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March 1, 2009

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Peluso Trucking Company

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

As the members of the RIT men's lacrosse team, fresh off their victory over the fifth-ranked team in Division II, exited the plane in Florida for their spring break trip on Saturday, head coach Gene Peluso followed behind them.

About 10 hours behind them.

Instead of feeling the warmth of an Orlando morning like the rest of the sun-starved faces on the Tigers squad, Peluso was riding shotgun in a rented cargo van rumbling through rural North Carolina after driving all night from Long Island.

The back of the van was stuffed to the ceiling with bags of lacrosse equipment, casualties of the ‘extra bag surcharge' instituted by many of the major airlines these days. To save his program some scratch - $6,000 in total - Peluso decided on a road trip, accompanied by one of his ‘lucky' assistants.

"It's ridiculous. We spend $19,000 on tickets and they won't let us bring some extra luggage down," snapped Peluso, who had some choice words for the airline in question (think of John Belushi's favorite fraternity). "The team is already in Florida, they landed about an hour ago, and we're still in North Carolina. I don't know what's fair."

Despite the long haul ahead, Peluso retained his typical sense of humor during the trip - "I actually had time to call my wife," he joked - undoubtedly because of his team's performance against fifth-ranked Adelphi on Friday night. The coach not only saw his team rally twice to take the 12-11 victory, but RIT also managed to overcome Peluso's decision to disregard his better judgment.

With the Tiger defense under siege from the talented Adelphi attack and the Panthers leading 5-1 late in the first quarter, Peluso winced and reluctantly burned one of his timeouts.

"We got into Long Island at about 2 a.m. the night before because the guys were studying for finals, and even though the game wasn't until 4 p.m., I think the guys were still on the bus for the first quarter," he said. "I don't usually do that and I'll tell you why: right after the timeout they get the face-off, go right down and score in about five seconds to make it 6-1. I said to myself, ‘Yeah, that was a great timeout I just used.'"

It may not have had an instant effect, but the timeout's impact was felt over the next 20 minutes when RIT rattled off seven unanswered goals to take an 8-6 lead. Not to be outdone, Adelphi countered with five of the next six markers to regain the lead, 11-9, but there was no panic this time from RIT or Peluso. The Tigers had shown they could run with one of Division II's finest, and with the clock dipping under three minutes left in the game, they proved they were better.

In the span of 1:41, David Burke, Kelso Davis and A.J. Tingle scored to give RIT the one-goal win.

"At halftime I told them to put winning in their mind and not even think about the alternative," said Peluso. "They really proved from the second quarter on that we could play with them and beat them."

Peluso admitted that his team was charged up to compare themselves with a top drawer Division II outfit, but the entire preseason has been about proving the pollsters wrong - the same pollsters that left RIT out of every preseason ranking. A year older on attack and fortified in the back by some new additions, notably Potsdam State transfer Dan MacRae, Peluso feels his team was stiffed and is a legit Top 15 program.

But there is something to be said for being ignored.

"The last time we were overlooked in the preseason was 2006 and that was actually one of the best years in RIT lacrosse history," said Peluso. "We ended up finishing fourth in the country, won the Empire 8, and our record was 15-3. Our guys certainly have a sense that they have something to prove, and I will admit that comes from their coaching staff. They've responded well to it."

Unfortunately, Coach Peluso can't talk with us anymore. It's lunchtime and there's a Sbarro at the Fayetteville truck stop.


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