Scoring goals is nice, but Ryan Bitzer seems to enjoy setting up goals as much as scoring them. “Always been a passer,” he said.
That goes back to his days as a three-sport athlete at Riverhead High School. Whether it was football (as a quarterback), basketball or lacrosse, it was Bitzer’s nature to pass.
These days, however, as a senior attack for the Stony Brook University men’s lacrosse team, Bitzer is asked to finish.
A midfielder all of his lacrosse life, Bitzer was moved to attack the fall of his junior year. It wasn’t much of an adjustment for him beyond dodging from different angles, he said. Instead of playing in front of the net, it meant playing behind the cage.
“It’s just a different perspective,” the Wading River man said. He added, “I love playing attack now.”
What’s not to like?
With more playing time and more scoring opportunities have come more goals, and that’s not all. About a week after last season ended, Bitzer was named one of Stony Brook’s captains.
Bitzer was a two-time All-County lacrosse player at Riverhead High School. He tallied 38 goals and 18 assists his senior season to lead the Blue Waves into their first playoff appearance.
“Those were some of the best times in high school playing with those guys,” he said. “Those were some of my best friends.”
Bitzer didn’t take up the sport until he was a seventh-grader, and didn’t play travel lacrosse until the summer before his senior year. One of the first tournaments he played in was at Stony Brook. He said he played well enough that he caught the attention of Stony Brook assistant coach Craig Gibson, who brought head coach Jim Nagle to watch Bitzer play in other games.
Bitzer said that because he was late to the recruiting scene, the only offer he received was from Stony Brook. So, he traded in his Riverhead blue for Stony Brook red.
One of Bitzer’s initial impressions upon playing for Stony Brook was the speed of the college game as compared to high school.
“Everyone’s so much faster out there,” he said. “It’s definitely a big noticeable difference, the speed of the game. The skill level is just like on another level. Everyone on the field has great skill.”
In his freshman season with the Seawolves, Bitzer played in all 16 games, starting four and picking up two goals and five assists.
His numbers steadily picked up from there. As a sophomore, he played in all 18 games, starting four and producing 13 goals, eight assists and eight ground balls.
Bitzer’s junior year, though, was a breakthrough. He came up with 23 goals and 18 assists, starting all 16 games.
Bitzer, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, scored twice for No. 14 Stony Brook (4-1) in its 17-4 loss to seventh-ranked Rutgers (6-0) on Friday night. That gave Bitzer seven goals for this season to go with 10 assists and 14 ground balls. He has put 10 of his 19 shots on goal.
Nagle likes what he is seeing from Bitzer.
“He’s got a real strong work ethic,” the coach said. “He was a very strong, all-around athlete [coming out of high school]. We knew he had the potential for growth, which is something you always look for. He’s doing a great job. He’s a leader for us.”
Bitzer isn’t the only Wading River resident on the team. Shoreham-Wading River High School product Tyler Anderson, a junior long-stick midfielder, has played all five games as well, picking up a goal, an assist and 16 ground balls.
Bitzer’s focus is on driving Stony Brook to the America East Conference championship.
“A lot of people saw us losing a lot of our offensive weapons last year and probably didn’t think that we were capable of doing much this year,” he said. “We got a long way to go, but definitely we have a lot of potential.”
It’s an opportunity this player with a penchant for passing doesn’t want to pass up.
Photo caption: Riverhead High School graduate Ryan Bitzer, playing for Stony Brook University in a game against Hofstra University, has seven goals and 10 assists in five games this season. (Credit: Jim Harrison/Stony Brook Athletics)