MONTROSE, N.Y. -- When the door opened for Matthew Colombini to become the head coach of the men’s lacrosse team at Emerson College, the Hendrick Hudson High School grad and was ready.
It may have been earlier than he anticipated, and the circumstances were certainly unusual. But Colombini recently took the reins of the Boston-based Lions, who enter the 2017 season on a 19-game losing streak. Emerson finished 0-14 last year.
“It’s not a new program, but it’s almost like starting a new program,’’ said Colombini, who served for four years as an assistant coach. “There’s a good foundation of players.We just need to expand our depth.”
Colombini, a 2012 graduate of Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, served for three years as an assistant coach at Wheaton College. Last year, he was an assistant coach at Colby College.
Emerson hired Bill Bjorness on July 16 to take over the program, but he died unexpectedly six days later. Emerson hired Colombini, who had been a finalist for the position before Bjorness accepted the job, shortly thereafter. His apprenticeship may have been short, and the circumstances unfortunate. But Colombini is ready to take the program forward.
“What I liked about Emerson is that it’s right in downtown,’’ Colombini said. “My sister lives right outside the city, and it’s an opportunity to build a competitive program. It’s a unique school, one of the top communications and film schools in the country. Emerson also started a new business program. With the support the college wants to give toward athletics, it’s a chance to build something pretty special.”
Colombini got a taste of head coaching at Wheaton and Colby. At Wheaton, Colombini said head coach Jamie Lockard gave him responsibilities that helped him prepare to become a head coach. At Colby, he worked under Jack Sandler, and was the only coach on the staff after Sandler died unexpectedly in November, 2015. Jon Hunt eventually replaced Sandler.
“Jamie allowed me to work on a piece of everything,’’ Colombini said. “He gave me a ton of responsibility on the field, but also off the field. I had an opportunity to do all those little extra things coaches do that people don’t see. He wanted to make sure he showed me the ropes. Working with coach Sandler and Jon Hunt and coach Lockard, plus my coaches at Ursinus, I feel like I was influenced by a lot of good coaches along the way.”
Colombini, a goalie in college, said he plans for an up-tempo offense at Emerson and a physical defensive team. As he rebuilds the roster, he’s focusing on making the Lions competitive in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference with an eye toward competing for the conference championship a couple of years down the road.
“We’re also going to take care of our academics,’’ Colombini said. “That’s our first priority. We want to be great citizens of the community and do as much community service as we can.”
Colombini figures on making Westchester County and Dutchess County part of his prime recruiting areas. Last year’s roster did not have a single player from New York or Connecticut, areas which produce some of the best lacrosse players in the country.
“We will recruit nationally, but I’m definitely biased toward the players in Westchester, Dutchess and Long Island,’’ Colombini said. “We want to be part of that and recruit that area pretty heavily. I love the way the game is played down there. There’s a toughness to it.”
While some might see Emerson’s long winless skid as a potential coaching graveyard, Colombini envisions opportunity and the chance to to build a competitive program.
“Emerson has so much to offer,’’ he said. “The NEWMAC is an extremely competitive league. But if you recruit the right way, you can elevate pretty quickly. I’m telling recruits they can come in and they’ll see in four years the impact that they’ll have on the program. They’re going to be part of a new culture and building the tradition. They have to take that leap of faith.”
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