February 4, 2011

Weekender: Montclair St. Plays for No. 24

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

What do you do when you're best friends? You roll out the Skyline Conference championship trophy for all to see. That's what Adam Torrisi (left) and John Greco (right) did after Montclair State's second consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament last spring. Torrisi is on a quest to make sure that Greco looks down and enjoys title No. 3.

One of Adam Torrisi's favorite memories is playing lacrosse for Montclair State and watching No. 24 patrol the backline for the Red Hawks in the late 1990s.

No. 24 was always the most dedicated player on the field, and what he lacked in skill he made up with raw determination. No. 24 was also Adam Torrisi's best friend.

Wearing the number was John Greco.

Torrisi and Greco became best buds when they were 14 and freshmen at Clifton High School, located a couple of miles northeast of Manhattan in New Jersey. They played lacrosse together and formed an indescribable connection that only best friends understand.

While they were separated for a year when Greco went to Westfield State and Torrisi to Rutgers, it was just for two semesters. They left their initial spots and matriculated at Montclair State together in 1997. Naturally, when John Greco became the head coach of his alma mater in '03, Torrisi joined him as an assistant coach.

And then, on Nov. 4 of last year, No. 24 was gone.

Greco, who had guided the Red Hawks to two consecutive NCAA berths and was turning Montclair State into a New Jersey Division III power, died of a heart attack at age 33.

In the haze of losing Greco, Torrisi found out that he would be expected to continue the work his best friend had started.

"It was really tough to focus at that time," said Torrisi about being named the Montclair State interim head coach. "It was really tough to think about lacrosse, but at the same time it sort of filled the void for me to take over for him. It was almost like, 'Hey, I get to dedicate this to my best friend.' That meant a lot to me. Once the opportunity was put in front of me, there was really no question."

"In a situation like this, someone who is familiar with the program and has a history with the program was someone who seemed like a very good choice for an interim position," said Holly Gera, the Montclair State athletic director.

As the new leader of the Red Hawks program, Torrisi's first task was to tend to his inherited flock.

The injection of mortality into the lives of 18-to-21-year-olds always takes its toll and the school was quick to counsel the players.

"Some people may be crying a lot and some may not be crying at all; it doesn't mean that any one person cares less or more, but that people grieve in different way," said Gera.

Ultimately, it was Torrisi who had the ability to salve the emotional wounds left by Greco's death.

"It was a little bit of a slow process," said Torrisi. "The guys were in shock when it first happened, so over the first two weeks we were just dealing with the loss itself. Once we started talking about lacrosse again -- it was probably about a month after he passed -- everyone came to the agreement pretty quickly that we had the opportunity to have a really special season this year. Whatever that means, it means, but we know we have the opportunity to do something very special in his memory."

The team has closed ranks and is looking inward for their collective strength during the loss of their coach.

"One of the things I could have said about this group, even before John's untimely death, is they have always been a very close-knit group of guys," said Gera. "They look out for each other."

The Montclair brotherhood has spawned two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament as the champions of the Skyline Conference and there are expectations for a third. Although the Red Hawks graduate two All-Americans, the influx of another talented recruiting class – a staple at MSU under Greco's watch – is expected to fill the void.

In addition, the Red Hawks will get a healthy Tyler Meth back after playing the 2010 season with two torn labrums. Helping Meth will be All-American attackman Bobby Sinicola and steady pole Anthony Dzienkiewicz.

Also helping Montclair State will be No. 24.

Not only will Greco's spirit be guiding the Red Hawks this spring, but his digits will be a constant reminder of the goals set by their former coach.

"A lot of people called for the retirement of his number, but at the Division III level when you retire a number it sits in somebody's closet and collects dust," said Torrisi. "This year, we're starting the "24" Award. The 24 Award will go to a senior who exemplifies what John stood for – a lot of enthusiasm, pride and great, great leadership."

When Montclair State walks out on the field on Feb. 22 against McDaniel, it will be Bobby Sinicola who will be donning the sacred numerals.

And whether the Red Hawks win or lose that day, Torrisi will watch No. 24 keep his favorite memories alive.

Playing for John
In the wake of John Greco's death, his father has started a scholarship at Montclair State in his son's name. To help fund that scholarship, Torrisi and the Red Hawks are selling rubber bracelets inscribed with "Play 2011 for John Greco – MSU Lacrosse."

"We're trying to get them out to as many high school and junior league teams as possible," said Torrisi. "We're just trying to get kids to play this season for John. Over the years he has had a major influence in New Jersey and we're just hoping they'll play with that same enthusiasm and passion that he had every day. Every dime we make off those bracelets will go into the scholarship."

Those interested in helping this cause should contact Coach Torrisi at torrisia@mail.montclair.edu.

Slides & Rides

- I posted a story about Corey Lunney and Merrimack's band of youngsters who will be hunting an NCAA Division II bid this year. Also, if you missed it, check out my Monday notebook entitled 'Making Sense.' This week I led with a recap of No. 20 Texas' upset of No. 5 Florida State.

- Trivia! Everyone likes trivia, and if you don't, you're a baseball fan. Or something. This week's installment: name the two schools amidst both the NCAA men's and women's lacrosse world that boast the 'Battling Bishops' nickname. One's a slam dunk. The other will make you earn your "Weekender" stripes. Answer below.

- When you're cozied up to your 50-inch flat screen – or whatever the image-maker you're gazing at on Sunday – just keep the Gauchos in your thoughts. The No. 14 UC Santa Barbara squad will be playing UC Davis on Sunday afternoon and then making the 6.5 hour bus trip back to paradise at the same time as the Super Bowl. With our plugged-in world, it's likely the UCSB guys will be able to keep up with things, but still, no one likes being bus-ridden for the big game.

- Can we start the NCAA Division II and III season now? This is like the week before Christmas – so much anticipation but nothing happening except looking under the wrapping paper.

- No. 12 SCAD did itself a service by knocking off No. 19 St. Mary's on Thursday. It was no holiday cruise – the Bees won, 9-5 – but Savannah needed to knock off the Gaels to keep its Denver quest alive. A loss would have been a thorn in SCAD's side for the rest of the season and on Selection Sunday because they would have been going head-to-head with St. Mary's for a bid.

As for St. Mary's, they can still salvage their four-game swing by upsetting No. 11 Kennesaw State on Saturday afternoon. If the Gaels fall, they'll effectively be eliminated from the postseason discussion, which is unfortunate considering we've just turned the calendar to February. The WCLL Division II conference has no AQ bid.

- A reminder for all SIDs or PR contacts in Divisions II, III and the MCLA: send your press releases to me (jcoyne@uslacrosse.org) or news@laxmagazine.com so we can post them on Lacrosse Magazine Online...keep an eye on the Cal-UCSB game on Friday night. The Bears always give the Gauchos trouble in this annual early-season battle...seriously, if your favorite team isn't playing Montclair State, it's okay to root for the Red Hawks...Trivia! So you had Ohio Wesleyan right out of the gate, but if you also had North Carolina Wesleyan, which fields a women's program and plays in the USA South Conference, you are a lacrosse savant.


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