Newsday Article on SJC Women's Lacrosse
Getting the Hang of LAX at St. Joseph's
By Steven Marcus
Former Longwood High School lacrosse player Sandy Sobolewska thought she had bid farewell to the sport when she was offered a full academic scholarship to St. Joseph's College in Patchogue.
"Very good academic reputation, close to home, full ride. My education was more important,'' Sobolewska said.
She had no idea that a grass-roots movement was under way to start women's lacrosse at non-scholarship Division III St. Joe's. It started in February with the hiring of former Shoreham-Wading River coach Bob Vlahakis, who posted fliers around campus. He quickly assembled about 15 players.
Practices are in the baseball outfield, but a $14-million athletic complex is on schedule for next spring, when the team will start its intercollegiate schedule. "It's not a normal practice,'' Vlahakis said. "I have a portable cage that we can set up in 90 seconds. I have extra sticks and goggles for kids that don't have them.''
The first few meetings, Vlahakis said, resembled "The Bad News Bears,'' referencing a troupe of inexperienced players. But improvement came rapidly. "One or two days of having a stick in your hand,'' Sobolewska said, "and it comes back to you exponentially.''
Vlahakis, a retired English and social studies teacher, couldn't be happier with her use of the language. "My vision at St. Joe's is simply this: I'm going to recruit students first,'' he said.
Vlahakis, 60, coached his high school teams to four state titles, but he knows victories may be scarce in the early going. "I said I'm going to lose more games in my first year than I have in the last five [at Shoreham] together,'' he said.
But Vlahakis has resolve. He coached a hastily assembled women's club team at Colorado State to a national championship in 2008 -- by commuting on weekends from Long Island.
The new outdoor complex will not ramp up expectations or yield visions of moving up in divisions, said college president Sister Elizabeth Hill. "If I tried to do anything more than Division III,'' she said, "I think my faculty would probably hang me, maybe not just in effigy.''
The first team will have players who have volunteered, mixed in with whichever high school seniors have not yet committed elsewhere.
Freshman Dana Giannone is new to lacrosse. She played volleyball, basketball and softball at Miller Place. "It is nerve-racking not knowing any of the rules because you don't know if you are going to make a mistake,'' she said. "But nobody knows how to play, so that's what you'd expect. Including me, people were missing the balls, learning how to throw. It was all new, but everyone was very comfortable. It was because of our coach. He said, 'Guys, we'll get through this.' "
Freshman Colleen Fitzsimons was a goalie in field hockey at Commack, so she has been steered to the cage for lacrosse. "It's completely different because field hockey is mostly in the ground, where lacrosse is mostly in the air,'' she said. "I have the right instincts, but it's kind of weird to guard with a stick rather than your body.''
Michelle Gulino, captain of the college's soccer team, played junior varsity lacrosse in the Three Village school district. "It is great to see people learn a new sport,'' she said. "We started off with wall ball . I don't think the girls knew how hard the ball came back. It was a little humorous, but everyone is so supportive of each other. A lot of them are picking it up quickly. Some have run track, some play soccer. All the dynamics of these sports, you see it prosper in one area. It's great.''