September 27, 2012

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30 in 30: Is the Island Long Enough for Hofstra, Stony Brook?

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Shannon Smith, left, 22, was hired at Hofstra this offseason, a year after Stony Brook tabbed former Adelphi coach Joe Spallina to lead its women's program.
© Scott McCall (SS); Greg Shemitz (JS)

For one week in 2011, Long Island was the center of the women's lacrosse universe. Over an eight-day stretch that May, the championships in all three NCAA levels were decided on Long Island fields.

On May 22, Joe Spallina led Adelphi to its third straight Division II championship, on its home soil in Garden City. The next Sunday, 40 miles east at Stony Brook, Shannon Smith put the exclamation point on a Tewaaraton Award-winning junior season, scoring the eventual game-winner and earning tournament MVP honors as Northwestern won its sixth Division I championship in seven years.

Eighteen months later, Smith and Spallina again have folks buzzing about Long Island lacrosse, as the head coaches of LI's two Division I teams: Hofstra and Stony Brook.

Is Long Island long enough for the both of them?

Stony Brook fired the first salvo last year, hiring Spallina, who brought seven players from Adelphi with him. SBU announced its arrival on the national stage by winning, 15-14, at Johns Hopkins in March and nearly beating Duke two days later. All told, the Seawolves improved by 10 wins before falling to Albany in the America East title game.

The perks of success are already apparent at the SUNY school on the North Shore. SBU's incoming class is loaded with Long Island talent like freshman Alyssa Fleming of Shoreham-Wading River and Farmingdale's Maegan Meritz, who transferred from Florida. Meritz is the second LI star to migrate north from Gainesville since Spallina took over. Janine Hillier, Meritz's high school teammate, returned last year and finished first-team all-conference

The best may be yet to come. Spallina said the 2014 class is loaded with top-end local recruits, who previously would have looked past Stony Brook.

"[2012] showed people that it's not the same old Stony Brook team," Spallina said. "That kind of success on Long Island is important. A lot of kids on Long Island are waiting for a place like that."

Over at Hofstra, If Smith's fall practices are any indication, kids on Long Island may soon have two such places.

"I've been here for four years and already it's like 'Oh my god, I've never done that,'" Hofstra senior midfielder Maryann Miller said. "She empowers you. She makes you want to listen to her. To take it all in. It's refreshing."

Refreshing is the word Miller kept using to describe her new coach. Smith, 22, took over the reins at Hofstra on July 31, less than two months after graduating from Northwestern.

Hofstra finished 5-12 last season but was 12-6 as recently as 2010. And, in spending the past four seasons under Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller, Smith has seen firsthand the impact a forward-thinking coach can have on a program. Thanks to Amonte-Hiller, Northwestern women's lacrosse remains powerful even as star players like Smith graduate. New players pick up where others in the program left off.

"We've embraced the idea of being Long Island's team. We're out there shaking the trees trying to find the best kids on Long Island. I'm sure Hofstra will do that as well. I wish them the best of luck."

- Stony Brook coach Joe Spallina

It's the nature of the college game. A player gets four years, a coach can get forever.

"One thing Kelly was always good at was making us remember those that came before us," Smith said.

Smith's task now to lure players to Hofstra who will eventually become the those-that-came-before-us-type for future Pride players. She wants to show college-bound Long Island high school players that they can stay home and still play high-level lacrosse. They don't need to go to Chicago to win a championship.

That is the goal for both Spallina and Smith: building championship contenders.

For Smith building begins with the basics. The Pride's trademarks will be defense and stick-handling.

"Without great defense you can't go anywhere," Smith said.

Spallina strikes a similar tone at Stony Brook when he talks about building a foundation of success.

"That foundation can't be about a ball," Spallina said. "It has to be about the important things. You can't take a lacrosse ball and try to stand on it. It has to be about rules."

For both teams to achieve their lofty goals, they must first win their respective conferences. That road still goes through reigning champions Albany and Towson, but the hurdles are not insurmountable.

SBU lost starting goalie Frankie Caridi, the 2011 Division II Goalie of the Year, in the fifth game of the season and never fully recovered. Caridi will be medically cleared to play on Oct. 1.

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"She's a game-changer. I don't think there's many out there like her. She's unflappable. I shoot at her like I shoot at [Long Island Lizards goalie] Drew Adams," said Spallina, who is also head coach of Major League Lacrosse's Long Island Lizards. "There's no training wheels."

The Seawolves return every starter, including America East Player of the Year Claire Petersen, who finished tied for second in Division I with 101 points, and Demmianne Cook, who scored a school-record 68 goals. In all, SBU returns six first-team All-AE players.

It will be difficult for Hofstra to make as many strides in Year One of the Smith era. After all, three months ago Smith was still wrapping up her economics degree and she didn't arrive on campus with a stable of championship-seasoned players like Spallina did.

But Smith herself is a championship-seasoned player, and Hofstra's cupboard is far from bare.

Miller and Jill Maier, the team's leading goal-scorers, lead a strong senior class. Throw in a talented underclass, which includes sophomore Brittain Altomore, who led the team in points as a freshman, and incoming freshman defender Shelby Milne of powerhouse West Genesee, and a revamped coaching staff that has Smith's U.S. women's national team teammate Katie Hertsch running the defense, and Hofstra is bound to be a CAA contender.

"I expect a lot out of them," Smith said. "I want to open them to the possibilities. Give back to them. I'm an intense person. I see that fire in their eyes."

Hofstra and Stony Brook don't play each other in the regular season, so if they want to face off on the field it will have to be in the NCAA tournament. Until then, they'll square off over recruits. But both coaches say two high-level programs on Long Island is a good thing.

So, yes, Long Island is undoubtedly long enough for both teams.

"I'm all for it," Spallina said. "We want to play Hofstra but my concern is not Hofstra. We've embraced the idea of being Long Island's team. We're out there shaking the trees trying to find the best kids on Long Island. I'm sure Hofstra will do that as well. I wish them the best of luck."

And the real winner in all that are the young players on Long Island, who have two big-time programs in their backyard. Smith, who was once a young player on Long Island growing up in West Babylon, said that's the real impact.

"It's great to have it," Smith said. "It makes it exciting for the youth kids. It helps them dream big."


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