passed by without anyone noticing.

And Daly would have been just fine with that.

"I didn't know. I don't think the kids knew. I don't think anybody knew," Daly said. "One of our alums called either [assistant coach Sean] Kirwan or [SID Paul] Sweeney. I don't know how it all transpired, and I wish nobody noticed."

That's standard fare for Daly, who is always attempting to keep the spotlight on his players and his program, and off the man behind the curtain. He claims to not even recall what team his first win came against.

"I remember the first set of goalies and the first set of guys, and honestly that's what I take more out of this than anything," Daly said. "It's all about the relationships and the names and the parents. The amount of parents we have back at our games – alumni's parents – that's really the reason for all the wins and really the reason we like all the wins, frankly."

It's a difficult question to answer in the middle of an NCAA run and especially with a dangerous Cortland team coming to Medford on Wednesday, but Daly was asked to reflect on what he learned between win No. 1 and No. 200.

"We've had this conversation on multiple occasions, just how every day gives you something new and a new challenge coaching 18-to-22-year-olds and their spirit," he said. "It's really a day to day learning experience. It's full of mostly good, but there are certainly challenges, too."

Daly also points out that he's down the line a little bit from many of his contemporaries. He recognized that Sean Quirk, the head coach of the Endicott team they defeated on Saturday, is already on his way to 300. "Coach Berkman and Coach Janczyk are probably closing in on a billion," he added, referring to the Salisbury and Gettysburg leading men.

"It's a nice reflection of some of the people and things we've been able to do, but we're day to day in this business and you're only as good as your next one," Daly said. "We're focused on that."

Slides & Rides

- Coaches have plenty of responsibilities, and most of them are obvious to anyone who watches a game. In the Division III ranks, where there are no Director of Operations or much support staff at all, there are many non-lacrosse tasks that the head coach must fulfill, including den mother.

During late afternoon and evening games, the Washington College coaching staff will whip together boxed meals, typically consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some other victuals, which the players can nosh on during the hours before the game. Prior to the Centennial championship game against Franklin & Marshall, which started at 1 p.m., sophomore middie Sid Looney urgenty sought out Shoremen head coach Jeff Shirk.

"He comes into the office and says, 'Coach, where are the PB&J's?' Coach [Shayne] Lynch, who does the box lunches, says, 'Looney, it's a morning game, we've got bagels and breakfast stuff,'" Shirk recalled. "Right away, I'm thinking, 'Oh, man.' Last game [against Lynchburg] was also a morning game, so I made him a PB&J sandwich, put it in a ziplock, and as he was walking in I kind of flipped it to him. He says, 'Ahhhh, thanks, Coach!'"

Shirk wants to keep Looney happy, as the gunner has been filling in for the injured Grant Hughes, and will be a big part of the equation if the Shoremen want to derail defending champion Stevenson on Wednesday. "When he's on, he could easily have 12 goals on 12 shots," Shirk said. "He shoots the ball that well and that hard." With the game slated for a 7 p.m. start, Looney should have access to plenty of PB&Js to keep him locked in.

- Count Ithaca head coach Jeff Long among the RIT believers. In a game story written for LMO by Will Cleveland, Long talked about the challenge of facing the Tigers. "You can't make mistakes against RIT, because they're going to burn you with every mistake you make," he said. "You saw that in the first quarter [of RIT's 20-8 win over Ithaca]. We tried to clear the ball and bang, bang, all of a sudden the ball is at the other end of the field. They are a championship team. I think today we saw that on this field."

- Cortland's Joe Slavik appears to be all the way back from his midseason injury after scoring three goals and dishing out four assists in the Red Dragons win against Springfield. Steve Beville's crew appear to be rounding into form as they head into the Tufts game. "It's been one of those seasons with the ups and downs, the injuries, the weather and the general lack of continuity, but we're really starting to put it together on both sides of the ball," Beville said.

- The most stunning stat of the second round was Corey Elmer, the nation's points leader, managing just one assist against Stevenson. Much of the credit has to go to Mustangs junior close defender Callum Robinson.

"We wanted Callum to play him straight up to see if he could guard him, but we also did a nice job playing team defense because they set so many picks for him," Stevenson head coach Paul Cantabene said. "It's tough to fight through all those picks all the time. We had to switch a few times, but man on man, I thought Callum did a great job taking away his strengths and playing his angles. Elmer was also less and less likely to go against him because he was getting beat up every time he touched the ball."

- Was Mike Daly worried about only winning 10-9 against Endicott when his Jumbos had previously been scoring at a prolific rate? "There are no apologies for getting 10 goals and getting a win," he said...Denison had its hands full with Aurora before subduing the Spartans, 11-8. It was a one-goal game with under four minutes to play until Blair Farinholt scored twice for the final margin. The Big Red now head to Salisbury to face the regionally top-seeded Sea Gulls while Aurora further establishes its reputation as a team no one wants to see in the tourney...the Sea Gulls took the third and final meeting with York, using a late surge to win 12-6. They'll play Denison at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

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