Road Trip Dad – We Are!
Dan Witmer | May 13, 2019
And then there were eight.

A week ago, there were 17 teams invited to the NCAA D-I men’s lacrosse dance. Then UMBC beat Marist in the play-in game last Wednesday, and then this weekend the field of 16 was unmercifully whittled down to eight.

In case you missed it – and really, how could you have? – there were four games shown live on ESPNU on Saturday and then the other four playoff games were on ESPNU yesterday. Seven of the top eight seeds – the home teams – prevailed; the only “upset” was Maryland’s dramatic 14-13 overtime win at #7 Towson. Otherwise, #1 Penn State throttled UMBC 25-10, #2 Duke edged Richmond 12-11, #3 Virginia handled Robert Morris 19-10, #4 Penn defeated Army 13-8, #5 Yale outscored Georgetown 19-16, #6 Notre Dame beat Johns Hopkins 16-9, and #8 Loyola came from behind to knock off Syracuse 15-13.

It was a weekend of high-powered offense, as only two of the 16 teams failed to score in double-digits. Penn State was especially impressive, scoring at a pace that appeared to be approaching the 30-goal mark.

But as I watched (and watched, and watched, and watched…), I saw a lot of familiar faces on my high-def, flat-screen TV. Faces I could name, and people I’ve known for years. In fact, I even received a text from a reader who said that seven of the 16 head coaches originally hailed from CNY…

Well, for the record, I believe there were eight, but I guess it comes down to one’s definition of CNY.

Since I started writing these RTD pieces, I’ve always defined CNY – and Upstate – as everything in between Binghamton and Massena, and everyone between Albany and Buffalo. The Hudson Valley area is Downstate, as in NYC and Long Island.

So congrats to the eight graduates of Upstate high schools who are now head coaches at some darned good D-I colleges and universities… Jeff Tambroni – head coach at #1 Penn State and 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year (West Genesee HS and Hobart), Lars Tiffany – head coach at #3 Virginia and ACC Coach of the Year (Lafayette HS and Brown), Andy Shay – head coach at #5 Yale (Cortland HS and LeMoyne), Shawn Nadelen – head coach at #7 Towson (Rush-Henrietta and then Johns Hopkins), John Desko – head coach at Syracuse (West Genesee HS and Syracuse), John Tillman – head coach at Maryland (Corning West HS and then Cornell), Joe Alberici – head coach at Army (Auburn HS and then Alfred), and Dan Chemotti – head coach at Richmond (West Genesee HS and then Duke).

Eight out of 16 – not too shabby. By my count, four of the other eight are Long Island products (Dave Piertramala from JHU, John Danowski from Duke, Kevin Warne from Georgetown, and Ryan Moran from UMBC). Hmm… 12 out of 16. Does this say anything about New York State lacrosse?

And then there are the assistant coaches who flash in and out of the picture as the games unfold; a lot of them are from CNY, too. Penn’s Mike Abbott (Nottingham HS and then Virginia and Cortland State); Loyola’s Steve Vaikness (West Genesee HS and then Loyola), Paul Richards (Baldwinsville HS and Loyola), and Marc VanArsdale (Geneva HS and Hobart); Yale’s Andy Baxter (Brighton HS and Springfield); and the entire staff at SU – Kevin Donahue (West Genesee HS and Syracuse), Lelan Rogers (Fulton’s G Ray Bodley HS, St. Lawrence University, and SU), Steve Scaramuzzino (West Genesee HS and SU), and Roy Simmons III (Fayetteville-Manlius HS and SU).

Yowza! That West Genny thing keeps popping up, doesn’t it?

Pop quiz time!

Question #1 – Of the eight remaining D-I teams, which team has the most CNY roster members?

Question #2 – Which CNY high school boasts the most grads playing on those final eight teams?

Good questions, eh?

Answer to Question #1: Penn State, with six (TJ Connellan – Caz, Kevin Hill – RL Thomas, Mitch Schaefer – Canandaigua, Cole Willard – Caz, Tommy Baker – WG, and CJ Battaglia – RL Thomas… Loyola has five (PJ Brown – Caz, Aidan Olmstead – Corning, Mitchell Cain – Victor, Nick Cunningham – WG, and Richie Easterly – Westhill).

Answer to Question #2: Cazenovia HS, with four… Victor HS has three.

And that’s just D-I.

Over at that other Syracuse school, the D-II LeMoyne Dolphins are currently just one win away from a Memorial Day Weekend appearance at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. They face Merrimack this weekend, and the winner heads to Philly to play the winner of the U Indianapolis/Limestone game. Need I mention that head coach Dan Sheehan is a West Genesee grad who played his college lacrosse at Ithaca? Nah…

In D-III, RIT and Salisbury are two of the eight surviving teams, and their head coaches are – you guessed it – from around these parts. Jake Coon (RIT) is a Homer HS grad who played at Nazareth, and Jim Berkman (Salisbury) went to Watertown HS and played lacrosse and basketball at St. Lawrence…

And, um, at the JUCO level… Onondaga Community College is the #3 seed for this weekend’s national championship, to be played at Genesee Community College in Batavia. They’ll play #2 Harford while #1 Nassau CC faces off against #4 Howard. The Lazers are led by first-year head coach Eric Miccio, who went to… um, you guessed it – West Genesee HS, OCC, and Oswego State.

Needless to say, but congratulations and good luck to one and all. Make us (more) proud!

There, is however, another side to the coin…

While we’re all feeling warm and fuzzy about ourselves and our CNY lacrosse-rich history and traditions, I can’t help but be reminded that we are seeing fewer and fewer high school teams and smaller and smaller high school rosters. This is, after all, Central New York, hotbed of lacrosse and all that, right? (for those of you just catching on to RTD this week, I wrote about declining numbers in CNY the past two weeks).

And then I went to our final CNYLOA referees’ meeting of the year this past week and was reminded that Section 3 still will not approve of three officials working varsity boys’ lacrosse games – like they do in Ohio, Iowa, Florida, and Idaho. I find it more than a little ironic that right here, in CNY, which might just be one of the oldest homes of the game we all know and love, high school administrators and coaches don’t see the need for the added expense of a third official.

“We’ve always had two,” they probably say. “We don’t need three.” And yet in states where the game is new, officials do see the wisdom in a third official. Consider safety. Consider coverage. Consider the always-increasing speed of the game.

Section 4 uses three officials for some games, as does Section 5.

Then I learned that, this year, several school districts in Section 3 have hired three officials, some for special games, others for all games – including JV! So there is hope. We just need to convince coaches and administrators that the third official is worth the extra expense – which works out to be about $800 per year.

I’ve written about this before, and I’m not lobbying because I’m a referee. I just think it’s the right direction to go.

How can CNY be so strong, and yet so weak? While no other part of the world is so well-represented in the coaching ranks of the elite college programs, we are losing programs, players, referees, and administrative support.

“We are!” … what we are, for better or worse.

But we could be so much more.

Drive carefully, everyone!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.