St. John’s University is taking on Rutgers in the Big City Classic this Sunday and although this game isn’t getting as much hype as the two other contests slated for the BCC, it’s definitely worth taking a good look at. Props to Inside Lacrosse for choosing two local teams along with the big boys. Good stuff for NYC area lax!
SJU has had a tough season so far, as they are only 2-6 and have lost two key veteran offensive players, in Kutner and Leach, to injurty. The young squad is responding well though and Coach Miller has done an excellent job of staying positive.
Coach Miller said, “Nobody is thrilled about being 2-6 and we aren’t making any excuses for it. It is what it is. We stacked ourselves with what I think is as good of a schedule as you can play. We are very young with 26 underclassmen on a 36-man roster and we lost a few guys to injury early in the year. But everybody that wants to be good has to go through that.
“We’ve had our struggles fighting our way through in our first few weeks here, but we are headed in the right direction. There’s a lot more lacrosse to play. None of the games in the back half of the schedule are going to be any harder than the ones at the front”.
When asked what they might be doing differently to prepare for the Big City Classic, Coach Miller did a great job of capturing exactly what was going on when he continued, “We have treated practice a little differently, not necessarily because of Big City, but because we had a week to prepare.
“We just finished a stretch where we played five games in two weeks. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that we have a little more enthusiasm in the air. It’s a great time for us to be doing this, because at 2-6, you have to be careful about morale.
“When you add the event, it gives us a little extra motivation which really helps. But we have to be careful to not let the event become bigger than the game. Our focus is Rutgers and we are preparing to beat Rutgers”.
The chance to play in the Big City Classic is obviously one that St. John’s appreciates. It’s a big scene, very close to home, and they get to play another local team, with whom they may even compete for recruits from time to time. Coach Miller spoke on what St. John’s recruiting niche is, and could be, and how this game can help them when he offered that, “Recruiting is a hard thing to figure out. It’s difficult to figure out what our niche is, recruiting-wise. Being here, the recruiting battles on Long Island are important to win. One of our biggest draws is the opportunity to go to school in New York City. Sometimes we have better shots at players from Philadelphia or New Jersey or the Mid-Atlantic region or Midwest because they think New York City is the coolest place in the world.
“Ultimately, we want kids that want to be here”.
Sophomore SSDM Brandon Ayers also offered up some thoughts from a players perspective in a brief interview, and he provides a nice glimpse into what the mentality of a lacrosse player at St. John’s is like. Brandon, and his twin brother, Dillon, are from Lynbrook, N.Y. and have really become some of St. John’s emotional leaders on the field.
Dillon (5) is the long-stick middie and leads the team in ground balls, is currently third in the conference, and 35th in the country in ground balls (4.5 per game). Brandon is a SSDM that was converted from the offensive end in the offseason. He is instrumental in the SJU transition game and has scored five goals in the past four games, including a hat trick against Sacred Heart.
What’s it going to be like playing in a pro stadium like the Meadowlands on Sunday?
I grew up a Jets fan so it’s going to be cool to play in the Meadowlands. We’re all really excited to play on the biggest stage that probably any of us has ever played on and to play in front of the most people we have ever played in front of. So hopefully we’ll come out on Sunday ready to go.
What kind of statement do you hope to make against Rutgers?
Hopefully we’ll make the same statement that we’ve been trying to make all year. Rutgers is a good team just like every other team we’ve played all year so we just hope to come out and play them hard. We hope to make a statement that we can play against good teams and we can beat good teams on the biggest stage of all which is the Big City Classic. So hopefully we can hang with them and get a win on Sunday.
What drew you to St. John’s and what did St. John’s have that other places didn’t?
Well I love the people here and the coaching staff. I really got to know Coach Paccione and Coach Miller my senior year of high school and they’re great guys and great coaches, and I was really looking forward to playing for them. Plus the guys are laid-back and are great to play with. We are a special team and really close. We work hard every day.
Where does the team hope to be by the end of the season, and then where do you hope to be in the next two years?
We hope to be where any team hopes to be. We want to get over that .500 mark. We had a couple of tough losses at the beginning of the season, but conference play is a whole different story. We can be successful over these last seven games, but we have to put our minds to it and work hard. By the time I graduate, I want to be a part of an NCAA Tournament team.
Next year, the BIG EAST tournament is coming so you want to be one of the top four teams to make that tournament. We have a lot of freshmen now which means nothing but good things for the future.
What can NYC do to help lacrosse become bigger in the metro region?
The city is trying to do its best for lacrosse right now. This week we have the Big City Classic in the Meadowlands, which is the Jets and Giants stadium so hopefully that will draw a lot of people. They just have to keep advertising that event to get more fans as it gets bigger each year. It’s hard to get people from New York City to play lacrosse, but high school programs, titan programs and little league programs are all getting better.
There’s nowhere to go but up.
Photos courtesy the St. John’s SID. Thanks Will!