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Paul Cantabene Interview

Editor’s note: Swanklax is back offering up a lot of insight into the DIII NCAA Lacrosse world.  He’s breaking down the top teams and who is a contender but he starts off with a great interview with Stevenson’s Head Coach, Paul Cantabene, on how to build a program from nothing to national contender in only a few short years.  If you’re involved in building a program, take heed.  Take it away, Swank…

Paul Cantabene on Building a Program

Recently, I was reading a discussion on laxpower about some of the dominant programs. One poster had the fortitude to mention Stevenson and was rebuffed by a fellow poster who reminded everyone that only a few short years ago, Villa Julie lacrosse was nothing more than an afterthought in the DIII lacrosse world. For me, this drove home just how profoundly successful Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene has been in reversing the fortunes of the program.

With this in mind, I posed the following question to Coach Cantabene, who was courteous enough to answer.

With the rapid growth of DIII lacrosse, the number of brand new programs in very high. Given your success in turning Stevenson into one of the best programs in the country, what do you believe are the key aspects of building a strong program from scratch?
Paul Cantabene: That’s a hard question to answer but I think the key to building a good program is believing it can be done and be willing to put in the work to achieve it.

When I first took over we thought the first thing we had to do was change the culture of the program in all facets from academics to off-field behavior. And we met a lot of resistance [sic] to that but we wanted to make sure we had the right kids and not just kids that wanted to play lacrosse. We wanted kids that lacrosse was important to and were tough, goal-oriented kids.

The next was to hit the recruiting trail and find some kids that were willing to listen to our vision. The second part of that was to find out what kids were not going anywhere yet from junior colleges and kids that had stopped playing from around the area to help build our roster from 17 kids in the fall to over 33 in the spring of ’05. But we also decided to recruit nationally and not locally because we thought everyone recruits Maryland and we need to find the diamonds in the rough that could help us right away.

Following that we thought it was important to increase the awareness of the Villa Julie/Stevenson name. I came up with a marketing plan to get the name out using all of my contacts plus YouTube, Twitter, print media, speaking engagements and TV, pretty much anything I thought would get the name out there and get people to ask what we are and where we were going. We could get some great talk about the school not only locally, but nationally.

The next was to find a schedule we could be successful with and start adding in teams as we became more successful.

The last thing was to not be afraid to take a risk or 20. We were not afraid to take the risk because we thought we had nothing to lose. The second part of that is that we wanted to let our kids know that we meant business and were not afraid of anyone which meant we wanted to push the norm and traditions of the big name programs while carving out our own image and reputation.

I hope that answers your question and thank you for the opportunity.

Swank’s Takeaway Points

Now, Coach Cantabene has certainly provided an interesting dissertation on how to go from zero to hero in just a few short years. However, chances are that most of my readers aren’t college coaches and therefore will never be able to use this incredible information in a practical way.

Let me tell you why you should care what Coach Cantabene has said here.

There are an ungodly number of DIII lacrosse programs right now and that number only stands to grow in the coming years as more schools add teams.

With a growing but somewhat limited talent pool, it is going to be increasingly difficult for teams to secure the requisite talent to compete on a national scale.Doing the things that Coach Cantabene has done are absolutely necessary if a school hopes to have a relevant lacrosse program.

Conversely, if a coach is failing to take the steps to elevate the stature of a program, he needs to be held accountable by parents, administrators and alumni. This does not only apply to young or struggling programs, but to established ones as well.

It is of paramount importance that their coaches do not rest on their laurels as there are too many other programs that are going the extra mile in order to surpass teams that had previously dominated them.

Complacency is the biggest threat to a traditional powerhouse. Salisbury lost twice to Stevenson this year. Middlebury has not won a NESCAC championship since 2007. Gettysburg and Cortland face challenges from in-conference programs on the rise. The times, they are a-changing. Those that fail to follow the example of Coach Cantabene risk being relegated to irrelevance.

Down But Not Out

2010 has been a roller coaster ride in the DIII world. Given that, it is hardly surprising that some teams have taken quite a few more losses than they were expected to.

However, all is not lost. Conference tournament time is almost upon us and these teams will all be a few wins away from righting the ship and getting the AQ bid for their conference. Here’s a look at three teams that could cause some upsets in the coming weeks.

RIT (9-5)
The loss to Ithaca looks bad but the Tigers managed to take Cortland to OT. They are athletic and have the potential to beat anyone when they play their game. Keep in mind they were without their top two scorers for the St. John Fisher loss and it looks like they are more than capable of taking the E8. With a showdown against Nazarerth coming up to end the regular season, anything is possible.

Bowdoin (8-5)
Riddled with injuries and left for dead by many, including myself, the Polar Bears have resurrected themselves behind a potent attack led by Russell Halliday, who gets my nod as the best attackman in the NESCAC. With sophomore keeper Chris Williamson also aiding the recovery effort, Bowdoin has scratched and clawed its way back in the NESCAC. With one game to go, the once-discounted Polar Bears are ready to make a run at their first NESCAC title.

Haverford (9-5)
Maybe it was the weight of enormous preseason expectations, the coaching change or the injuries, but Haverford hasn’t been the team many expected them to be. They’ve lost their share of games, many of which were one or two goal heartbreakers. Fortunately for them, they do not lack for talent and should prove a worthy adversary in the Centennial tournament. Could they upset Gettysburg? The first contest was a one goal affair. The second one, if it occurs, could easily go the other way.

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