By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 7/25/09
Midfielder John Cugini, who helped Springfield-Delco reach the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) semifinals, has signed a national letter of intent to play Division I lacrosse at the University of Denver.
Cugini, an Honorable Mention All-Central League pick, was a late recruit who was recommended by Cougar coach Mike Friel as a “sleeper” when Denver contacted him in April. Jon Torpey, who was elevated from top assistant at Denver to interim head coach for a month, scouted Cugini when Springfield played Garnet Valley in a Central League game.
Cugini signed immediately after Springfield’s loss to Conestoga in the PIAA semis on June 2. A few days later, legendary Princeton coach Bill Tierney was hired as Denver’s coach, pushing Torpey out. Torpey also signed St. Joseph’s Prep midfielder Kenny Lankford just before Tierney’s hiring.
“It was the middle of the year, and coach (Friel) got a call from coach Torpey who was asking for ‘sleeper’ seniors,” said Cugini, who scored 29 goals this year. “We had just become nationally ranked and we were starting to get lots of press.
“Coach told him about me and he watched some game tapes. Then he came out and watched me play. He watched me and Kenny in the same week.
“After he watched me play against Garnet Valley, he told me he really wanted me to be on the team and that he liked the way I played.”
Cugini, who plans to major in biology, said he was immediately drawn to Denver.
“The campus is awesome,” Cugini said. “I went out the Sunday before we met Conestoga in the playoffs. All the facilities are unbelievable; just everything about it is great. I can’t imagine going to a better school.”
Cugini was a two-year captain for the Cougars who often did not receive as much press as many of the highly-recruited Springfield rising seniors. He served many roles, but was happy to contribute in any form.
“I did whatever was asked of me,” he said. I pretty much had to do everything. Sometimes I was needed to play defense. I played wing on face-offs, I played on man-up and man-down; I took every opportunity I could to help the team.”
The Cougars had a brilliant start, winning their first 10 games, including victories over New Jersey power Ridgewood, 8-5, and New York power Comsewogue, 7-6. Springfield finished 19-6, but fell short of its goals to win a Central League crown and post-season titles.
“Overall, we were really successful,” Cugini said, noting the team was ranked No. 24 in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse power rankings after the win over Comsewogue. “I guess we didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to with the Central League or districts and states, but we did play in the Final Four for Pennsylvania and that’s really big.
“We competed with nationally renowned teams and we broke into the national rankings for a while. I think we accomplished a lot more than people expected of us in the beginning.”
Cugini also was slightly disappointed that he won’t be able to play for Torpey, a former Philadelphia Wing. Cugini, though, is thrilled to play for Tierney, who won six NCAA titles at Princeton and has created a major stir by moving west.
“First of all, I am a little disappointed I won’t be able to play for coach Torpey,” Cugini said. “But it’s really exciting to be able to play for one of best college coaches of all time. He is going to take Denver to another level.
“It should be a lot of fun and a lot of hard work at the same time.”