April 23, 2012

Making Sense: Scordato's Return Boosts UConn

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

Under the tutelage of Paul Scordato, UConn is not only getting the wins, but they are reconnecting with their alumni and embracing the parents. It's something that Scordato did well when he was the head coach at New Haven back in the '80s, and he's using the same principles now.
© Janice Murray

Back in the early 1980s, Paul Scordato was the head coach at New Haven when the Chargers were a varsity team. He had good success with the program, so much so that he was offered the head job at Division I Vermont. It was at this point that his soon-to-be wife uttered a couple of questions that would change Scordato's life.

What's this coaching thing? Aren't you going to get a real job?

Scordato turned down the Vermont gig and entered the private sector, his wife smiling all the while.

"From that day, I've always regretted it and wondered where I would have wound up if I went there," Scordato said.

Thirty years later, Scordato is taking another stab at the coaching ranks, but this time with University of Connecticut, which operates in the MCLA Division I. It would seem that Scordato hasn't lost any of his coaching acumen, as the Huskies have posted a 9-2 record and are ranked No. 14 in the country.

Scordato was hired in the offseason partly because he had an extensive background in the Xs and Os of the game to maximize the UConn roster that is dripping was talent. What put him over the top was the ideas he had to reconnect the program with the parents, alums and even to the school itself, to some degree.

"They wanted to enhance their program and bring it to another level," said Scordato. "I did that at New Haven, which had won four games in two years. I basically just started to recruit better student-athletes and turned the record around. I got the parents involved, got the alumni involved and did some fundraising. I knew the formula. A lot of people have come up to me and said, 'Listen, where the program was last year and this year, it's like a 180 degree turnaround.' I'm hearing a lot of positive constructive criticism and reinforcing comments from the parents, as well. That's a good indicator."

Travis Church, the president of the team, has noticed that the graduates are becoming more invested in the program, figuratively and literally.

"There has always been alumni involvement, but this year Coach Scordato has really made it a project to get the parents and alumni involved more than in the past," Church said. "Usually you just graduate UConn and maybe you donated a couple of things to the team or bought some gear. But this year we've had a really good alumni faction at all of our games and we've had a couple of alumni games. I think this year, more than previous years, the alumni has been much more involved with the team."

Scordato said he received a call recently from the school's development office informing him that an alum had written a sizeable check and earmarked it for the men's lacrosse team. "He said he was just thrilled with how the program has turned around and he sent a significant amount of money," Scordato said.

The push to co-opt the alums and parents is never easy, but it's a lot simpler when you are winning games. From 2008-11, the Huskies were a combined 21-22, including last year's 5-7 campaign. With UConn on the cusp of a 10-win regular season and the very real potential for a bid to nationals, there are good vibes all around. Scordato is doing it with a micro approach to the game.

"He really focuses on doing all of the small things perfectly," said Church. "You can have fancy shots and you can rip a corner going 90 miles an hour, but if you don't fight and box out for the ground balls or hustle to the end line to back up a shot or make the perfect pass, it's those small things that ultimately lead to goals. He's really been harping on us to perfect our basics so our skills can shine."

There is certainly skill on the team, and the roster is loaded with guys who transferred in from varsity programs like St. John's and Providence along with some of the nearby Division III schools. All Scordato had to do was get the players to, as he says, "Drink the Kool-Aid."

"The first day they met me, they thought, 'Who is this overweight, balding guy,'" Scordato said. "I put the BC score up on the board and I said, 'All we're going to do is reverse the score. We're going to start doing the small things that good teams do to win games.' We've been preaching that stuff and they are all buying into it. They know that there is a formula to winning these big, tough games. UConn had never beat BC, and when I played, I never personally beat them, so I wanted to whoop on them pretty good."

UConn did, thrashing the 16th-ranked Eagles, 11-5. Junior Kevin Canavan, who had four goals and an assist in the BC win, wasn't sure what to make of Scordato when the coach initially signed on. An Under Armour All-American who had offers from several D-I programs before picking UConn, Canavan has embraced Scordato's approach.

"He's a pretty quirky kind of guy," said Canavan, who leads the Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League in scoring with 38 goals. "He definitely comes from heart. He loves the game, which is obvious, and he sees us all as family. It's definitely worth listening to him talk because he really does mean what he is saying. He is not afraid to speak his mind about what is going on, which is great because he lets us know what we're playing for."

"They believe that if they put their mind to it and commit to a certain level, they'll be rewarded," said Scordato. "It is very easy to say that we're just a club team and this really isn't that important. I made them believe that it is very important and they can put that bar a little higher everyday and improve every day. They see that. They see what they are capable of doing. They do have a different swagger. It is a blue-collar swagger that they are using to get up for the games. We're not a very fancy team, but we just get the job done because we do the small things better than the teams that we're playing."

Scordato has managed to do this in his first year. He hasn't fully implemented his alumni and fundraising goals, and he hasn't even hit the recruiting trail, which was his specialty when Scordato coached at New Haven. "I just played with the cards I was dealt," he said of the 50 players he kept on the roster this spring. As such, it would appear that this is just the start of a resurgence for a proud program that had fallen on hard times.

For Scordato, it marks the return to a sport that he was forced to walk away from 30 years ago. If the Huskies can help it, he won't be walking away a second time.

Game Balls

Dominic Boggiano, Soph., Attack – Davenport
In a tight game with nationally ranked Indiana Tech, Boggiano struck for three goals and dished out four assists along the way in the Panthers 16-14 victoy.

James Chayka, Jr., Middie – Mercyhurst
In a showdown with an NYIT team with postseason aspirations, Chayka scored four goals – including the game-winner with two ticks left – to keep the champs perfect.

Luke Donavan, Jr., Middie – Florida State
The Seminoles clash with blood rival Florida provided the usual level of excitement and Donovan's four goals and three dimes helped FSU pull out the 15-14 victory.

JS Duke, Sr., Attack – McDaniel
Duke scored a pair of goals and set up three others, helping the Green Terror not only beat No. 13 Gettysburg, but also keep McDaniels' hope for a Centennial bid alive.

Dylan Lefebrve, Soph., Attack – Seton Hill
Mercy goalie T.J. DiCarlo doesn't give up 17 goals very often – he only allowed 10 to Mercyhurst – but with Lefebrve, the Saskatchewan native leading the way with three goals and three assists, the Griffins rocked the Mustangs.

John Jennings, Jr., Attack – Colby
Jennings' seventh goal of the afternoon was the biggest one, as his overtime strike lifted the White Mules to an 11-10 victory over Middlebury.

Greg Melaugh, Jr., Attack – Merrimack
Melaugh's fifth goal of the game came with 14 seconds left, helping the Warriors fend off Bentley in Foxborough, 12-11. He also dished out an assist to factor in half the Merrimack goals.

A.J. Reichert, Jr, Middie – Franklin & Marshall
Reichert's third goal of the day came in overtime, helping the Diplomats upend No. 9 Dickinson, 11-10. He also added an assist in the triumph.

Matt Volmer, Soph., Attack – Missouri
The Tigers needed to rally to beat archrival Kansas in the Border War, but Volmer didn't let them down with three goals and two assists in the important 11-9 triumph.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Mercyhurst (11-0) – Other than a soul-sucking trip back to NYC (vs. Dominican), the Lakers are living like kings.
2. Le Moyne (14-0) – The Dolphins only out-scored their opponents this week by a combined score of 39-7. Is it time to get concerned about Le Moyne?
3. Dowling (10-1) – The Lions have to win out, and that's not fun when you have to face a goalie like T.J. DiCarlo. Dowling better have the shooting gloves on.
4. Limestone (13-1) – Beating Pfeiffer in the Conferene Carolinas was the easiest of a brutal three-game swing. The Saints better be careful.
5. Catawba (14-2) – There's nothing quite as compelling as a "for-all-the-marbles" contest, and that's what the Indians face when they host Limestone this weekend.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (14-0) – There are plenty of differences, but there are also too may similarities between this year's team and the '06 edition to ignore.
2. Salisbury (17-0) – Cortland's been through it, but the Sea Gulls will face a gauntlet in the NCAAs that they've never experienced before. At least this season.
3. Lynchburg (15-1) – Is outscoring opponents by a count of 90-32 in the month of April a good sign? It's not bad, but it leaves a couple of questions entering May.
4. Tufts (12-2) – It may not make sense on paper, but I think this Jumbo squad is quite a bit stronger than the team that got scorched by Salisbury last year.
5. Stevenson (13-3) – The Mustangs have been relegated to 'Little Brother' status within the CAC/South, but they'll be an awful match-up when the brackets get laid out.

MCLA Division I
1. Cal Poly (15-1) – The Mustangs went on the road and casually dropped 15 on a Stanford team that had previously only allowed eight markers at home.
2. Brigham Young (14-2) – Wes Goar has a 42.9 save percentage. Could this stat catch up with the Cougars at the most inopportune time?
3. Chapman (14-3) – The win over UCSB means the Panthers will avoid the Gauchos and/or Arizona State until the SLC finals. That means a good seed.
4. Colorado State (11-2) – If, like they did against CU, the Rams fall behind by four goals heading into the fourth quarter in Greenville, there will be no comebacks.
5. Oregon (12-3) – The Ducks are a more explosive offensive team that UCSB at this point, although the defense will have to get better if they want to make a run.

MCLA Division II
1. Davenport (11-4) – Seems kind of silly that the Panthers wouldn't be the No. 1 seed in the CCLA tourney. They'll have to contend with Dayton in the semis.
2. St. Thomas (10-1) – The Tommies just dispatched with North Dakota State, but they can look forward to seeing the Bison again next weekend.
3. Grand Valley State (12-1) – The Lakers won their four divisional games by a combined score of 91-12. That doesn't help the Lakers get tourney-ready.
4. St. John's (9-2) – The Johnnies are the top seed in the UMLL tourney, which has the benefit of avoiding a tough game against North Dakota State in the semis.
5. Westminster (13-2) – The Griffins managed to stay closer to BYU than Oregon did this season. Westminny lost, 20-12 on Saturday night.

Monday Notebooks

NCAA Division II: It may be a long shot, but Catawba has a shot at the postseason with a win on Saturday.
NCAA Division III: It's been a season unlike any other at Middlebury.
MCLA Division I: Southern Methodist is eyeing the top spot in the Lonestar Alliance.
MCLA Division II: This could be the first trip to nationals for Washington University of St. Louis.

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