Championship effort, toughness and family. That’s been the revolving message around the culture that Stony Brook has been building under head coach Anthony Gilardi in his first season leading the men’s lacrosse program.
“I think the biggest thing is building relationships with the players,” Gilardi said in an interview with The Statesman. “I think that’s the most important thing that you can do as a coach. I think for us it’s coming in there and trying to get as many conversations one on one with the guys, group settings, just kind of get to know who they really are, right. And they as players want to know who we really are as coaches, not just the X’s and O’s stuff, but what we’re all about.”
In particular, Gilardi said that it’s been enjoyable getting to spend the time learning about players that he didn’t get to recruit while he was part of the coaching staff at Towson for the past eight seasons. The first-time head coach has prioritized establishing the culture around his program from the onset of his hiring, letting the game plan on offense and defense develop over time.
Part of the reason that he’s been comfortable with this approach is that the players have eagerly responded. The team boasts a roster full of seniors that have gotten close but not quite to the top in the America East playoffs, and the hunger they’ve expressed in getting another shot is evident.
“Last year was a learning experience,” senior goalkeeper Michael Bollinger said. “I found out that the season’s very long, and conference play is important. I think we did really, really good in the conference and I thought we battled adversity a lot. I think guys have it in the back of their minds that’s what they’re thinking about for this season.”
Bollinger’s counterpart on the offensive side of the field, senior attacker Tom Haun, echoed his teammate’s statement.
“I think it just made our whole team that much hungrier,” Haun said. “We’ve never done it [winning the America East], but we made it [the goal] every year since my freshman year. We got a lot of seniors, and we want it more than anything.”
The seniors are the foundation that Gilardi’s team is working around, and they are expected to be significant playmakers this season. Gilardi described senior attacker Cory VanGinhoven as the team’s “Swiss Army knife” and has been able to team up with Haun to create opportunities. Redshirt-junior midfielder Wayne White is returning from an injury-shortened season and figures to play a key role in creating possessions for the Seawolves.
There’s been a surprising amount of success from the underclassmen inserting themselves into the game plan already, however.
“Some of our sophomores, [midfielder] Caleb Pearson, [attacker] Matt Anderson, those guys are really starting to step up as well,” Gilardi said. “Our freshman poles have been great, [LSM] Mike Sabella started at close defense, [defender] Christian Lowd and [LSM] Liam Ronan are two of our top three poles, so I think that’s fun to see those guys step up too.”
The process for Stony Brook to get to this point has been a long one, beginning in the summer when Gilardi first signed on. Part of the changes that the coach has brought in revolve around how the team practices, and it’s gotten positive results so far.
“I think just understanding that it’s a process from the first day we’re together in the fall to — hopefully — the America East championship game and it all builds together and works together,” Gilardi said. “I think you got to understand that plan to make sure we’re physically and mentally ready to go when it comes down to that. And I think that’s been a huge part of our focus is making sure every day we’re taking positive steps forward. We’ve been going for a couple months now, five, six months, whatever it’s been and we’ve probably not even [had] a handful of bad practices.”
“As far as we’ve come, those guys have bought into getting better every day,” Gilardi continued. “Giving us everything they have for the two hours we’re together on the field, took some film study I’m sure on the road. All those things have been how you get over the hump, you know, there’s no magic pill. It’s every day understanding what it takes and doing it, and then when it comes down to the moment you’re prepared because you never rise up to the occasion. You always fall down to your training, if we can trust our training we’ll be in a good position.”
The development that the team has made in its day-to-day work has been a boost both in its productivity and the team’s morale, in the opinion of Bollinger.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement, every single day,” Bollinger said. “We have championship practices, championship effort for every practice we do. And I like that they’re short practices, so guys are really flying around and trying to get the best reps they can every single day.”
Another area of improvement has been the team’s conditioning, which has been run by Katie Newell, the assistant director of athletic performance. Newell took responsibility for getting the players to lift weights three times a week over the fall and has been “the rock” for the program in Gilardi’s view. The effort paid off in the team’s opening match on Tuesday, Feb. 11 against St. John’s, where the Seawolves outlasted their opponents in overtime.
Stony Brook sits at 1-1 in the early going this year, picking up the win in their season opener but falling on Saturday, Feb. 15 against Fairfield. The Seawolves have a homestand and a 3-game road trip ahead of them before beginning America East play, where they were predicted to finish fourth this year. It’s safe to say, based on the goals that they’ve set, that Stony Brook doesn’t plan on settling there.