With the MCLA season already underway, the eyes of the lacrosse community now turn to the NCAA ranks, where the last pre-season scrimmages are taking place this weekend in preparation for the 2009 season. Today marks another step forward for LAS as we get an inside look from a very reputable D1 head coach…
Tom Gravante, Head Coach at Division 1 Mount Saint Mary’s University, opened up to LacrosseAllStars last week about his record setting days as a Hobart Statesman, the highlights of his coaching career, and his take on how the game has changed over the last two decades.
LacrosseAllStars: With the spring season right around the corner, how are preparations for your February 24th opener at the University of Virginia coming?
Tom Gravante: We are currently in our 4th week of practice and feel our young team is progressing nicely, and they are healthy.
LAS: Any Mountaineers we should keep an eye on during the ’09 season?
TG: Offensively: Geery Grant ’09, James O’Shea ’10, Drew Dunn ’10, Cody Lehrer ’12, Christian Kellett ’12, Jon Lefferts ’12 Defensively: Brendan Flanagan G ’08, Matt Nealis ’10 (2nd team all MAAC ’08), Russell Moncure ’10, and TC DiBartolo ’11 (Goalie).
LAS: In your opinion, what has been the biggest change in the sport since your record setting days at Hobart?
TG: The technology of equipment and field turf facilities has increase the ability and performance of these current players. The game is played at an excitingly faster pace.
LAS: What changes have you seen in the recruiting process over your 16 years in the Division 1 coaching ranks?
TG: Again, technology has also aided the coaches to recruit with quicker responses and more organization via email and blackberrys.
LAS: Are you or your staff using any online tools to help manage recruiting?
TG: I do not use any online tools to help manage my recruits, but I do use the web to increase my knowledge on players.
LAS: With several teams ranked inside the top 15 last season not making the field of 16, do you think there could be a better selection process for the NCAA tournament?
TG: I’m certain the NCAA could create a better selection process, but they would have to change their policies and this would not happen for lacrosse only. The field is limited to 16 based on the number of D-1 schools who sponsor Men’s Lacrosse. The field would increase if schools for example, like Michigan or USC could work out their Title-9 issue. How great would that be, seeing an NCAA MLAX D-1 playoff bracket that had Michigan, Florida State, Syracuse, Hopkins, USC, and so on.
LAS: Three teams from the Great Western Lacrosse League made the NCAA tournament last season, so clearly West Coast team can compete. What are your thoughts on the expansion of the game from Coast to Coast?
TG: I hope it continues to expand until East meets West in Playoffs like basketball.
LAS: Having been a record setting attackman at Hobart and then transitioning into a 3-Time MAAC Coach of the Year, do you have any advice to current players who someday would like to get into coaching?
TG: Overall, my advice to players before they graduate is to find a career they have a passion for and go for it. As for coaching, you have to be willing to work long days and live poor until you get your shot at a bigger program as an assistant or a full-time Head Coach position. I let my players know that life doesn’t come w/ success, you have to be willing to earn it with hard work, and once you get there, don’t forget what brought you there.
LAS: What’s the biggest difference, if any, between attackmen from your playing days and the high school and college attackmen you see today?
TG: Overall, I think the D-1 game has attracted bigger athletes, especially on attack as there were not many attackmen over 6’0-200lbs. in the ‘80’s.
LAS: What is your greatest lacrosse memory as a player?
TG: Winning (4) D-3 National Championships.
LAS: What is your greatest lacrosse memory as a coach?
TG: Winning the 2003 MAAC championship and playing in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament at UVA, all accomplished with a very special group of young men who witness their coach fight for his life via a bone marrow transplant and become a father at the same time. UVA went on to win the NCAA Championship. That was special and very uplifting for me to continue to fight and more so, SURVIVE!!
LAS: There is a great bond between those who have played the game of lacrosse. Having received support from the lacrosse community during your own bouts with cancer and contributing to other causes such as “Coaches for Collin” in support of Christian Zwickert’s son, what do you think it is about the sport that creates this unusually strong bond?
TG: Coaches preach that all successful sports teams are bonded like a family, and that’s exactly what this sport has become, a great family!
LAS: What’s your favorite movie?
TG: I have re-kindled my excitement for the Star Wars movies via my 6yrs. old son-TJ.
LAS: Do you have a favorite pregame song you listen to?
LAS: Is there a pregame routine you always follow?
TG: Not that I’m aware of but my wife may know better!
Coach Gravante and his Mountaineers start regular season play in Charlotttesville, VA this Saturday, February 14th, against the University of Virginia.