By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/9/13
He looked up to Nick Colleluori while growing up in the Ridley system and then served as a volunteer and intern for the HEADstrong Foundation.
Indeed, Casey Decker has appreciated having a true role model.
On Sunday the 7th Annual Nicholas Colleluiori Classic at Ridley, Decker – now a Widener senior and key returning starter – was honored as his team’s Nick Colleluori recipient for his contributions on and off the field.
“I have been involved (with HEADstrong) since high school, helping out at events,” said Decker. “I interned this past summer and went to different events and helped inside the office or whatever I could do.”
Widener was one of 13 teams that participated in the second day of the Fall Ball event for Division II and III programs. The Nicholas Colleluori Classic has helped the HERADstrong Foundation raise almost $4 million for the fight against blood cancer.
“It means a lot to come back home to Ridley to play for Nick,” Decker said. “When I was little I looked up to him and it’s nice to see how he has affected kids we play with.”
Widener finished 11-6 last year and lost by only a goal to eventual national champion Stevenson in the MAC Commonwealth championship game. Expectations are always high.
“(That loss to Stevenson) definitely has been our motivation all summer,” Decker said. “In Fall Ball you want to come out and get better. It’s the little things that caused us to lose that game, so we want to get turned up to get ready for the season.”
Widener coach Brendan Dawson said his team got much from the two games vs. Randolph-Macon and Misericordia.
“Our goals were to put 15 days of practice and the pieces together into full form, get all of our new players collegiate playing experience and have a great effort against two tough teams in RMC and Misericordia,” he said. “We wanted to give our new offensive players plenty of opportunity to play together and work through the kinks, which we did in our first game. There are a lot of positive and negatives that we took away from both games and are excited to get to work this winter.”
How meaningful is this event to Widener?
“This is a really meaningful day for our team,” said Dawson. “We’ve always had Ridley HS represented really well on our roster and it’s a great opportunity for those guys to play at their high school and support HEADstrong, the Colleluori Family and a cause that is so close to home.
“It’s also extra special for us because of our honorary captain. Dr. Lauren Shermer (a Widener Faculty member in Criminal Justice) and her family were with our team– she provided us with some great perspective and inspiration and really made us think of what the day is all about.”
Rosemont coach Brian Zusi said his team, now in its third year, also gained much from the experience. Rosemont, whose Nicholas Colleluori honoree was redshirt sophomore midfielder Michael Manning, played Randolph-Macon and Dowling (Division II).
Zuzi answered these questions about the event
What did you gain as a team on the field from Sunday’s event?
Zusi: “We gained a sense of perspective of where we are right now and what we need to work on. We are still a young team, heavy with freshman and sophomores and while we have some experience at key positions we have total questions marks at others. The new additions showed promise.
“Zach Bowe (West Chester East) has been having a really good fall. Clayton Loughery (Great Valley) and Caleb Horan (Emmaus) have been a solid combination at the defensive end of the field. Our Goalie situation has never been better as we are having a great competition among returning sophomore Brody Safranek (Daniel Boone – Bucks, PA) and new additions Vinny Manzo (Roman Catholic) and Kiefer Paul (CBA- NJ).
“The attack end – expected starters are Will Lawlor (Sr. Radnor HS) Justin Regan (Jr. Hillsborough, NJ, Steve Licata (So. Baltimore Lutheran, MD) – has a lot of experience and we are doing some fine tuning and the returning midfielders of Dean Grisoff (Eastern Reg – NJ), Mike Manning (East Brunswick, NJ) Ralph Ibezim (Columbia HS, NJ) and Dan DeGregario (O’Hara) bring back much needed experience. Manning and Grisoff had medicals in 2013 so they come back with three years left which is a great advantage for is. For the other new faces, Rasool Smith (Lower Merion) is showing a ton of athleticism and can be a contributor but overall we are still young. A lot of our guys have only been playing college ball for three weeks so there is a lot yet to put in but we got a taste of what they can expect.
What does it mean for your team and the lacrosse world to compete in such a worthwhile event for blood cancer?
Zusi: “I can’t tell you how much it means to me personally as a Hofstra Alum and with family members and close friends having battled blood cancer, some successfully and others not so successful, it’s important that we take a moment to not only enjoy lacrosse but to help be a small part of battling this disease. The job that the Colleluori Family and all of HEADStrong has done is tremendous.
“They somehow out do themselves every year and proudly carry on the traditions that Nick asked those that lived on to embody. I am immensely proud to be just a small part of their battle. I had Nick’s message on our game plan and read it to our guys prior to taking the field and I dug out my old #27 jersey (also Nick’s number) from my club days at Hofstra and put it on our goalies as a small token of our appreciation for being a part of this outstanding event.”
How much has your team progressed in the past year and what goals do you have for your third season?
Zusi: “I think we have progressed tremendously. We have solid core of players with a good amount of experience and we brought in a new class we are really excited about. Dan Bowden (Springfield-Delco – Cabrini Transfer) is shoring up our LSM role where we had some questions coming into this year Our defense will be almost entirely new Horan an Loughery are solid as they come for relatively raw freshman Dan O’Connel made the transition back to D which is his natural position after two years of attack and he will give us some experience there. Anthony and Tom Bottoms (brothers – Roman Catholic) are playing soccer right now so it we won’t see them until the spring and they will give us a boost on attack and D. That will be an interesting practice battle.
Zusi: “We just dedicated the new turf facility and it is something else. I have never seen a field like this. When you imagine what an all-grey turf would look like, it was nothing like it turned out. It is amazing and even better under the lights.
“The team has really enjoyed playing on it so far and we look forward to seeing what it will mean for us when the games start to count. I can tell you a lot of people will want to come play us – it is a really unique facility.”