By Collin Bolebruch
Plattsburgh’s men’s lacrosse program has undergone more than its share of change over the last four years. During that time, men’s lax has been overseen by three different head coaches: Joe May, Andrew Hauk and Darry Thornton.
May led the team to its first SUNYAC Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017. Since May’s departure after the 2020 season, the program, facing the aftermath of COVID-19, has yet to win more than four games in a season. Frequent staff turnover can stunt team culture, too.
This year’s senior class is made up of Michael Gresser, Robby Martin, Séan Ronan, Michael Swift, Gustav Rugg, James Schulze, Julian Pigliavento and captains Jack Brien and Owen Lorenzetti. These nine Cardinals have learned through their time at Plattsburgh that one of the most important things they have is each other.
“It’s just always been about the guys. We’re a tight-knit group all the way from the seniors to the freshmen,” Rugg said. “It’s been great. I think we left a great imprint and now, they’re going to carry it on for us.”
Brien thinks the turnover has helped the roster grow closer.
“When we came in as freshmen, I feel like it was really separated between the upperclassmen and the underclassmen. This year’s seniors, we really just wanted to bring the guys together,” Brien said. “We’re a real family unit, a tight-knit group because of the coaching changes. I know we had a rough year, but I’m just glad we did it together because this is my family and I love these guys.”
The team completed the 2023 season last weekend, April 29, losing to the top dog Cortland Red Dragons by a score of 9-20. As the last home game of the season, the team recognized Senior Day, giving the team’s oldest players recognition for their hard work and dedication to the program.
At the beginning of the season, Thornton said this was the game he was looking forward to most. Players, like Lorenzetti, have expressed that in the past, Senior Days have been lackluster. In turn, Lorenzetti said, the seniors didn’t feel acknowledged and it was discouraging to younger players like himself. He’s happy with what he got this year.
“We got our emotions out yesterday after the last practice. This was just a fun day with the boys. That’s all it was, and I’ll cherish it forever,” Lorenzetti said.
Thornton entered the position last summer with a player-forward approach. At the start of the semester, he emphasized setting seniors up for life beyond the sport and making sure his athletes make smart decisions. Brien said Thornton has taken on a unique role.
“[Thornton] loves the guys. He loves the sport. He treats us like we’re his sons, he always takes care of us,” Brien said. “We all really appreciate that he made today about us.”
On Senior Day, the departing players received their flowers, metaphorically and literally. Seniors got special player introductions, highlighting their time with the team. They walked with their choice of family or friends through a tunnel of teammates to centerfield, where they were handed bouquets of flowers and had their photos taken. The team, their parents and Thornton coordinated the ceremony.
“It’s the best group of young men I’ve ever coached. It took us a while to get things going lacrosse-wise. They bought in a lot sooner than a lot of programs I’ve been at before and it just makes my job easier,” Thornton said. “Senior Day is representative of them, those nine guys. If it wasn’t for those nine guys and the stuff they’ve done with the program, I don’t think the program would be where it’s at today.”
The players shared a common appreciation for each other: “the boys” or “the guys.” Ronan and Lorenzetti both looked back at “chirping,” or taunting, with the boys during games and the fun they had on the field. Through big changes and game results, the boys had each other and what they made of it.
“I’m just going to remember the guys on the team. Obviously it was a rough season, we didn’t get as many Ws as we thought, but I’m just going to remember going through all the shitty moments,” Brien said. “Everything with the guys I’m going to remember, good or bad.”