CNY lacrosse team to participate in Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions
Members of the Central New York Roadhawks Lacrosse Club will have an important opportunity next week.
The lacrosse teams, which attract athletes from all over the state, will be going to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions just outside Tampa, Fla., from Jan. 4 to 6. And they’re competing for more than just a shiny, six-foot-tall trophy.
“They’re competing for pride,” said Mike Stagnitta, who runs the league. “They’re competing for a chance to show that Central New York is still at the top of the heap as far as lacrosse. I don’t know that a lot of them grasp that.”
Stagnitta said the CNY Roadhawks’ organization exists as a way to cultivate local talent and give them exposure to college coaches looking nationwide for athletes who play the burgeoning sport.
“We’re here to teach them the brotherhood of lacrosse, as well as to help them develop skills that will help them get to the next level,” Stagnitta said.
The league has attracted some top-notch players from all over New York, from as far north as Watertown and as far south as the Pennsylvania border. Several of its graduating seniors will soon be going on to play at top Division I, II and III schools, including Liverpool High School’s Bryan Clegg, who recently signed a letter of intent to play at Syracuse University.
College exposure on and off the field
That’s the primary goal of the CNY Roadhawks — to give talented local players not only the necessary skills to play at the college level, but also exposure to college coaches and recruiters.
“There’s a phenomenal amount of talent out there,” Stagnitta said. “The sport has exploded, meaning that the pool of players is larger than ever but the number of college teams is the same. The coaches and recruiters might not see the most talented players that we have here in Central New York, so the Roadhawks give them that exposure.”
The Roadhawks program was started for high school-aged boys nearly 20 years ago. Stagnitta said the organization seeks to keep advancing the sport, especially as it continues to grow, and to take advantage of Roadhawks coaches’ connections to the lacrosse world. The biggest motivation, of course, is to teach young lacrosse players about the game and advance them to the college level. That’s a goal that has met significant success — over 100 former Roadhawks players have gone on to play college lacrosse.
But Stagnitta said the Roadhawks look beyond the lacrosse field. Academics are paramount.
“We really push academics — that’s the main focus for us,” he said. “It’s too competitive to get into college [on lacrosse talent alone]. You need the grades to back it up.”
That’s why all players, starting their sophomore year of high school, must maintain at least an 85 average to remain eligible to play.
The Roadhawks train three seasons out of the year, taking the spring off so that players can join their high school teams. But all fall, summer and winter, they’re at the field at 481, playing their hearts out. The regular Roadhawks, all ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, train with 15 high-level coaches, all of whom played or coached in college and continue to coach professionally.
There’s also a program for younger kids, ages sixth through eighth grade.
“We were getting kids as sophomores and there was a great disparity between their skill sets and the skill sets of kids throughout the country,” Stagnitta said. “We realized we needed to get to kids earlier, so last year we started the Learning and Development Program.”
The Roadhawks also encourage their players to join other sports.
“We don’t want to prevent kids from taking part in other sports,” Stagnitta said. “Most of us [coaches] played two or more sports in high school. We’re big believers in cross-training.”
Tournament of Champions
All that training has paid off: for the second year in a row, the Roadhawks will be represented at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions in Tampa. In the national tournament, 21 teams from across the U.S. and Canada will compete before college coaches. Two of those teams are Roadhawks teams — the Senior Select team and the Select Blue team.
Stagnitta said the kids get a lot out of playing in the tournament.
“The seniors get a chance to play again with their team, and the juniors get to be seen by top college coaches,” he said. “Plus they play for a big trophy. But it’s more than that. They’re competing for Central New York on a pretty large stage. Hopefully, they’re sending the message that we have the best talent and that Central New York is still the hotbed for lacrosse.”
Regardless of the outcome of the games, Stagnitta is very proud of his teams, who have limited practice due to weather constraints.
“This is a very unselfish group of kids,” he said. “They play as a team. They’ve worked hard and done well without a ton of practice — just pure guts, skill and team spirit.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.