GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – Adelphi head coach Joe Spallina makes a promise to each one of his recruits before they come aboard.
“I promise we’ll win four national championships while you’re here,” he tells them.
The Panthers’ junior class is now three-for-three in helping Spallina make good on his word following Adelphi’s third consecutive Division II national title. This one on its home field against Limestone, which was making its first appearance in the national title game, in a 17-4 shellacking.
“Our focus at the beginning of the season was to play our best lacrosse at the end of the season and play our best game in the National Championship,” said Spallina.
It wouldn’t be outrageous to call this team a dynasty now. The Panthers are the first Division II Women’s Lacrosse team to win three consecutive national championships. All accomplished with relative ease.
The Panthers finish 2011 on a 26-game winning streak dating back to last season – a 20-0 mark this year. Sunday saw the Panthers fall a goal short of breaking their own record from a year ago with most goals in a national title game. But they did rack up the largest margin of victory in a DII Championship game.
Throw all that together and add in how the Panthers play. It’s a run and shoot, fastest show on turf type of offense.
Take one of the Panthers’ early goals. Two behind-the-back passes in a row hit Erica Devito darting towards the net. She easily hit the top corner – which is not such an easy thing to do – and it was as if Limestone even said, “wow.” Displaying such skill early was something that the Saints could never overcome, falling into an 8-1 hole at halftime.
“It was a good way to start the game, it was like we were able to show everyone ‘this is what our team could do,’” Devito said.
“We do it every day in practice,” said Elizabeth Fey. “I knew if I did it, Claire [Petersen] was going to as well, that’s the rule.”
So how has Spallina built such a dynasty on Long Island? With girls that are able to hit each other with precision behind-the-back passes in national championship games?
He and his staff have done a great job at “shaking the trees” and found very talented players right in Adelphi’s backyard. All but three of the Panthers reside from Long Island. Spallina, a current physical education teacher in the Rocky Point School District, has kept a relationship with a lot of the top high school coaches in the area.
“We do a real good job at getting very, very good recruiting classes,” Spallino said. “We have top end kids coming in here. We don’t have to go far from here to find that. Long Island lacrosse is pretty strong – that’s not a secret. We try to do a good job in our backyard so we don’t have to go out of state. It takes that pressure off from having to do that.”
As if they need to get any better, Adelphi has its best recruiting class yet to come this coming Fall. One of ESPN’s top ten recruits is heading to Garden City.
Yes, that’s right. That list reads Northwestern, Maryland, North Carolina, and … Adelphi.
This isn’t a typical lower division team. The Panthers can play with anyone.
“If someone told me we could drive to Maryland right now and play Maryland, we’d do it,” Spallino said. “That may be the stupidity in me but we want to beat whoever we have in front of us on that day.”
But it’s not about Division I vs. Division II on this day. The Panthers can celebrate putting together one of the more dominant seasons in collegiate sports history. They outscored opponents 424-119 this season, and won by an average of 15 goals per game.
Erica Devito, Elizabeth Fey and Marissa Mills all chimed in with four goals apiece to lead the Panthers. Devito and Mills happen to be part of that junior class that knows no other feeling than to finish a season on top.
“Coach sat down with me the first time I met him and asked me if I wanted to win four national championships,” Mills said. “Who’s going to say no to that?”
On this day especially, no one would.