Briarcliffe College is a small commuter school on Long Island that plays in the MCLA Division II. These guys have quickly come up through the DII ranks and are starting to pop up on people’s radar more and more, but they still don’t get a lot of love. I decided to check in with coach Sean Pagano in what I initially thought would be a small piece on Growing The Game. Little did I know, there was a lot more going on at Briarcliffe than I originally thought. We’ll start out our Inside Look at Briarcliffe with this interview, but there will be much more to come!
How did you get hooked up with Briarcliffe College? Where did you first hear about the job, and what excited you most about the opportunity?
Sean Pagano: This is actually a pretty funny story. I was looking for a closer coachig job at the NCAA DII level ( I was coaching at Pace University) and saw the defensive coordinator position posted for Briarcliffe College. I got in touch with the coach at the time, and he informed me that he would be leaving due to the fact that the team was not going to continue with the program being in the NCAA. He had just gotten the team recognized in the MCLA and wanted to coach at the high school level.
He also told me that the program was in shambles to an extent, and they needed a head coach that would have to put in a lot of time and effort. I talked to some coaches on the Island (Long) and they all said the program wouldn’t last for more than one more season, and could never be successful.
So, needless to say I applied for the job.
The things that excited me the most were that no one (except for the MCLA!) was giving us a chance, and everyone in our area said that no one could turn the program around. These guys I have now did just that. And now the program is strong and getting stronger.
I started coaching at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, NY. After a season as the defensive coordinator my old head coach from FDU, Dave Carty, gave me a call and asked if I would come and coach with him at Pace University. I had just been transferred with work to twenty minutes away from Pace’s campus so it was a perfect opportunity at the perfect time. Pace is a great school with a great athletic department. I was then transferred back down to Long Island a couple of years later and thats when I heard about Briarcliffe College.
Sean Pagano: Upperclassmen leadership for one. If our upperclassmen work, and make the new players work, then it will be a continuous cycle. If we put in the work, we will continue to get better and continue to be good. The second big thing is recruiting. We have the best talent pool in the country from which to pull in lacrosse players. We started to build a tradition in the program and recruits come and watch us practice or play and they see it. We’ve reached the point where players are staying to play four years for us. Add a couple of good recruiting classes and we will be right where we need to be to fight for National Championships.
Sean Pagano: Well, to tell you the truth, I have no idea. All I know is that we recruit the same way I was taught to recruit at Pace. We go see hundreds of players on the Island. We e-mail, phone, and write hundreds of high school coaches. We try to grab players from the two JUCO’s on the island to augment our upperclassmen talent. We already have ten committed recruits for next year and the staff is looking to double that number by the beginning of the fall. If we can bring in a class of 15-20 players for next season (freshman and JUCO transfers) then we will be a force in DII.
Sean Pagano: Definitely. We are taking it slow and steady so as not to bankrupt the program right now. We think we are going to be in the running for our conference championship and National Tournament every year. So, to book flights to the West coast to play games, and then not have enough funding for the National Tournament wouldn’t make sense. So we play OOC games that are as close as possible, and we expect those games to be reciprocated next season.
With those two games being reciprocated next season then we can make another trip for two-three more OCC games. That will make four-five OCC games for us next season. That’s where I want us to be. Once we solidify our fundraising and booster club we will be making those trips out to the West or Midwest. Then all the teams with questions on how good we are can see first hand. Then we will expect those teams to fly to the Island and play us at home. If teams are willing to do that, and we have the funding, we will go where the best competition is.
Sean Pagano: When I was interviewed it was one of the first questions I had for the administration. They have been supportive of the team and I believe that they are starting to see the results of that support in more athletes coming to the school to play for us. They run the program like an NCAA team and it helps us streamline everything that we need to do. The coaching staff takes a lot on their shoulders as well. My assistants have done a great job this year organizing and overseeing things. You see it in the results this year. We are finding our groove.
Sean Pagano: Yes, after seeing the talent level in the MCLA, and the competition. We just don’t know enough about it on the Island. We have great college lacrosse teams, from the DI level (Hofstra, Stony Brook) to the JUCO’s (Nassau Community College, Suffolk Community College). No one ever really looked to the MCLA before. The good thing about our team is we aren’t huge like the other teams on the island. We don’t have 45-50 players on the roster. I like to recruit only players that are going to fit in to our philosophy and play. I don’t recruit players for practice. I don’t like having players sitting on the bench during games. If I recruit you as a player and you do the work your going to play in some capacity.
I envision our roster at 30-35 at it’s biggest. I would like to rotate my defenders out to keep everyone fresh and have our opponent see no difference in the talent or lacrosse IQ of the players. I would love to have four to five lines of midfielders and just run up and down the field. With a little more TV coverage, and recognition for the MCLA,I think we will continue to make our mark on Long Island lacrosse.
What are the biggest challenges facing BC lacrosse?
Sean Pagano: Recruiting. As I said, we have great lacrosse programs out here. We always ask our recruits two questions “Do you want to play and be a factor, or sit on a bench for a couple of years, then maybe see spot time?” and ” Do you want to be on a team that will never go to a National Championship game, or play on a squad where you might be the factor that wins a National Championship game for us?” Long Island players love that NCAA title, though.
Once they’ve seen how competitive we are and have seen teammates playing for us, the word has started to spread. We have talent, and we are getting more talented recruits committing to us all the time. It’s great that we have gotten past the “hey that program is in shambles” barrier that we were fighting two seasons ago.
We are here. We are doing great. We are not going anywhere.
Sean Pagano: Once they see us, they realize lacrosse is lacrosse. Some coaches on the island were telling players that we are a pay to play club team. We are not. We are fully funded by the school for essentials. All the extras we fundraise for (just like every other team). Our players are spreading the word and we are getting more and more recruits from schools that we have players from. High School coaches are coming and watching us and saying how amazed they are at the talent level and competitiveness.
This will all help spread the word. We are on the radar on Long Island and people are noticing that we represent Long Island lacrosse as well as any other college team on the island. One thing about Long Island lacrosse, no matter what the title, we want to be the best in the country. Once you prove you can be the best, the”Strong Island” lacrosse community starts to support you more and more.