Going home again, no second thoughts

Loyola: Stephen Brundage, who turned down a scholarship to nearby Syracuse, returns today as leader of the Greyhounds.

College Lacrosse

April 10, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Loyola senior attackman Stephen Brundage rolls through all the "what if" scenarios over and over again and always comes to the same conclusion.

What if he had accepted a scholarship offer from Syracuse University, a 10-minute drive from his Camillus, N.Y., home, and the school he grew up following?

"I think about it all the time, and I have no regrets whatsoever," said Brundage, one of the top players recently to come out of lacrosse power West Genesee High School. "People say, `If you went to Syracuse, you could have a national championship and you could have won more games.' But this is not all about winning and losing. I've had a great time here, I've loved the guys I've played with, and I've had a great opportunity to be on the field every game. I'm very happy where I am."

As the youthful Greyhounds (3-3) head to the Carrier Dome to face the No. 3 Orangemen (6-1) at 1 p.m. today, their leader expects an emotional homecoming.

Brundage knows that it might be the last time he plays in front of his family and friends. The game will undoubtedly conjure up memories of the many trips to the Carrier Dome as a kid to watch players like Casey Powell, Roy Colsey and John Zulberti, the only name above Brundage's on West Genesee's all-time scoring list.

But as Brundage joked earlier this week, "I'll cry about it later." Of more pressing concern is trying to lead the Greyhounds back into the NCAA tournament, where Loyola hasn't been since Brundage's freshman year in 2001.

"I feel terrible that since I've been here, it feels like we've declined as a program," said Brundage, who leads the Greyhounds with nine goals and 15 points this season and has 127 points for his career. "I'm a big part of that. I'm one of the main people on the team, and I put a lot of pressure on myself."

The Greyhounds are 29-17 with Brundage, who has started every game of his college career, in the lineup. Brundage estimated that he lost five games his whole high school career.

He weighed scholarship offers from dozens of schools, including Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Towson and, of course, Syracuse, which has made a living by landing blue-chip recruits from West Genesee.

Brundage, however, decided that Syracuse was too close to home, and turned his attention to Loyola, which also has done well recruiting from the Central New York school. Former Loyola All-Americans Tim O'Shea, David Metz and Jim Blanding are West Genesee grads.

Said Brundage: "I think [O'Shea] was a main reason I came. I idolized him growing up."

"Stephen didn't need the football stadiums, didn't need all the fanfare - he just wanted to get a quality education and play at a high level of lacrosse," said Greyhounds coach Bill Dirrigl, who was an assistant under Dave Cottle while recruiting Brundage. "And he was mentally tough enough to stand by the decision."

As a freshman, Brundage was a complementary player to All-American Gavin Prout, and posted one of the best freshman seasons in Loyola history (19 goals, 11 assists). The Greyhounds went 10-4 in Cottle's last season, losing to Princeton, 8-7, in the NCAA quarterfinals.

By sophomore year, Brundage, a skilled feeder and finisher whose toughness and willingness to go to the cage belied his 6-foot, 180-pound frame, was asked to assume much of the ball-carrying duties with Michael Sullivan ailing with knee injuries. Brundage had a career-high 46 points in 2002 en route to honorable mention All-American honors.

He was again an honorable mention All-American last year, but the constant double-teams and his team's instability on offense left Brundage with a somewhat disappointing 36 points and the Greyhounds with a 7-6 record.

"Last year, we didn't have the athleticism between the line to create so teams would slide, double the heck out of him, bully him, press him out," said Dirrigl. "He's had to shoulder a lot of the burden."

In four years, Brundage has been paired with seven different attackmen on the Greyhounds' first line. And this year, nine of the 10 players who play significant minutes on offense are first-year starters - all except Brundage.

The infusion of talent and athleticism - Dirrigl brought in Duke transfer Matt Monfett on attack and nine freshman midfielders - has given the senior more room to operate.

"He has unbelievable eyes on the field and the ability to play well off other people," said Monfett, who played against Brundage in high school and called him a contributing factor in his transfer to Loyola.

Still, mixing so many new players has resulted in inconsistency. The Greyhounds have been good enough to handle No. 13 Towson and No. 17 Notre Dame, but played poorly enough to lose to No. 11 Brown, 14-3, and needed a late comeback to beat lightly regarded Quinnipiac, 11-10, last week.

"It is heartbreaking to lose, but I'm in a great position right now," said Brundage, a team captain who counts talented freshman midfielder Matt Cassalia, another West Genesee product, as one of his prized pupils. "I have so many great players I can really mold and teach them what I learned."

Brundage will continue in that mentoring role next year. While completing a degree in business administration, he will join Dirrigl's coaching staff.

"The sad part is Stephen's playing days will end in about a month or two," said Dirrigl, "but he will become an assistant coach and be a part of something he started."

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