SALEM, Va. -- Once Adelphi returned to the top of Division II women’s lacrosse in 2014 by winning its sixth national title, it wasn’t long before thoughts of returning to the championship game started dancing in a plethora of returning players’ heads.
And then some unforeseen road blocks emerged, something those who had been around the program for a few years had experienced not so long ago.
In a bit of a surprise move, Rob Grella, the coach who had led Adelphi through its most challenging era since the program had been started in 2001, resigned a couple of months after seeing his team win its first national title under his charge. According to the release the college sent out in his behalf, the long daily commutes between his home in New Jersey and the school, located on Long Island in New York, had become a strain on him and his family life. He said he was going to pursue other opportunities.
For the most part, his soon-to-be former players did not expect this kind of turnover, but their resolve emerged quickly.“It was a surprise at the time, but this happens all the time -- especially in lacrosse,” Adelphi senior Alexa Froccaro said. “There are always openings everywhere.”
So how did the college fill its need? By bringing in Pat McCabe, much to the team’s delight.
The history behind the name certainly was an eye-opener. McCabe was one of the best college lacrosse players in the 1980s when he was a four-time all-American at Syracuse. He went on to enjoy a lengthy professional and international career. And once he got into coaching, he proved quickly that he knew how to share his knowledge of the game.
“We were thrilled to find out we were going to have Pat McCabe as our coach because of his decorated history in the game and his knowledge of the game,” Froccaro said. “Everyone who knew who he was were excited right away. Everyone who hadn’t heard of him were impressed as soon as they looked him up on the internet.”
Perhaps the only one with any kind of reservations about the move was McCabe. Taking over a defending national champion that is returning a large part of that title team results in some immediate pressure.
“When people ask me about [taking this team over], I usually just laugh and tell them I was the only one dumb enough to take the job,” McCabe said. “It can’t go anywhere but down. We get a laugh about it.”
Following Saturday’s 10-5 win against Le Moyne in the national semifinals at Kerr Stadium on the campus of Roanoke College, the Eagles continue to prove to their coach that leading this team is a job anyone should want.
“We’ve got a real good group of kids here,” said McCabe, whose Panthers will have a rematch with last year’s runner-up, Lock Haven, in a game scheduled to start at 2 p.m. “Our senior class is very special. I walked in and tried to do it as seamlessly as possible. I tried to do in a way that keeps the team comfortable, yet makes adjustments that I think needed to be made.”
McCabe said his roster, most of which he had no part in their recruitment, is so good that his biggest challenge is to stay out of way. If he doesn’t think the Panthers need him to get involved during a game, he won’t.
Considering the Panthers are 20-1, that strategy seems to be working.
“I don’t make many adjustments,” he said “I have tremendous confidence in [the players]. … I think we have enough talent, I think we have enough athleticism and I think we have bright enough players that we can make adjustments on the fly.”
A hands-off coach? That certainly doesn’t sound like the norm in this era of competitive sports. But ask the players: They concur that he practices what he preaches, or chooses not to preach, however you choose to look at it.
“He’s more a laid back and [wants us] to be creative,” said attacker Rachel Aitkens, who scored twice and had an assist in the win against Le Moyne. “He lets us control the field. Sometimes, he won’t even tell us what to do. And then we’ll try to do whatever we think is going to work.”
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the approach is working. Even before the Eagles’ players knew who would be their new coach, they were already figuring out on their own what needed to happen in the 2015 season.
“Our senior class has tried to keep everyone together and keep the team with a winning tradition and be classy while doing it,” said Fraccaro, who in her next-to-last game with Adelphi scored three goals and added an assist. “We already knew that everyone was going to stick together no matter what happened.”