By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/5/11
Excuse Taylor Wray for being one of the individuals anxiously awaiting the 5th annual Nick Colleluori Classic this weekend at Ridley High.
Wray will make his head coaching debut for St. Joseph’s University, which plays two games Saturday in the first day of the two-day event that benefits the HEADstrong Foundation and its fight against blood cancer. (See full schedule)
The event honors the legend of Nick Colleluori, a Ridley grad who passed away five years ago following a 14-month fight against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while a lacrosse player at Hofstra University.
St. Joe’s opens the event by playing Michigan at 9:30 a.m. on the Stadium Field. The Hawks also play Mount St. Mary’s at 2:30 on the grass field.
Wray is quite familiar with the Nick Colleluori Classic. He was an assistant for Lehigh, which competed in the event twice, and as captain of the Philadelphia Wings he has many Philly ties to the community.
Wray faces a major challenge as the Hawks’ new coach. Last year St. Joe’s went winless in its first season in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Wray hired two assistants with strong Philly ties, Dan Keating, a former assistant with Wray at Lehigh and former head coach at Malvern Prep and St. Joseph’s Prep; and brother Mike Keating, a former assistant at Penn, Malvern Prep and St. Joseph’s Prep.
Wray answered these questions about his new job and the Nick Colleluori Classic in an interview with Phillylacrosse.com:
Why did you pursue the head coaching job at St. Joseph’s University?
Taylor Wray: “When I initially interviewed at SJU, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was extremely happy at Lehigh, but when the position at SJU opened up, I knew it was one I wanted to explore.
“I have family ties to Philadelphia and I’ve certainly developed strong relationships to the lacrosse community here though my recruiting efforts the past few years and my involvement with the Philadelphia Wings. As I got to know the school a little better, the more excited I became about the opportunity.
“During the interview process it became very clear that the University and the Athletics Administration are committed to elevating the level of the lacrosse program, and more importantly they were committed to providing the next head coach the tools they need order to compete within the CAA. You combine the elevated level of support, with the beautiful campus, and the strong academic reputation of the school and it became a place I really wanted to be to start my head coaching career.”
What are the major challenges you face in your first head coaching job for a team that struggled last year in such a competitive league?
Taylor Wray: “That’s a great question… there are so many challenges that come with being a first-year head coach, and I’m sure I’m only starting to get my hands wrapped around all them right now.
“I think that teaching my team exactly how hard they need to work, and the amount of time and tremendous energy they need to put in, just to give themselves the opportunity to compete will be a challenge. I really believe that when you work tremendously hard, you see yourself get better, it inspires confidence, and that will be a big factor in our success this season and down the road.
“We need to build confidence and play with an enormous a chip on our shoulder. We’re 16 practices in right now and I have been really impressed with our focus, energy and enthusiasm thus far.”
What are your general coaching philosophies?
Taylor Wray: “I’m going to answer this one pretty quickly … I believe in being a STUDENT-ATHLETE.
‘The student part comes first, but the athlete part is only a hyphen behind. I really feel you must be fully committed to both sides in order to get the most out your college experience. Second, HARD WORK = POSITIVE RESULTS. This goes for everything you will do in every facet of your life.
“My goal as a Division One head coach is to use the student-athlete experience to help instill values and teach lessons that will help the men of SJU lacrosse be successful in everything they do, both while at SJU, and in the years afterward.
“I want to help freshman boys become mature, independent, confident, selfless young men that are going to go out in the world and do great things. It may seem a little idealistic, but that is really at the root of why I enjoy this profession. I was fortunate to have had great coaches along the way and that’s how I feel about my own experience.”
Do you feel your Philly ties (Lehigh, Wings) and new assistants (Dan and Mike Keating) will help you recruit in the Philly region?
Taylor Wray: “The existing relationships between our coaching staff and the Philly area will certainly aid in our local recruiting efforts. The Philadelphia area is definitely one of the top areas for high school lacrosse in the country and we certainly want to take advantage of the local talent.
“However, when I selected Dan and Michael Keating as my assistant coaches, I selected them because they were the right choices as coaches, mentors and leaders, as we look to start the next chapter of SJU lacrosse. The fact that they have strong ties to the area was bonus in my mind.”
What major goals do you have for the 2012 season?
Taylor Wray: The major goal for this season is to build a winning work ethic and championship mindset and to lay the foundation for future success. I think the first step in building a winning program is teaching your team what it takes to compete at this level. If we can do that, we are going to win some games, and that’s goal number two.”
What are your goals for the Nick Colleluori Classic?
Taylor Wray: “I’d be lying if I gave you a line about it being “the fall” and just wanting to get to know my team and to continue to improve. Obviously those are two things you hope to get out of the day, but I want to have a great showing.
“The NCC is such a great event, such a worthy cause, it draws a large following and with this being the first time anyone can get a sneak peak at the 2012 Hawks we want have great day. Our team has worked really hard, we’re getting better, and I hope it comes out in how they play on Saturday.
“I guess my goal is to do the things we’ve practiced well, to execute the systems we’ve put in place, to be organized and disciplined. There are going to be a bunch of situations that come up on Saturday that we haven’t discussed at practice and we aren’t fully prepared for, but my goal is to execute the things we’ve practiced and to maintain our focus when things come up we haven’t discussed.”
Having already coached for years in the Classic, you must be proud to remain involved in the Colleluori Classic as a head coach. Please explain.
Taylor Wray: “I am extremely proud to bring my team to the NCC. I believe in the mission of the HEADStrong Foundation and I am honored to be able to have SJU represented at the event. My family has been affected by blood cancer; my wife lost her younger sister to AML (form of Leukemia) a year and a half ago.
“The NCC is a very emotional day for me. The Colleuori family and the HEADStrong Foundation were there to support my sister, her husband, and our family during her treatment and I will always be grateful.”
How do you feel about playing Lehigh in your head coaching debut on Feb. 11 at St. Joe’s?
Taylor Wray: “I feel fortunate to have spent the last four years at Lehigh working with Coach (Kevin) Cassese and his staff. I learned a tremendous amount, had the opportunity to coach some extraordinary young men, and built some unbelievable friendships.
“I’m excited to play Lehigh at home on February 11th. It’s going to be a fun day. I know there will be a large crowd and I know both teams are going to eager to get their season started. I’m trying my best not to give them any locker room material for this one, I know they will be plenty fired up already.”
Tags: St. Joseph's University