By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/7/08
Hofstra coach Seth Tierney may have coined the perfect phrase when he described how he hopes his team will perform Saturday at the 2nd Annual Nick Colleluori Classic at Ridley High.
“We are looking to go out and play with ‘Nick Colleluori effort,’ ” said Tierney. “The reason for this event is to keep Nick’s spirit alive and continue to raise support for cancer awareness.”
Tierney and his Pride will play three games – against Loyola, Penn and Maryland – in a tourney that will feature 13 teams from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Classic, expected to raise over $200,000 for blood cancer research, is being played in honor of former Hofstra player and Ridley graduate Nick Colleluori, who died Nov. 28, 2006, after a 14-month fight against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“The guys are working hard,” Tierney said. ‘They know what this event means to our team.”
Tierney never coached Colleluori. But the moment he accepted the head coaching job there in the summer of 2006, his first move was to speak to Nick Colleluori – who at that time was fighting for his life.
“My first call when I got the job at Hofstra was to Nick,” said Tierney, who had been an assistant at Johns Hopkins. “There was an immediate attraction. I got to meet him five or six times, and he was a special person.”
Nick’s legend lives on at Hofstra. His younger brother, Michael Colleluori, is a senior and one of the team’s top returning scorers.
“It’s been wonderful having Michael here,” Tierney said. “We have a locker for Nick next to Michael’s locker, and he certainly reminds us all of Nick and the type of person he was.”
Tierney said the Nick Colleluori Classic – expected to draw a crowd of over 7,000 – resonates in all communities.
“Events like this give people awareness of the impact of cancer on the world,” he said. “We are hoping that this is a leapfrog for helping get HEADstrong to another level so we can help other families going through this.”
Widener enjoys local connection to Nick Colleluori
While Hofstra has its special connection to the event, so does Widener University, located only several miles south of Ridley High in Chester. The Division III Pride, who have won the past four Middle Atlantic Conference championships and 11 of the past 13 titles, have six Ridley grads (Cory Malampy, Dave Simcox, Ryan Blakemore, Nick Politarhos, Kevin Carney and Mark Kane) on their roster and 20 others from the Philadelphia area.
“It makes it special for those guys,” said Widener coach Jamie Lockard. “I, along with some of Nick’s former teammates, have been able to educate our team about Nick and the foundation. The guys understand what we are playing for and how we are fortunate to be a part of it.”
Lockard’s Pride will be playing in the first game at 9 a.m. against Division I Bellarmine and then will meet local Division III rival Haverford at 10:15.
“We want to play hard and compete,” said Lockard. “I also want my players to have fun. The players condition and practice very hard in the fall and this tournament is their reward for it.
“We always want to win, but I think being sharp in all aspects of the game is as important. We are playing two very good teams and I am excited to see how we do. If we play hard, I will be proud of my guys regardless of the outcome.”
Lehigh’s Cassese feels close to Colleluori in different way
Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese has a different connection to Nick Colleluori. Cassese got to know Nick second-hand, through John Danowski, who was head coach at Hofstra for 21 years before taking the head job at Duke in 2006.
Cassese was an assistant under Danowski in 2006 before taking the job at Lehigh in 2007. Danowski, who recruited the undersized but gritty Colleluori when he was a member of three state championship teams at Ridley, stayed close to him even after he left Hofstra.
“I was at Duke when Nick passed away, and I lived through it with coach Danowski,” Cassese said. “I heard a lot of stories about Nick, and I feel like I got to know him through coach Danowski.
“I have felt a bond to the HEADstrong Foundation from the beginning.”
Cassese’s Engineers will face Haverford College at noon and Bellarmine at 1 p.m. before finishing with Penn State at 2:30.
“First and foremost, this is a great cause,” said Cassese. “And it is very consistent with what we love in our program – working in the community. To be involved with such a great tournament is a big thing for our program and we are excited about that.”
Cassese, who has been recruiting heavily in the Philadelphia area, believes the tourney is a great showcase for his team.
“Aside from getting the chance to play in front of some local fans and the local audience, it’s extremely important because we have several PA kids on the roster,” he said. “We have a few recruits from this area and it’s such a prize to be able to go home. The Philadelphia area has become such a recruiting hotbed and to get out and invite them and watch us play is a huge recruiting tool.”
St. Joseph’s assistant coach Morrison provides link for Hawks
At nearby St. Joseph’s University, the connection to Nick Colleluori is also special. Head coach Pat Cullinan’s defensive coordinator, Jack Morrison, grew up on the same street as the Colleluori family in Holmes, Delaware County.
Morrison has been a close friend of the Colleluori family for many years and even played Little League baseball for Nick’s father, Pat.
“The proximity of this tournament as well as who and what we are playing for certainly adds to the emotion of the day,” said Cullinan, whose Hawks will play Cabrini (10 a.m.), Villanova (11:00) and Loyola (1:30 p.m.). “Through coach Morrison, our players and staff have learned first-hand of the strength, courage and integrity of both Nick and his family.
“As a university and program we are truly honored to be a participant in this event.”
Cullinan also feels the emotion of the event will help his Hawks play at their best.
“Every time we step on the field as a team we want to compete and execute at our highest level,” he said. “This tournament allows us a great opportunity to evaluate our kids and compete against top programs.”
Penn using Classic to wrap up season
Penn, one of the four Division I programs in greater Philadelphia, is using this tournament as the capper to its Fall Ball campaign. Coach Brian Voelker will mix in his players and also emphasize the importance of the tournament’s purpose.
“We just want to go out and play hard and find out how our guys react to other teams,” Voelker said. “We’ll play a lot of different combinations, and give everyone on the team an opportunity to show our staff how far they’ve progressed this fall.
“Anytime you step on the field you want to give a ‘good showing,’ but we’re not concerned with scores or anything. This event is just a good way for us to play against different teams, and to give us an idea of what we need to work on going into the spring.
“We’re excited to be playing three good teams. This is a great cause, and it’s great that we can give back in some way. We’ve talked to our team about the tournament, and what it represents.”