By, Kyla Guilfoil, Managing Editor & Sports Editor
The Manhattan College men’s lacrosse team received their championship rings and saw their banner hung last month in Draddy Gymnasium in honor of their 2022 MAAC Championship win.
The Jaspers took the title for the first time in 20 years last spring, beating St. Bonaventure University with a score of 8-7.
Justin Malpica, who is back for a fifth year this season, scored a hat trick for the Jaspers in the match and was named MVP, GoJaspers reported.
On the way to the championship match, Kyle Gucwa, a senior this season, scored the semi-final game-winner in overtime against Marist. Liam Walshe, who is also back for a fifth year this season, scored a prior eight goals in that semi-final, according to GoJaspers.
With Malpica, Gucwa and Walshe returning to the field alongside their team this spring, the Jaspers are celebrating their win last year and looking forward to defending the title.
John Odierna, who enters the 2023 season as head coach after seven years as an assistant coach with the squad, was actually the one who designed the honorary rings for his winning team.
“It was like a week after I became the head coach, that was one of my first tasks,” Odierna told The Quadrangle. “You know, it was a cool challenge. I never thought when I got into this profession that I’d be designing a championship ring, I’d hoped to have a few, but I never thought I’d be the one designing it.”
Gucwa told The Quadrangle that having the December ceremony to honor the spring win was a great way to wrap up the year.
“It was good to end the whole season, and just end 2022 in general, which was for the whole program a really good year,” Gucwa said. “It felt good to be able to move on to what we have this year because we’re really excited for what we have. We have a good team this year.”
When discussing the upcoming season, Odierna said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t broke it.”
As an important member of the coaching staff for the win last season, Odierna said he will be holding onto things the team has been building over the last several years.
“I was really fortunate to be there every step of the way, to help get us to this point and my hope for this year is to kind of keep it moving in the same direction,” Odierna said.
However, as the new season comes and a new group of freshmen join the squad, Odierna recognizes that not all will be the same.
One of the most important things, Odierna said, is to make sure the players are involved.
“We definitely want to be a player-led organization,” Odierna said. “I want these guys to feel like they’re stakeholders in their outcome.”
Gucwa said the win last season is a great experience to have under their belts, but it doesn’t guarantee anything this year.
“[The win] helped give us a lot of confidence, but it doesn’t help us win this year,” Gucwa said. “It definitely helps us understand what it took to win and that we can apply that to all the new guys that came in as freshman, so whether that be the hard work they put in off the field, how we carry ourselves off the field just as human beings and all of that so we know the formula takes to go far.”
Odierna said the 2022 and 2023 championships are “mutually exclusive”, agreeing that the squad has to come into the new season with the same grit and determination they held last year.
Odierna explained that the 2022 win had come together through multiple factors, of which shifted coming into this season. During the 2021 season, Odierna said that the team didn’t realize how good they were until they started playing.
The team kept winning, and were surprised to find themselves as the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Suddenly, they found themselves as the host of the championship game.
“Going from not being in the playoffs to all of a sudden hosting the championship is a pretty big jump,” Odierna said. “You know, usually you get in, then you lose that first playoff game, then you learn how to win that one, then you get to the championship, and you’ll learn how to lose that one then you win the next one. We kind of skipped the step there.”
Coming into the 2022 season, the team had experienced a championship match and knew that they needed to push even further to snag a full title win–and they did just that.
Now, as reigning champions, the Jaspers will need to learn how to “handle success,” Odierna told The Quadrangle.
“Manhattan lacrosse is not going to surprise anyone this year,” Odierna said. “That’s our challenge as a program, is ‘can we make this the standard every year?’”