September 23, 2010

Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.

With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.


Briarcliffe Breaking MCLA Mold

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Archive | Twitter

Matt Karp, one of the many freshmen on last year's tournament qualifer, was second on Briarcliffe in scoring (3.5 ppg) and will be expected to eclipse those numbers in '11.

In the NCAA world, Long Island is arguably the epicenter of the lacrosse world.

In the MCLA universe, Long Island is the hinterlands.

Welcome to the bizzare world of the Briarcliffe men’s lacrosse team.

“A lot of kids out here don’t understand what the MCLA is all about,” said Briarcliffe head coach SeanMichael Pagano. “All of the teams on Long Island are NCAA. Even the JuCo teams like Suffolk and Nassau hurt us. If players are not getting where they want to go, they won’t go to an MCLA team, they’ll go to a JuCo for two years to see if they can get going somewhere else.”

In the past, MCLA Division II competitors could take comfort knowing that teams located in the heart of the "establishment" – teams like Briarcliffe and the rest of the primarily New England-based Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League – couldn’t gain traction, especially in recruiting.

After last season, the non-varsity world is already more wary of the Bulldogs.

Playing within a goal of eventual national runner-up Utah Valley in the first round gave Briarcliffe instant cred. However, the way the Bulldogs are talking, that could have just been an appetizer for the 2011 season.

“We lost 10-9 and everybody was saying that’s great. But to tell you the truth, we didn’t think that was great,” said Pagano, a former Marine and currently an investigator for the New York State Police. “We didn’t have a good game. If we had stayed in our game plan and done what we do best, I think we would have won that game. We got respect from a one-goal loss, and our kids were thinking we could have beaten them.”

It has been tough to get a read on Briarcliffe since Pagano took over, because the team has played a schedule consisting of the mandatory PCLL conference games and a nearly equal number of NCAA D-II and D-III programs. With no reference point, Briarcliffe was an unknown, evidenced by the No. 14 seed it received in the MCLA tournament.

Those NCAA crossover contests are important to the growth of Briarcliffe, however. Not only is it a way to lure prospective players to join the Briarcliffe program, but it gives the Bulldogs a goal to strive toward.

“It’s what we expect from our program; we expect to compete with anybody,” said Pagano. “Army JV, West Point Prep, AIC, Farmingdale -- we expect to compete with these guys.”

Just getting a taste of the national tournament has already altered Pagano's philosophy. He’s still going to play a lot of the local NCAA schools, but he’s added a trip to Pittsburgh in late April to face Davenport and Grove City -- a pair of teams seeded ahead of them at nationals -- to move up the ladder and closer to a national title.

And the Bulldogs will be using a little leftover tourney chatter to spike their motivation.

“UVU put out a statement that they were a better team and better conditioned than we were, and my kids did not like that whatsoever,” said Pagano. “You can already see in the fall ball practices that my upperclassmen are taking a leadership role because they don’t want to lose in the first round of the national tournament again. I return all my athletes from last year and a bunch of freshmen, so we expect to be top 10.”

And, with a little luck, Briarcliffe just might get the MCLA noticed on Long Island.


Team: Briarcliffe
2010 Record:
9-1 (6-0 PCLL)
2010 In Review:
A veritable unknown because of their lack of a national schedule, the Bulldogs breezed through the PCLL schedule to earn an automatic bid. At the tournament, Briarcliffe turned a lot of heads with its one-goal loss to eventual runner-up Utah Valley.

Goodbye… Joe Giannina. Giannina would be entering his junior year of eligibility, but he’s pursuing a different course -- he hopes to join the New York City Police Department in the near future (he took his physical for the NYPD last week). This means the Bulldogs will lose a two-year starter at close defense and create a leadership void on the backline. “I don’t think we’re hurting on defense; I just like the upper class leadership in positions like that,” said Pagano. “Joe gave us that.”

Hello… Eric Vitale. A rookie out of Patchogue/Medford High School, Vitale is expected to step in right away and be a force at LSM. Even though he’s a big kid (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), he can get up and down the field. “He’s fast, one of the fastest kids on the team, and he never gets tired,” said Pagano. “He just does what he’s supposed to. He’s not a flashy kid, but he’ll get the ball off the ground and he’s a scoring threat.” Keep an eye on Sean Stanton, a pole and high school teammate of Vitale’s, as well as Matt Gierle, who will give Briarcliffe solid depth in goal.

Offseason Developments: There’s nothing monumental, but perhaps something subtle that could show up in May. In the last three years Pagano, a first time head coach when he took over the Bulldogs three years ago, has found his groove. “This year we have a fall ball, and I’ve got two years under my belt, so I feel like you’ll see things clicking a lot more for us,” said Pagano. “I think teams are going to have to look out for us in the national outlook.”

Big Question: According to Pagano, it’s pretty simple. “How bad do my athletes want it?” A part of that is following the script laid out by the coaching staff. Pagano feels Briarcliffe should have beat Utah Valley, but the Bulldogs got away from the game plan. If they can avoid that, they feel they make an even bigger splash in Denver. “We want to turn around and show everyone at the national tournament how we do stuff, and not get out of our game plan,” Pagano said.

Fall Schedule: Briarcliffe will play Suffolk Community College on Oct. 10 and in the Farmingdale Fall Tourney. This will be a test for the Bulldogs with many of the top dogs in the region attending, including two-time defending NCAA D-II champion C.W. Post, along with the likes of Adelphi and Pace.

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