February 13, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 2 Adelphi Panthers (WD2)

By Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

No. 2 Adelphi Panthers

2013 record: 18-3 (11-1 SUNYAC) 
Coach: Rob Grella (third year)
Record at Adelphi: 34-6

Top Returner: A Devan Crimi (Sr.) 
Crimi starred on Adelphi’s last championship team as a freshmen and helped usher the Panthers into their new era, leading the Northeast-10, and ranking sixth in Division II, with 101 points in 2014.

X-Factor: M Meg Brown (Gr.)
Brown, whose senior season ended after just two games due to injury in 2014, brings a veteran presence to Adelphi's midfield. The year before Brown, who has Division I experience (Binghamton), had 42 goals and 54 points.

Devan Crimi is a key returner for the powerhouse Panthers lineup. (Greg Wall)

Previous: Nos. 4-3

Adelphi is back, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. Anyone who’s seen Star Wars know it’s hard to keep a good empire down. You can destroy the Death Star, they’ll just build another.

But that empire rebuilt itself off screen, between movies. The viewer didn't see that these things take time. Adelphi’s run back to the top of Division II played out in front of everyone.

“What a lot of people don’t understand was how hard it was,” said coach Rob Grella, the Adelphi alum who’s spent the last three years rebuilding the Panthers on the fly. “It was a lot of fun, but it was a challenge. And with that challenge comes criticism. They say ‘Oh you were here, now you’re here...’ I think we’re back on that level. I’m not claiming we’re going to win 10 national titles, but to be back here is important for the school.”

From 2009-11 the Panthers won three straight championships, and lost just one game. Then their coach and a team of All-Americans transferred to Division I Stony Brook. At the time Erica DeVito, an All-American who stayed and a current Panthers assistant coach, said they wondered whether they’d even have a team that season.

They did field a team. Grella was hired later that summer and Adelphi went 16-3 and reached the first round of the NCAA tournament. It would have been a success at 100 other programs.

One year later, the Panthers were seconds away from the championship game. Thanks to a stifling defense, highlighted by Camille Rosellini’s faceguard on LIU Post’s Jackie Sileo, they nearly knocked off the defending NCAA champions. Sileo finally got free with 5.6 seconds remaining and scored the winning goal to give Post a 7-6 victory.

In the immediate aftermath the Panthers showed just how back they were. They were mad. This wasn’t an underdog hanging with the undefeated defending national champ. This was Adelphi denied its right to return to the place it belonged.

“We were more upset that we fell short,” Grella said. “We were more upset that we got that taste and we were so close. We were a couple of seconds away. I know it’s stuck with me for a year.”

That punishing defense, which ranked third in Division II and tops in the North Region in 2013, returns intact. Senior Jacqueline Williams (83 ground balls, 38 ground balls, 25 caused turnovers) leads a group that includes Rosellini, three-year starter Ashley Janelli and impact freshman Jen Graham.

The offense is as deep as ever with attackers Devan Crimi, Alexa Froccaro and Rachel Brown joined by freshman Jackie Jahelka. Felicia Mills, Danielle Jaycox and Meg Brown bring veteran leadership to a midfield that, finally, runs deep.

Grella laughed as he started rattling off his third midfield unit. It’s a luxury Adelphi hasn’t had in years.

"We haven't had that fourth, fifth, sixth midfielder," he said.

It took a few years, but Adelphi finally feels like Adelphi again. It all clicked in last year’s North Region semifinals, when the Panthers finally defeated Le Moyne, by rallying from an 8-3 deficit.

“At that point we realized we could beat anyone,” Grella said. “The attitude changed once they started believing in themselves. As coaches we can only do so much. That’s what we’ve been stressing. We’ll get you there, but eventually you’re going to have to do it yourselves.”

But coaching goes a long way, and Grella and his staff set the example. Grella drives the 90 minutes plus from his New Jersey home every day. He uses the time to talk to recruits and think about ways to utilize that midfield.

The commute took a little longer one day in early September. Politically-motivated lane closures approaching the George Washington Bridge will do that.

“That was literally the worst drive I’ve had,” Grella said.

So maybe there are some out there, like the governor of New Jersey, who can still slow Adelphi’s empire down. But the list gets smaller every day.

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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