The lacrosse doctor is in.
Vic Guadagnino is a lacrosse coach, but he might also be viewed as something of a lacrosse doctor, treating a school’s lacrosse ills. Guadagnino, 40, was an assistant coach in the early years of the Shoreham-Wading River High School boys varsity lacrosse team where he was greatly influenced by Wildcats Coach Tom Rotanz and his former assistant coach, Mike Delia.
From there Guadagnino went to William Floyd, which had never reached the playoffs and won only six games in the four years prior to his arrival in 2000. In 10 years as William Floyd’s coach, Guadagnino posted 101 wins and took the Colonials to the playoffs eight straight years. He was the Division I Coach of the Year in 2005, the same year in which he coached the Long Island scholastic team to a gold medal in the Empire State Games.
Last year Guadagnino was an assistant coach for Dowling College, which reached the NCAA Division II semifinals.
The next stop in Guadagnino’s coaching career is in Riverhead, where his challenge is to build up a program that has never produced a playoff team in its nine-year varsity history. During that time the Blue Waves have had two winning seasons and produced a career record of 49-86. Tony Lawrence, who had been Riverhead’s only coach since the varsity team’s inception in 2003, resigned after last season, opening the way for Guadagnino’s arrival.
“When I left Floyd, I felt like, do I still have it?” Guadagnino said. “When I came to Riverhead I felt I got it and more.”
Guadagnino is under no illusions. He takes over a team that went 3-13 last year and is seeded 20th among Suffolk County Division I’s 24 teams. He knows progress takes time, even for a team with 18 seniors.
“They want to do things very fast and they want success fast, but I think they’re slowly catching on that they are in the building process for everything that’s going to happen, and they’re taking pride in it,” Guadagnino, sitting in a makeshift office that also serves as an equipment room, said after a scrimmage with the Rocky Point Eagles last Thursday. “It does not happen overnight.”
Guadagnino said it is a plus that the previous coaching staff did a “phenomenal” job in building numbers and drawing interest in Riverhead lacrosse.
The Blue Waves do not return much in the way of varsity experience, with the exception of four returning senior starters: middies Mario Carrera, Dan Paulos and Rodney Rollins, and defenseman Owen Keupp. Carrera, who won about 76 percent of the face-offs he took last season, has signed a national letter of intent to play for St. John’s University next year.
Among the other players expected to see action are: goalie Cody Haas, defensemen Dan McKillop, Dan DeCabia and Sean Harkin, middies Charles Bartlett, Mike Maiorana, Billy Goode, Mike Curaba, Ryan Bitzer and Keith Jefferson, and attackman Dylan Kelly.
Guadagnino said he is up for the challenge of the task at hand.
“We’re [seeded] 20 and we have to work on gaining and moving up from number 20,” he said. “What I’m looking to achieve this year is to not finish 20. Nineteen isn’t the most exciting position, but it is ahead of 20. So, anything we can move to ahead of where we’re starting is a success. Any improvement is good.”
He added, “If the seniors at the end of the year feel they achieved something that they wanted to achieve, I’d be happy about that.”
In baseball, teams often use the beginning of the season to cram together as many scrimmages as possible. Early spring weather, unpredictable as it is, makes actually playing each scrimmage an iffy proposition.
Lacrosse teams, immune to rain, don’t have the same issue. But it doesn’t stop Shoreham-Wading River Coach Tom Rotanz from packing his preseason schedule with scrimmage after scrimmage. Beginning March 17, the Wildcats began a stretch of six scrimmages before a tournament April 2, ultimately leading to the league opener April 5. It’s a philosophy Rotanz has long employed, choosing to play his non-league games throughout the year rather than at the beginning of the season.
“We’re constantly trying to go against really good teams and try to find our weaknesses and correct them,” Rotanz said. “I’d rather just keep on working on playing real good teams in scrimmages.”
The Wildcats, a perennial top team in Division II, bring another strong team into the season this year. Shoreham finished 12-6 last year and lost to Hauppauge in the Class B playoffs.
The Wildcats return their leading scorer from a year ago in sophomore Timmy Rotanz. A lefty, he’ll play on attack along with three-year starter Connor Drost, Tom Rotanz and Paul Curran, all of whom are seniors.
In the midfield they return juniors Trevor Brosco and Dylan Gorman along with seniors Mike Malave, Peter Gersbeck and Kris Miller, who is a lefty.
On the defensive end junior Dylan Bates and senior Brendan Hickey will play long pole. Junior Chris Mahoney and seniors C. J. Higgins, Kerry Craig and Brandon Warner will also anchor the defense.
In goal the Wildcats will turn to junior Tyler Lutjen.
Rotanz said Lutjen got a lot of reps in goal during the summer.
“He absolutely blossomed,” he said.
Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.