Rutgers, 2-12 in '02 for Stagnitta, making `unbelievable progress'

After `throwaway' season, second-year coach guides Knights to 8-1, No. 8 spot

College Lacrosse

Men's notebook

April 02, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Patience is not one of Jim Stagnitta's strong suits, but when he arrived at Rutgers University more than a year ago, he didn't have the luxury of rushing things.

Bill Dirrigl had just left the school after one season to take the job Dave Cottle vacated at Loyola. Stagnitta, who guided Division III Washington and Lee to 12 consecutive winning seasons, jumped at the Rutgers opportunity, but time wasn't necessarily on his side.

He didn't get to see many of his players until 10 days before a preseason scrimmage against Johns Hopkins.

"Last year was a throwaway. It was about survival," said Stagnitta, who wasn't hired until late October 2001. "The team was very young and fragile and I was their third coach in three seasons.

"I'm a pretty hard driver but I understand where we were and we had smaller goals. ... But the kids have become bigger and stronger and they gained confidence. We're not a great team, but we've made unbelievable progress."

Just 2-12 last year, the Scarlet Knights quadrupled their win total on Saturday with a thrilling, 12-11 overtime win over UMBC. Rutgers overcame a five-goal fourth-quarter deficit and then got the winner from senior Jeff Duca with three seconds left in overtime.

Entering Saturday's game against Army in Piscataway, N.J., the Scarlet Knights are 8-1, 2-0 in the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Unranked at the start of the season, Rutgers has ridden wins over Towson and Navy and a narrow loss to No. 2 Princeton to climb to No. 8 in the Sun/Channel 2 poll.

"I looked at the schedule this year and we were hoping to be a [No.] 15 to 25 team," said Stagnitta, whose team's 7-0 start was the program's best since 1953. "But we've been able to surpass that to this point."

Stagnitta hit the recruiting trail after last season and brought aboard attackman Austin Rodgers (Loyola) and freshman long-stick midfielder Ben Rubeling (Boys' Latin). Both are getting significant minutes.

He also landed junior transfer Delby Powless, an All-American last year at Herkimer (N.Y.) Community College and a member of the Iroquois Nationals in last summer's world championships. Powless, a crafty attackman, is third in the nation with 23 goals.

Goalie Greg Havalchak, a freshman from Corning, N.Y., has also come in, started every game and leads the nation with a 70.76 rating. Havalchak made 20 saves in an eye-popping debut at Towson, a 10-8 overtime win seen as the impetus for what has followed.

In coming games with No. 3 Syracuse, No. 9 Massachusetts and No. 6 Georgetown, the Scarlet Knights will still be heavy underdogs, but they have certainly won over their share of believers.

"It's been a long time coming to know we can step on the field and play with those teams," said senior defenseman Nick Schmidt. "It's definitely been surprising, but at the same time, we knew we had this opportunity and if we play smart and pay attention to detail, we could be in this position that we're in."

Shoremen make it count

Washington College has finally broken its Gettysburg hex.

A 9-8 victory for the Shoremen over the fourth-ranked Bullets on Saturday in Gettysburg, Pa., ended Washington's seven-game losing streak to Gettysburg, whose 36-game Centennial Conference winning streak also ended. The Bullets hadn't lost a conference game since an 18-9 defeat to Washington College in April 1997.

Jon Spivey (Dulaney) scored four goals and Chris Edwards (Boys' Latin) had three goals and an assist. The upset win was perhaps further evidence that Washington College, now ranked No. 6 in Division III after being No. 12 last week, is a different team than it was when it started the season with two straight losses.

It was also a big week for Salisbury (8-0), which didn't play during the week, but stepped into the No. 1 ranking when Gettysburg knocked off three-time national champion and previously undefeated Middlebury, 7-6, last Wednesday.

It's the first time since 2000 that Salisbury has been No. 1.

Ground balls

Princeton junior attackman Ryan Boyle has been on a tear for the Tigers. The Gilman alumnus and two-time All American has six goals and 18 assists in his past four games, all Princeton wins. ... Justin Sussman (Friends) made 16 saves in Bucknell's 8-7 Patriot League victory over Hobart on Saturday, becoming only the fifth Bison goalie to reach the 500-save mark for his career.

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