Joe Spallina’s Twitter account is flush with sports banter, motivational quotes and advice for youth lacrosse players.
Perhaps more than anything else, though, the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse coach uses his platform of more than 4,200 followers to act as the unofficial public relations specialist for a team he thinks doesn’t get enough respect. But he’s just fine with that.
Even after Spallina inherited a four-win team from 2011 and engineered an America East championship in 2012, he still was working with the deck stacked against him. Top local recruits didn’t want to stay on Long Island, especially to play for a team with such an underwhelming track record.
Six years later, Stony Brook (5-0) is the No. 1 team in the country across each of the three major polls. That’s thanks to Spallina’s ability to unlock potential.
“I wouldn’t say at that point it was the dream position,” said Spallina, 44, whose four-year coaching tenure at Adelphi included three straight Division II national championships. “It was a tremendous risk.
“I had to use my reputation and track record at Adelphi more than I used anything I could show at Stony Brook, other than [LaValle Stadium]. It’s a lot like free agency. If you’re not in one of those top markets or programs, sometimes you have to overpay for a free agent. Early on, maybe we threw a lot of money at some kids we knew were program-changers.”
Adelphi transfers Frankie Caridi, Demmianne Cook, Claire Petersen and Michelle Rubino, as well as Florida transfer Janine Hillier, joined Spallina in his first year and helped stabilize the program.
Spallina mentioned 2017 graduate Dorrien Van Dyke, redshirt seniors Courtney Murphy and Brooke Gubitosi, and Tewaaraton Award finalist Kylie Ohlmiller as players who came later and made an impact when Stony Brook was still a middling mid-major.
“They trusted me. They trusted a vision,” he said. “When you look at the recruiting pitch now, it’s different. Back then, those kids came to me based on a vision after maybe being overlooked by some other places. I’m obviously forever in debt to those guys for that.”
Ohlmiller said Spallina’s sales pitch during her recruitment took her aback, given his grandiose plans.
“At first, I was sitting there like, ‘He must be a little crazy,’ ” she said. “But then you’re like, ‘That’s the type of crazy I want to be part of.’ A lot of people might have thought he was crazy six years ago, but they don’t think he’s crazy right now.”
Many of Spallina’s best players weren’t recruited heavily, but the former physical education teacher at Rocky Point has shown a penchant for turning oft-forgotten prospects into stars. Ohlmiller, for example, was offered a spot as a walk-on at another school before choosing Stony Brook. Now she’s considered one of the “best players on the planet,” in Spallina’s ever-confident terms.
“It’s not like I have a magic wand,” said Spallina, who also has coached Major League Lacrosse’s New York Lizards since 2012. “We get kids to believe in themselves and trust what they’re doing and trust me. The best part of my job is watching Kylie Ohlmiller turn into an absolute rock star.”
In sophomore Ally Kennedy’s opinion, Spallina’s coaching prowess comes from his recognition that each player learns differently. Kennedy started in the midfield as a freshman, and Spallina considers her a piece of the next wave of Stony Brook standouts.
“When I met with Coach when I first came here, he just had such big plans for me,” Kennedy said. “He sold me on the plans he had for me and the plans he had for the program. It was just the thought of how great we could be.
“He knows his players very well. He knows what to say, how to act and how to coach each player specifically. He knows the things that push them to be great.”
The Stony Brook position allowed Spallina to be closer to his wife, Mary Beth, and a growing family that now numbers five children. Commuting from his home in Rocky Point to Adelphi in Garden City each day factored into his decision. Spallina, who now lives in Mount Sinai, said he felt other coaching opportunities “weren’t great fits.”
His patience paid off. The Seawolves have dismantled top programs, with four of their five wins this season against ranked competition. Spallina was rewarded in August, inking a five-year extension worth just over $1 million total, according to the contract obtained by Newsday through a Freedom of Information Law request.
“I firmly believe that it is only a matter of time before he brings a national championship to the North Shore of Long Island,” athletic director Shawn Heilbron said when announcing the extension, which secures Spallina through 2022.
The Seawolves could realize Heilbron’s belief this season. Stony Brook will host the Final Four May 25-27, and Spallina has long reminded his players of the opportunity ahead.
Rest assured that the Seawolves’ fan base, one that has grown immensely since Spallina took over, will be out in full force. When it comes to culture and atmosphere, that’s always been paramount. Perhaps that’s where his magic touch comes into play.
“I have two daughters, and one of them is only 2, so she’s running around the house with a stick in her hand,” Spallina said. “But my 10-year-old is a huge lacrosse player. For her, our girls are her role models. My daughter believes they walk on water, and that’s the other piece of the puzzle. Our girls take pride in connecting with kids. We want to impact the community.”
Maybe he’s not so crazy after all.
Joe Spallina Quick Facts
Born: March 30, 1973 in East Meadow
High School: Rocky Point, 1992
College: Adelphi, 1996
-Named Stony Brook head coach June 15, 2011
-Signed 5-year extension through 2022 in Aug. 2017
-Named Long Island Lizards head coach in Jan. 2012
Joe Spallina Accomplishments
-108-20 career record at Stony Brook
-3 straight Division II national championships at Adelphi as coach (2009-11)
-73-2 career record in four years at Adelphi
-2-time Division II national champion at Adelphi as player (1993, 1995)
-3-time IWLCA National Coach of the Year (2009-11)
-2012 Brine Coach of the Year (Major League Lacrosse)
-2015 MLL championship