(Coach Starsia is a contributor writer for BTB LAX)
As Starsia says, “I am blessed to have had moments during a long career that kept me sane and grounded, able to get through another day. Let me share a couple…”
* Immediately upon graduation from Brown in 1974, I became the first assistant on the varsity for both soccer and lacrosse. You might think that a little surprising when you consider I had never played nor seen lacrosse until arriving in Providence four years prior. What might be even more remarkable is that I don’t recall that I had ever even kicked a soccer ball before that first day on the job. I worked hard to get up to speed with the soccer players, said “aqui” as often as possible when I wanted the ball and constantly looked for ways to make a meaningful contribution. We had a young, talented striker on the team by the name of Fred Pereira (who graduated as Brown’s all-time leading scorer). In an early game that fall, a big back from Yale took Fred down hard near our bench. While everyone’s attention was focused on Fred, I sidled up alongside the Yale player and informed him that “if you ever do that again, I will come back out here and drop you right where you stand.” I was still working through some of my proper soccer protocols!
* Do you ever wonder why Canadian players who grow up playing box are such good finishers? Well, the goals are smaller and the goalies are padded properly and in the goal for almost every shot, in every shooting drill, in practice. Field players do not get to shoot live on goalies enough in their developmental years. I played in the original NLL in the summer of ’75, drafted by legendary Canadian coach, Jim Bishop, on to the Montreal lesQuebecois. Our goalie was one of the best in that league, a Mohawk named Ernie Mitchell. When I used to come down the floor in practice, Ernie would start in with “C’mon Dom, c’mon,” give me a little opening somewhere and then burst in to laughter as he took it away every time. I’m glad he was enjoying himself; luckily, I had thick skin!
* Hall-of-Famer and ’78 Hopkins grad Mike O’Neil, was my first full-time assistant at Brown from 1983-86. Michael was one of the great players and colorful characters in our game’s history. He led Hopkins to a NCAA championship in ’78 against a Cornell team that had not lost a game in three years! During his three years in Providence, I do not think Mike ever paid to stay anywhere. His ability to talk people in to taking care of him was absolutely uncanny. He spent his final spring in our house, and I would tell you that his greatest skill would be making you feel comfortable with him in your home. I would walk in the door to find Michael waiting there to ask me, “Dom, how about some soup, can I get you some soup?” What a great guy, one of the people who touched me in the game. “Yes Michael, I’ll have some soup!”
* It was a Monday during the early spring of ’87 when I was informed by someone on the university side that a couple of our players had gotten in to an altercation with some security guards at the weekend’s hockey game. I stewed on this information until practice was winding down that afternoon. I told the players to get on the goalline extended, to run an 80 on every whistle and proceeded to “let them have it” with every sprint. It was pitch black by the time I ran out of expletives and was told later that they had run 48 80s.
* It was the following spring of 1988 when we played UPenn in a night game in Providence. Tony Seaman was upset before the game even began because he felt the lights were not adequate. I am sure Peter Smith, Penn’s best attackman, thought the goalies couldn’t see; he must have taken 30 shots! In a very dramatic affair, described by top DI official Bob Schwalb as “one of the most intense games he had ever officiated,” it was a low-scoring one-goal game with five minutes to play. Our attackman, Jamie Munro, came hard to the corner and bless his creative soul, I knew what he was likely to try. From my vantage point, it was “No, no Jamie, no, no…yes!” He stuck one behind his back in the far upper corner. We beat a semifinal Penn team, 9-7.
* Jamie was our senior captain the next year and warming up for our game with Harvard with a BRAND-NEW stick. I had to pace over in the corner so as to not lose my mind and have a scene 10 minutes before a critical game. Of course, Jamie had three goals in the game, played very well, and we won our Ivy opener.
* The spring of 1993 was my first year at Virginia, and we had a fair season, earned a trip to the NCAA playoffs. The regular season had just ended and our captain, Kevin Pehlke, was going to receive a prestigious award at the athletic department’s season-ending banquet. I did not want to ruin the surprise, so simply told the team that everyone had to be at the dinner, unless they had an academic conflict. I was going to be out of town scouting potential playoff opponents. A half dozen of the players came to me to say that had an exam study session as the same time as the banquet and asked if could they miss. I told them, “of course” and didn’t think any more of it. The next day, I am sitting in my office and get a call from an old friend. Very innocently, he told me that he had seen six of our guys at a concert in Georgetown the night before. I told the six to come see me and when I asked how the study session had gone, to a man “really helpful coach, thanks a lot.” I said, “good, because you are all suspended for the first round of the playoffs.” When we got clobbered by an under manned club team two days later during our bye weekend and winning even a first-round playoff game seemed unlikely, I was certain I was about to be fired in my first year. Four of the six who sat out were regulars, and the remaining players rose up to win that NCAA game 25-9.
* It was the spring of 1994 when we established a two-mile run time as the standard to begin practice that spring. Each player ran his two miles on the track in the fall, and we negotiated an individual time for each player to meet upon his return in January. It certainly seemed a fairer method than having the same standard for everyone on the team. I am happy to report that only one player did not make his time, a big, strong football player who was close but, couldn’t get there. The rule was you could not practice until you made the time, and everyone felt bad for Chris Morton, who ran it every day for almost a week. We were all frustrated and then, I had an idea. We had not specified that you had to run it on a track and we measured off a two mile route that began at the top of Observatory Hill, a steep half-mile long incline on campus. We took Chris to the top and pushed him off this new runway…he made his time!
* It was the Wednesday before our 1995 semifinal game with Syracuse. My wife had been bugging me for some time to have the team doctor look at a small lump on the side of my face, just below my ear. It finally occurred to me, and the doctor called over to the dermatology department at the University Hospital. It was only an hour or two before practice but when the chairman of the department of dermatology agreed to see me, I hustled over. He diagnosed a basal cell and offered to cut it out on the spot. I told him I was in a hurry but a couple of shots to numb the area, snip, tug, eight stitches, a band aid and flying out the door. I ran right out to the practice field and starting my normal barking at the players during our pre-practice drills. When I saw enough guys standing around, staring, with their mouths agape, I finally asked, “what the hell is going on?” One of the older guys pointed at me and I realized I had popped the stitches and had blood running down my neck in to my shirt! I couldn’t feel it with the Novocain still in play. They fixed me back up, but we still couldn’t cover Roy Colsey!
*We brought an excellent starting attack — Jay Jalbert, Drew McKnight and Tucker Radebaugh— back to the team in the fall of 1998. Conor Gill was also on his way to campus for his freshman year, and we needed to move someone to the midfield. Probably too big an adjustment for a freshman, we needed Tuck’s left hand on the field all the time and Drew was to miss fall lacrosse with shoulder surgery. Jay was none too happy to hear that he was the one and was dragged a little kicking and screaming to the face-off wing. He went on to be a first-team All-American that spring, the USILA Midfielder of the Year and we captured Virginia’s first national championship in 27 years! We both smile about it now.
* In the spring of 2005, we played Hopkins in one of the most exciting NCAA semifinal games in tournament history. We found ourselves down 6-1, tied it, went ahead, sat through one of the most dramatic 50 minute rain-delays, Kyle Harrison immediately tied it, we went ahead again with 12 seconds to play only to have Hopkins tie it and send us in to overtime. We had three great shots on our first possession, but Hopkins came down the field with its defensive middies still on the field. With every fiber of my being, I am convinced that we might still be playing if Dave (Pietramala) hadn’t used his timeout earlier in the overtime. As it was, SSDM Benson Erwin took the shot and scored his fourth goal of the season to send his team to the national championship game!
*With timeouts in mind….it was the spring of 2009 and a game between Virginia and Maryland at Klockner Stadium. We had played a lot of close games with the Terps over the years and a casual fan might have predicted this one tied and going in to overtime. These games are generally settled quickly and it was a bit of a surprise as this one went to a second OT, a third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. Coach Dave Cottle and I used every available timeout allowed throughout the first six overtimes. At one point, I seem to recall telling the team, “remember what we told you the last time….well, do it better this time!” Maryland had the ball first in the seventh OT, our goalie Adam Ghitelman gathered possession and as we went down the field, I turned to coach VanArsdale and said, “don’t call it, let’s see what happens.” Brian Carroll split to his left hand off the top and sunk the winner. Sometimes, we are just better off getting out of the way.
* It was the summer of 2011 and I was invited to the ESPY Award Show in California as a candidate for Coach of the Year. I would admit to never being a “clothes horse” and would generally describe my style as “casually uninformed.”. The parents got together and identified the one (Gary Gill) who had the nerve to ask me to please buy a decent suit. In a case of a reverse NCAA recruiting violation, the parents sent me a gift certificate to make it happen!
I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed recalling them!