It’s not every coach who can guide a team to an undefeated regular season.
It’s even less common when that coach is in his first season as a head coach.
Albany head coach John Battaglino, however, doesn’t make much of that distinction.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thought differently when I’ve been an associate or an assistant or anything like that,” Battaglino said. “Personally, I’ve always had the same responsibility and the same expectations. You’re trying to get your team to play to its potential and also develop along the way.”
Then again, Battaglino never really talked about looking for an undefeated season.
“In terms of running the table, it’s something I never think about,” Battaglino said. “I never bring it up. I just think about the game at hand.”
That said, however, Albany is 14-0 on the season, and will take the field on Saturday afternoon looking to finish the regular season at 15-0 with a win against America East rival Maryland-Baltimore County. With non-conference wins against teams like Boston College, Penn State and UMass, the Great Danes are eighth in the most recent Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll, seventh in the Inside Lacrosse Poll, and are looking forward to the opportunity to test themselves against the best when the NCAA Division I tournament begins in mid-May.
“We had high expectations coming into this season,” senior attacker Taylor Frink said, “and we’ve been working hard every day in practice. I think that we go into every game focused on that individual game, and we don’t really get distracted by anything else.”
Frink’s focus has led to a healthy measure of individual success as she’s contributed to Albany’s undefeated season. She entered the season as the owner of Albany’s single-season records for assists and total points at the Division I level (25 and 55, respectively), and has bested those marks this season with 29 assists as part of her 64 total points. She’s also been recognized as a nominee for the Tewaaraton Award, presented each year to the top player in the country.
“That was an honor,” Frink said. “I was very excited. I’ve received a lot of support from my teammates, coaches, family and friends, so that was amazing.”
For Battaglino, it’s an honor well-deserved, and he would know, having served as offensive coordinator at Syracuse in 2008, when the Orange led Division I in goals per game. (Katie Rowan, who led the Orange and the nation in scoring that season, is now an assistant on Battaglino’s staff at Albany). For Battaglino, what sets Frink apart is a great attitude that’s been a key to her success on a team with six seniors, a team that’s required major contributions from its freshmen and sophomores.
“She just loves to play the game,” Battaglino said. “She really buys into what we’re teaching, everything we’re doing. She tries those things immediately, and sometimes to a fault. I just think she’s very selfless. I demand the most from my best players, and she knows that when I get on her, it’s not personal. She can listen, absorb it and move on, and make the changes I’m asking her to make. We have a relationship where I can get into her a little bit, and she responds well, and she’s able to turn the page very quickly and move on.”
While Frink has distinguished herself as an elite player, Battaglino is aware that his Great Danes don’t have the depth of the traditional powers from the ACC and the Ivy League and the fast rising schools of the American Lacrosse Conference. Still, after a dominant regular season, Battaglino is ready to match his team against the best in the country.
“We have two or three subs on the bench,” Battaglino said. “We don’t have the depth of those other teams, but I do feel that we’re competitive when we play our style. We just have to play to our strengths, and there’s no adjustments that I can make. We’re not going to be super-fancy, but we are going to expand kids’ roles, and we’ll try some new things. I have a few tricks up my sleeve, and every once in a while I throw something new out there. It’s like a new toy for them. It keeps things exciting. We’re going to go from there.”
Frink, for one, is looking forward to the challenge of sharing those “toys” with the best the nation has to offer.
“It’s very exciting to have it in the back of our minds that we might have the chance to play against [the traditional powers],” Frink said. “To end my career, that would be really awesome to play against one of those teams.”
The rise of the Great Danes may yet continue beyond this season and Frink’s graduation, as a season like this puts Albany on the radar as a destination for top players, and a potential non-conference opponent for the elite teams in the nation (“I’m getting a lot of interest from different parts of the country now,” Battaglino said). For now, though, Frink and the Great Danes have work to do, and they’re enjoying every day of their journey.
“It’s a great group of girls,” Frink said. “We all get along really well, so I’m very happy to be part of that.”