'Most programs wouldn’t survive'
Adelphi quickly recovers from tough circumstances
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Coaches come and coaches go. It’s a fact of life at every level of every sport in the world.
Adelphi won three consecutive NCAA Division II women’s lacrosse national championships between 2009 and 2011, and after clinching that last title coach Joe Spallina headed to Stony Brook. Rob Grella took over and proceeded to lead the Panthers to a 16-3 season in 2012.
This year, Adelphi returned to the semifinals but suffered a last-minute 7-6 loss to undefeated LIU Post, the defending national champion.
It sounds strange to call 16-3 and 18-3 seasons rebuilding years, but that’s what they have been to Adelphi. Grella expects more. The school expects more.
After Spallina departed -- and several student-athletes left to follow their coach to Stony Brook -- Grella felt the trip to this year's national semis was vindication for what Adelphi’s program had been through. Grella never mentioned his predecessor by name, but his feelings are crystal clear.
“What bothers me as the head coach who took over,” Grella said, “it bothers me that wherever you look around, they’re always still talking about him and the success he’s having.
“Nobody ever thought once about all the girls who were left behind and how we had to rebuild a DII dynasty in a short amount of time. Most programs wouldn’t survive a hit like that.”
Hired in August 2011, Grella was left with 13 players on his roster. Some asked if Adelphi would continue fielding a team. His roots run deep at the school as he is a 1997 and 2004 graduate. He was twice a first-team All-American for the men’s lacrosse squad, and to see the Panthers in that kind of shape rankled him deeply.
“When you come from a winning program, I don’t think anyone understands what we went through, as a team and as a coaching staff,” he said. “It was probably one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever been through in 16 years of coaching.
“You had all the girls who were gone. We had to go out and recruit players just to fill a roster less than two weeks before school started. We had a battle with the kids who were left over who lost all their friends, and maybe wanted to be somewhere else with their friends. Then you had other kids who were still on the team that wanted to stay and play. The combination of both was not easy.”
Despite the close loss to LIU Post, Grella felt no small amount of vindication.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “What we’ve done here is truly amazing -- a program like Adelphi, that’s had great success with five national titles, to get hit like that and respond. Last season was a great season, and this year has been unbelievable as well. I think it just sends a message to everybody out there. It’s not about one person.
"A program is everybody involved in it. It’s not about a certain player or a certain coach. It’s about the program. The girls have truly been tested in two years, their character and their heart and all their hard work,” he said. “It’s paying off. It hasn’t been easy. Everyone thinks it’s a sunny road. It hasn’t been like that."