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Pallotti boys lacrosse in new and capable hands

Pallotti boys lacrosse in new and capable hands
Joe Stanilaus is a first-year head coach for St. Vincent Pallotti's boys lacrosse program. (Brian Krista, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Joe Stanilaus wants it known that he's right where he wants to be.

The new St. Vincent Pallotti High School boys varsity lacrosse coach is thrilled to be heading the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference program after taking over for Kris Weaver, who posted a 31-40 record in four years at the helm and earned a respectable 13-5 mark just two years ago.

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"I heard about the [job] opening by word of mouth," Stanilaus said. "They have such a great tradition here that I had to take it."

Although the Panthers might be considered to be slightly outside the orbit of the sport's hotbeds in the Baltimore and Annapolis areas, Stanilaus is steadfast in his belief that things can turn around.

So does his boss, Pallotti Athletic Director Rick Diggs.

"The guy is the real deal," Diggs said. "He's a straight shooter and he know what he wants to do."

What Stanislaus, 37, wants his team to do is to focus on fundamentals, conditioning and, most important, the upcoming opponent.

"The only thing that matters is the next game," he said. "And we have to give everything we have to that next game, win or lose. Then we start looking forward to the next game."

Diggs said that Stanilaus' interview was "unconventional" in the way things played out.

"It was almost like he knew what question I was going to ask before I asked it," Diggs recalled. "And then he gave the answer he wanted to give, not the one I wanted to hear. That's unusual."

Stanilaus, who lives in Columbia, also teaches a computer class at the school.

Like other teams in the area, time actually spent on the field has been severely limited by the weather this season, so the Panthers have been put through the paces by their new coach in the gym.

"I look at that as an advantage, being in a hot gym," said Stanilaus, who was an assistant coach for the men's teams at Howard Community College and The Catholic University of America before taking the job at Pallotti."We don't stop. We keep moving all the time. If you want water, go get it, but we keep going. If you don't want to work, that's fine, but you won't be around us very long. We go full speed for an hour and a half and then we're done."

Despite sounding like a hard-liner, four-year varsity midfielder Justin Chenault said that Stanilaus often shows the Panthers a softer side to his coaching style.

"He's more relaxed [than one might think]," said Chenault, a face-off specialist who plans on joining the Coast Guard this summer. "He's nice and calm. He doesn't yell. But he doesn't underplay things, either. He'll tell you straight-forward about things you need to be working on."

According to the Stanilaus' philosophy, working on stick skills is mandatory and takes precedence over shooting practice.

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"We do tons of stickwork," Stanislaus said. "We go with a high tempo and lots of reps. You can't shoot if you can't catch or throw the ball. You can't shoot what you don't have."

His conditioning program, he said, should make actual games feel "like a joke," in terms of his players' beefed-up endurance.

However, that might be the only funny thing for a team short on experience this spring.

Luckily for the Panthers, Stanilaus was a former goalie at Old Bridge High School and Division III Kean University in his native New Jersey.

Sharing his experiences in the crease with projected starting netminder Collin Batenga should help the sophomore begin to understand the challenges facing a first-year goalie.

Batenga won't be alone in learning on the job, though, because six of the 25 players on the roster will also be newcomers to the sport.

That, in turn, means Stanilaus will have to do his best mentoring defenders, an aspect of the game in which he excelled while coaching in college.

"He did a good job when he was here," said Howard Community College coach Erik Foust, who teaches lifetime fitness at nearby Reservoir High School. "He's a good tactician and he understands defenses very well."

Stanilaus puts his team's relative lack of seasoning in a positive light.

"We're all in the same boat," he said. "We're all in this together, so, from Day One, we've been teaching trust and communication."

Besides Chenault, Jake Harkcom is the other midfielder with the most experience under his belt and the only other senior on the squad.

The attack, for instance, skews much younger with junior Justin Wilson and sophomores Hunter Smith and Tyler Lilja manning the unit.

Juniors Ed O'Neill, Justin Thomas and Francis Oparaocha will get the nod on close defense with freshman Lawrence Tucker while sophomore Sola Adekoya and freshman Zachary Burns are defensive middies.

Even the relative youth of the team did not deter Stanilaus.

"Youth is not an excuse," he said. "No matter how old you are, if you can play, you can play, regardless of age."

With that kind of attitude, Diggs can't help being optimistic about the program's future.

"If he stays, and he keeps on the same track, we can be back on top in a couple of years," he said.

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