Brown coach finds home especially sweet

May 24, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

His lacrosse team just had produced the biggest victory in school history -- in his hometown, no less. And Brown coach Peter Lasagna could not resist the urge to gloat.

"There was a little bit of the underdog thing at work today," Lasagna said after Brown ended Loyola's season with a 14-13, overtime victory in Saturday's NCAA quarterfinals. "Any time you prove yourself in Baltimore, you've proved yourself to the lacrosse world. They [Loyola] are right here in Mecca, the only place where the game is actually played."

Hyperbole aside, Lasagna had a point. The Bears did not exactly command respect before Saturday. Sure, they had defeated Navy in the first round, 12-5. Sure, they had won 11 straight games. Sure, they were the most improved team left in the tournament.

Still, the Bears were a seventh seed facing a second-seeded Loyola team that already had beaten them by three goals in Providence. Brown never had won an NCAA quarterfinal game. Loyola had lost only five home games in the past seven seasons. Before the game, one of the Greyhounds asked Brown midfielder Gary Nelson: "Do you guys really think you have a chance?"

Two hours later, after Robin Prince's sudden-death, game-winning goal, Brown had completed an improbable journey. In two months, the Bears had gone from a 1-4 team desperate for a victory to a 13-4 team headed for its first Final Four. Brown plays Ivy League rival Princeton in Saturday's semifinals at Byrd Stadium.

For Lasagna, the trip to College Park represents the high point of a lacrosse career that began in Mount Washington, where he was born, raised and given his first stick in the first grade. By the time Lasagna had completed the sixth grade at Friends, he saw himself competing against lacrosse blue-bloods such as Gilman, Boys' Latin and Severn.

Those plans changed swiftly. When his father, a pharmacology professor at Johns Hopkins, got a job at the University of Rochester, the Lasagnas moved to New York. The first thing Lasagna noticed was that nobody played the game he craved.

"I was devastated. I was 13, I was losing all of my friends and I went from a place where lacrosse was everything to Rochester," said Lasagna, 36. "I ran around for the first few weeks with my stick, and people kept asking me what I was doing with that thing."

Lasagna played football and basketball in high school, and kept in touch with lacrosse by playing in a summer league for the prestigious Irondequoit lacrosse club.

At that time, Peter's sister, Krissy, was dating Dom Starsia, then assistant lacrosse coach at Brown. Starsia was impressed enough by Lasagna's athletic ability to recruit him, and Lasagna repaid him by earning a spot on the Bears' second midfield unit in spring 1978.

His college career ended abruptly. In his first game -- against Maryland in College Park -- Lasagna injured his shoulder on the opening faceoff and missed the season. The next year in the season opener, he blew out his knee, ending his playing days.

The only lacrosse outlet remaining for Lasagna was coaching. And after Lasagna graduated from Brown in 1982, Starsia, who just had taken over the program from Cliff Stevenson, hired Lasagna as a second assistant.

During the next 10 years, Lasagna built a reputation as a fine recruiter and a solid offensive coordinator. The Bears made five trips to the NCAA tournament between 1985 and 1992. In 1990, Brown scored 263 goals and averaged 16.4, both school records.

When Starsia became head coach at Virginia two years ago, Lasagna said he was surprised to find he was one of a handful of candidates being considered to replace Starsia. When he was promoted to head coach, Lasagna marveled at his success.

"The reason I became a head coach is because my playing career ended so soon. I never even thought about coaching until I got hurt," he said. "And I never envisioned a scenario where Dom would leave."

Lasagna made his first imprint on his program by hiring defensive coach Joe Breschi, another local product. Breschi attended Loyola High, then was an All-America defenseman at North Carolina.

They guided Brown to a 10-3 record last season, when the Bears failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. This spring, the Bears stumbled to a 1-4 start after falling to defending champion Syracuse, 14-12, in early April.

"It didn't feel like we were 1-4. We kicked Syracuse's tail for a half. That game was a ray of hope," recalled sophomore attackman David Evans, Brown's top scorer, whom Lasagna recruited out of Loyola High.

After the Syracuse loss, the Bears rebounded with a 15-6 victory over Hofstra. That started a 12-game winning streak in which the defense, led by All-America goalie Jay Stalfort, carried Brown while the offense gradually developed around Evans. Saturday against Loyola, Evans scored only one of Brown's 14 goals.

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