By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/22/17
Joe Licciardi can surely appreciate what the HEADstrong Foundation does to support families dealing with a loved one fighting cancer.
The Penn junior midfielder has been facing the devastating reality of cancer in his own family. His mother is fighting breast cancer and was unable to attend Sunday’s Annual University City Classic at Penn Park.
Penn Park is located near the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where Nick Colleluori fought his heroic battle against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. To honor Nick’s will to fight the eight-team event (also competing were Drexel, Lafayette, Delaware, Monmouth, UMBC, Quinnipiac, and Bellarmine) honors a player on each team that exemplifies Nick’s determination and spirit.
It was not difficult for Penn coach Mike Murphy to recognize Licciardi, a part-time starter last year who figures to be an integral part of Penn’s 2018 season.
“I’d say for our program, this is something really much bigger than lacrosse,” said Licciardi, whose team has hosted the event all five years. “The most important thing is that it shows how close the community is. We are all battling cancer and to see lacrosse give such big support of that is great.
“My mom is fighting breast cancer right now and couldn’t make it today. She just finished her treatments and hopefully she’ll be back feeling good soon.”
Murphy said many in the Penn community do not know Licciardi has been dealing with his mom’s illness and lauded the junior for handling the additional pressures of academics and Division I lacrosse.
“I think he has handled it great in a very high pressured time period,” said Murphy, noting Licciardi has had Wall Street interviews. “He is holding up his end of the bargain on the lacrosse field and is a key returning player. He helps his mom through the treatments. He is an impressive kid and has handled all this stuff the way we wanted him to.”
Licciardi thanked Murphy and the Penn coaches for their support.
“He (Murphy) has been super helpful to me, constantly reaching out,” said Licciardi. “All the coaches have been great and all the people are really caring.”
Though it may be hard to think about the lacrosse season, Licciardi is excited about the team’s outlook for 2018.
“We’re playing a really tough schedule this year and it will help us in the long run,” he said. “We lost our starting defense, but we are bringing back the offense and we will keep working hard the rest of the fall and bring it to the spring.
“We have a great group of guys that work hard. I think we will have a successful season.”
Other Nick Colleluori honorees:
After 39 years under legendary coach Bob Shillinglaw, the Delaware men’s lacrosse team is undergoing big changes under new coach Ben DeLuca.
“It’s exciting; it’s been a process,” said Delaware senior midfielder Eric Giannetti, a Bishop Shanahan alum. “The first week or two we didn’t even touch sticks; it was all about what we wanted as a team. We started out by cleaning out our locker room.”
Giannetti, who played for the Duke’s LC and Mesa Lacrosse, was honored to be Delaware’s Nick Colleluori winner. He noted that coach Shillinglaw – known for bis mustache – helped Delaware raise the most of any team several years ago in Mustache Madness, a major fundraising campaign for HEADstrong.
“It’s awesome and very humbling,” he said, “We have been competing in HEADstrong Foundation events for 3 or 4 years. I know a lot of people’s families – mine included – have suffered from cancer, so anything we can do to help step forward to create a way to get a cause is awesome.
“We are involved in the ‘Be Positive Foundation’ and we have a UDance (a student-run philanthropy that hosts an annual 12-hour dance marathon to raise money for cancer causes), too. There’s a lot of fundraising for cancer awareness. We also have a little hero, our Little Brother Brian, who has beaten cancer. He has his own locker.
Giannetti enjoyed playing three seasons for Coach “Shill” and is thrilled to play his final year under DeLuca.
“There is a lot of excitement,” said Giannetti. “Shill built a great program. Now, coming in, I heard great thongs about coach DeLuca and our whole staff. Today was a great day. People are really fired up; it’s going to be exciting.”
Lafayette senior midfielder Matt Close (Wilson High, Twist/Duke’s Division) said his team enjoyed coming to the University Classic after competing the last few years in the Nick Colleluori Classic Long Island at Hofstra.
“It’s something we work for all Fall,” he said. “We all look forward to it. The raising of the money is obviously what’s more important. Lacrosse comes second to battling cancer. And our coaches stress that. Coming here and competing against great teams (the Leopards played Drexel and Monmouth) is why we play Division I lacrosse and we are taking strides in getting ready for the spring, but we always look forward to the HEADstrong Tournament.”
Close noted that the Lafayette struggled last year, but has shown promise under interim coach Ed Williams, an assistant the last five years.
“Coach Williams has done a fantastic job and I think we are going in the right direction,” said Close. “Our two new (assistant) coaches coach (Scott) Bieda and coach (Tim) Desko have been great. I personally believe this spring we can make some noise. I know we’ll be ranked at the bottom of the league, but we have a lot of talent and we’re ready for the challege.”
Two-time Drexel captain Jacob O’Donnell, a senior midfielder, comes from Poway High (CA), just north of San Diego, but he has known about the HEADstrong Foundation since his middle school years.
“Just 2 hours North of us they had the Relentless program when I was growing up,” said O’Donnell. “I played against them a couple weekends a year so I was well connected to HEADstrong.
O’Donnell said he has not missed any of the five University City Classics – he actually did his visit four years ago when the first event was held at Penn Park.
“I just think it brings a lot of awareness,” said O’Donnell. “Hey we get to go out and play lacrosse every day compared to these kids spending 6 weeks, 8 weeks or a year in the hospital at a time. It’s really sad. I tell this to the guys when I bring them together; we get to run around and have fun.”
“Looking into the winetrt getting better every day get strnger, get faster, become ebtetr shooters bcoem better teammates get ready for the sprung we want to win CAA and go to NCAA’s but we’re looking forward to our first game against UVA up here at Drexel.
Monmouth’s Nick Colleluori winner, senior midfielder Nick Wilker (West York High) was unable to play since he is recovering from a torn labrum. But he said the event was still special.
“For us it’s definitely fun to play a team like Lafayette and a Penn; it’s really good competition,” Wilker said. “But the event is about something bigger than winning and losing. It’s about the HEADstrong Foundation and spreading awareness.”
Last year Monmouth – in its fourth season as a Division I program under Ridley grad Brian Fisher – went 14-4, won the MAAC and advanced to the NCAAs for the first time. Can the Hawks repeat?
“I think we’re poised to be just as good if not better than last year,” said Wilker. “It was an amazing experience. Everybody – and the coaches – made it a lot of fun. It was a really cool experience.
“Obviously the goal is to win the MAAC again, and make it to the NCAA tournament. It will be a challenge, but a challenge the team is up for and one we’re ready to take.”