Ryan Bitzer may be the premier attacker for the Stony Brook men’s lacrosse team, but when head coach Jim Nagle is prompted to describe him, a different type of athlete comes to mind.
“He’s the ultimate quarterback and team player,” Nagle said. “He’s always making the unselfish play. He’s exceptionally quick and a very calming influence on our offense. So we can get the ball to him and he’s very much the quarterback of things.”
As Bitzer enters his final season with the program, Nagle hopes that unique combination of elite skill and selflessness will propel Stony Brook to an America East championship. Stony Brook finished 12-4 last season before losing a 10-9 heartbreaker to Vermont in the America East semifinals.
“Quarterback” certainly wasn’t the immediate thought for those who watched Bitzer during his early days at Stony Brook. The Riverhead native recorded just two goals and five assists after playing midfield in all 16 games of 2014, his freshman season.
Despite his newcomer status, however, he received the starting nod in four contests. Bitzer once again cracked the starting lineup in four of the team’s 18 games in 2015, but saw a significant jump in scoring with 13 goals and eight assists.
Bitzer earned enough of Nagle’s confidence to start all 16 games last season in the attacking role. He rewarded his coach’s faith with 23 goals and 18 assists.
Bitzer credits Nagle and the rest of the coaching staff for his tremendous improvement. Meanwhile, Nagle praises Bitzer’s relentless work ethic while spending at least parts of four seasons in the starting lineup.
“His development is extremely admirable,” Nagle said. “He’s developed his skills since his freshman year. He came in and we ran him in the midfield, but he’s really spent extra time on his own developing his attacking skills.”
Bitzer would like to see another spike in efficiency, but said he is more concerned with winning when all is said and done.
He also touched upon the newfound leadership role he accepted last year and how it compares to what’s expected of him as a captain in his final season.
“I felt the need to step up on the field and lead by example,” itzer said. “Last year I wasn’t a big leader by talking and being the loudest one. We had great captains for that. This year, obviously being named captain, I knew I’d have to be more vocal with the team and get ready to be a leader for the team this year.”
Following a disappointing end to 2016, as well as a 22-9 loss to Albany in the America East final in 2015, senior midfielder and co-captain Alex Corpolongo believes the Seawolves have what it takes to finally break through and win the title this season.
Stony Brook makes its 2017 debut at Sacred Heart on Feb. 14.
“The expectations are pretty similar every year,” Corpolongo said. “You want to go into the season and come out with a ring. I think that’s completely within our reach this year.”
And, similar to a quarterback, Bitzer’s motivation to finally win a championship is through the roof.
“Without question,” he said, “this is probably the most motivated I’ve ever been in my life.”