April 15, 2013

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Making Sense: Adelphi's FOGOs Opening Eyes

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

Greg Puskuldjian (left) and Rashad Cureton provide Adelphi with the best one-two faceoff combination in Division II. They have taken different paths to their current station with the Panthers, but they have shown Adelphi coach Gordon Purdie just what dedicated student-athletes can accomplish.
© Brian Ballweg

Most successful coaches adhere to certain principles and philosophies that remain, for the most part, unwavering. If a coach is constantly moving the goalposts with his players, he's going to lose his kids' trust pretty quickly. It's a concept not too different from being a parent.

Just like a parent, sometimes a coach needs to re-evaluate his or her belief system, especially if confronted with realities that change many of his or her former tenets. This is what was forced upon Adelphi coach Gordon Purdie by his two faceoff specalists, junior Greg Puskuldjian and graduate student Rashad Cureton.

The lesson learned from Puskuldjian is one that every coach — and pretty much every human being — has had to learn: allowing first impressions to control perceptions isn't always the right choice. You can't really blame Purdie for his initial read on Puskuldjian because he just wasn't very good when he showed up as a walk-on in 2011.

"As a freshman, his stick skills were incredibly poor," said Purdie. "After his first year he was our No. 5 faceoff guy and going into his second year, which was last year, he was our No. 4 faceoff guy, which was low guy on the totem pole. He was that guy where everybody looked at him and said, 'C'mon Greg,' because — and I hate to say this — he was a bit of a drill-buster."

Between the 2011 fall ball and 2012 season, his sophomore year, Puskuldjian completely transformed his game. He shed weight while training for a marathon and went out to the practice field every day to work on draws. He recorded several 'down-set-whistle' cadences into his iPhone and would put it on a loop as he trained by himself.

"I pushed myself and did a lot to make sure that I would get that starting spot," said Puskuldjian, who is a man of few words. "I lost some weight and would do at least a hundred faceoffs a day."

Purdie wasn't moved. He had the guys he felt would give him the best chance, so Puskuldjian languished on the bench for the season-opener against St. Rose and was inserted late in the Panthers' laugher over Notre Dame de Namur in the second game. What was becoming increasingly evident during practice, however, was that Puskuldjian was a dominant force at the X. So he was given the starting nod against Dominican (Calif.).

He won 19 of the 22 draws he took in that game and kept doing it, game after game, for the 13-3 Panthers. Puskuldjian finished with a 70.7 winning percentage at the dot last year, tops in Division II.

"I had to fall on my sword as a coach," Purdie said. "Greg won us games last year with his faceoffs and ability to run down and shoot. He got game balls at different times. There were key plays where he helped us win. We were undefeated at home and that's a tribute to him."

"I didn't start the first couple of games, but once I got shot, I made sure I made it count," Puskuldjian said. "I went out there thinking to myself that I wasn't going to lose."

Purdie has since given Puskuldjian a scholarship and uses his example whenever there might be some discontent among any of his players.

"When I've got guys coming in saying they aren't getting enough playing time, I turn around and say, 'Well, look at Greg,'" said Purdie. "'How do you think he felt when he wasn't playing for a year and then we didn't even play him the first two games?'

"But he never once came to see me. He never said, 'Coach put me in.' He just did it by his actions. It certainly made me think twice about everything that I do here. Sometimes you don't realize as a head coach all of the talent that you may have. Sometimes we get into playing certain guys and don't give other guys an opportunity."

Cureton's lesson for Purdie was less about the skills a lacrosse player needs to walk on the field at Adelphi, and more about understanding that some youngsters are more mature than your standard-aged student-athlete.

Arriving at Adelphi this spring for his graduate year, Cureton's lacrosse cred was unquestioned. He won a pair of NJCAA national titles as the faceoff man at Onondaga Community College and then enrolled at Stony Brook for the 2011 season. There, he played behind Adam Rand, who ended up being third in Division I history in faceoffs won. With Rick Sowell leaving at the end of the '11 season, Cureton opted to concentrate on his academics, graduating with a degree in political science.

With a degree in his pocket and a year of eligibility left, Cureton took some advice from his old high school coach and took a glance at the Adelphi program. Cureton decided to give it a whirl while pursuing his Master's in sports management, but there was this one little thing he had to take care of during fall ball.

Cureton ran for the New York State Assembly out of the 11th District, which is essentially made up of the town of Babylon, just down the road from his hometown of Amityville on Long Island.

"I was approached by the Republican Party leader. We spoke about many things and he asked me if I'd like to run," Cureton said. "It was a long campaign and a new experience, but I think I handled it pretty well. I didn't win, but I won 25 percent of the vote. For being 21 and the first time out, that's a pretty good percentage."

It wasn't always easy handling a political race, a Master's degree and fall ball, and Purdie had to let one professor know just what Cureton was trying to achieve. The prof had approached Purdie to let him know that there was a problem with Cureton in class.

"I asked him, 'What was he doing?' He was on his computer. I said 'That doesn't sound like Rashad at all,'" said Purdie. "I brought him in and asked, 'Rashad, what are you doing?' He said he was listening to the President's speech because he was going on News12 TV and he has to know everything about what is going on."

Despite the two-year absence from the field and the fall distractions, Cureton thrived in a crouch-and-clamp role. He is currently running at 68.4 percent (65-for-95), which is just a shade behind Puskuldjian's 69.7 mark (76-for-109).

While both Puskuldjian and Cureton are friends, they are fierce competitors who admit they always want to win, even when they tangle head-to-head during practices. It could have been a problem with two alpha X-men vying for playing time, but Cureton has been a cohesive force, especially on the sidelines when Puskuldjian gets the nod.

"Whenever you get on the field, you want other people to cheer for you and keep everything together," Cureton said. "From past experiences, when everybody is into it, when the whole sideline is into it, it boosts the morale of the team. The other day, we all started getting into it and we scored two goals in about 10 seconds. With everybody together, cheering and rooting for each other, it just produces a better morale for everyone on the team."

"In a couple of games this year, Rashad would come up and say, 'Greg is hot right now. Keep him in,'" Purdie said. "Rashad is a team player through and through, and a leader on the sideline. He is a terrific kid who sees the big picture as a player. I'm not sure I could have done that as a player. I wanted the opportunity to play, but he is mature beyond his years."

Coaching has a way of keeping a man humble. Even with Puskuldjian (11-for-13) and Cureton (7-for-10) dominating St. Michael's on Saturday, the Purple Knights still found a way to edge the Panthers, 11-9. It was the first loss of the season for Purdie and his players, and there are likely to be other trials along the way in the wide open race for the Division II championship.

However, these last couple of years have opened Purdie's eyes to the heights and breadth of achievement that his student-athletes can reach. How else to explain a former "drill buster" developing into one of the best faceoff technicians in the country? Or the other faceoff man hitting the campaign trail while still making it to practice? For that, regardless of the season's outcome, Purdie is a better coach.

Players of the Week

NCAA Division II
Max Zuccarini
, M, Sr., St. Michael's

It didn't look good for the Purple Knights' winning streak with No. 2 Adelphi coming to down, but thanks to Zuccarini, No. 11 St. Mike's has now won seven in a row. Zuccarini scored five goals, helping the Knights hand the Panthers their first loss of the season. He scored three of his five markers in the second half, including the eventual game winner.

NCAA Division III
Matt Cherry
, M, Sr., Dickinson

The Red Devils haven't always had the cleanest victories on their way to their No. 2 ranking, but by putting together a pair of gritty conference road victories this week, Dickinson erased all doubt about their cred. Cherry played a big part, scoring a pair of goals in the 12-10 win over Gettysburg before netting one and dropping four dimes in the comfortable, 15-10 triumph over No. 10 Washington College.

MCLA Division I
Josh Nemes, A, Sr., Michigan State
The Spartans traveled to Maryland to face a couple of talented non-conference opponents and, thanks to Nemes, State came home 2-0. In MSU's convincing, 15-8 triumph over Virginia Tech, Nemes struck for a hat trick and then followed that up with two more in the 11-6 victory over Clemson.

MCLA Division II
Dan Schaepkens, M, Soph., Indiana Tech
The Warriors took down a couple of CCLA blue bloods over the weekend, establishing themselves as the team to beat in the conference at this point, led by Schaepkens. In the 12-5 victory over No. 10 Dayton on Friday, he scored two goals and dished out an assist before dropping a hat trick, along with a helper, in the 9-5 triumph over No. 14 Grand Valley State.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Merychurst (11-0) – The Lakers have now won three one-goal games against ranked competition. Gritty.
2. Limestone (12-1) – Don't let the Pfeiffer score worry you. The Saints needed OT last year to beat the Falcons.
3. Merrimack (8-1) – And, just like that, the Warriors are the top team in the North. They travel to Adelphi on Saturday.
4. LIU Post (8-2) – I hate to be a "close loss" guy, but the manner of Post's two setbacks makes be believe this is their spot.
5. Adelphi (9-1) – Just like last year, the Panthers are a completely different team on the road. They need to beat 'Mack.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (11-0) – Looks like the Red Dragons are going to miss their Naz game. They've still proven themselves, I'd say.
2. Dickinson (12-0) – I've got a new appreciation for the Red Devils after this week's impressive road sweep.
3. RIT (11-2) – If there's such a thing as a breakout junior year, Jack Kryzston (34g, 19a) is having one.
4. Stevens (9-2) – The Ducks keep plugging along, but the road trip to Nazareth will give us a better idea about this team.
5. Roanoke (11-3) – Is there a hotter squad right now outside the Top 3? I'm having a hard time finding one.

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado State (14-0) – The platoon is obviously working, but Jack Regan's save percentage (72.0) is ridiculous.
2. Colorado (14-0) – Finally, everything gets settled between CSU and the Buffs. For a couple of weeks, anyway.
3. Chapman (12-4) – That road win over Grand Canyon is looking pretty nice right now. They could meet again soon.
4. UC Santa Barbara (10-4) – The Gauchos looked dominant in snapping Sonoma's nine-game winning streak.
5. Boston College (9-0) – Dispatching UConn earlier in the week has all signs pointing toward a PCLL championship for the Eagles.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (8-0) – Don't underestimate the win over Minnesota. The Gophers are a quality Division I program.
2. Westminster (10-4) – Can't hold the loss against BYU against the Griffins until next year when they make the jump.
3. St. John's (9-1) – The NDSU postponement could hurt if the Bison get Peter Flock at full strength for the make-up date.
4. Liberty (13-1) – The Flames have wrapped up the regular season and a berth in Greenville. Now they play for a seed.
5. Concordia (10-3) – Beating Fullerton over the weekend was the last confirmation that the SLC title is in the bag.

Notebooks

NCAA Division II: Dowling would be dead and buried with last year's format, but this year the Lions are very much alive.
NCAA Division III: The Salisbury staff found out they had to start from scratch when coaching this edition of the Gulls.
MCLA Division I: Sonoma head coach Doug Carl has always relied on seniors, and this year is no different.
MCLA Division II: Even with the win over Dayton, Grove City will continue to consider themselves underdogs.


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