To be successful in any sport, you can’t fall short in dedication; Riverhead lacrosse head coach Vic Guadagnino can’t stress it enough. Especially when you want to play it at the next level.
“It’s a year-round commitment,” he says.
Whether it be in the gym, on the field or studying video — you simply just have to put in the work. Guadagnino set up a travel team two years ago called the 76’s to keep the kids playing together outside of the school season. This gives them exposure for possible college recruitment should they want to further their career.
“It’s important to keep these kids together,” Guadagnino said. “And with the help of the sponsorships, a travel team like this is made possible.”
In their first tournament as a team at Stony Brook University called Island Uprising, two players on Guadagnino’s team stood out to first-year Seawolves coach Jim Nagle, who was of course in attendance. College recruitment has become so intense that it’s either you get them early or you don’t get them at all.
“So they try to find diamonds in the rough,” Guadagnino said. “Seniors that have swooped in under the radar. Because usually the young kids with talent are already being heavily recruited.”
But little was known about Riverhead’s electrifying midfielders Ryan Bitzer, a junior and Dan Czelatka, a sophomore. They put on a show and instantly garnered attention. From that point on, Stony Brook University, a Division-I school, was targeting both of them.
But because Czelatka was only a sophomore, recruiting rules prohibited Nagle from contacting him directly so Guadagnino was made aware of the interest. Bitzer, however, was offered a place on the team right on the spot.
“Coach knew that Stony Brook had interest in me and never really told me,” Czelatka said. “But apparently they continued to watch me in the tournaments to follow and junior year they sent me an email. I had no idea they had interest in me. I was so shocked.”
“Later in the year, G was like ‘oh yeah, they were interested in you’,” Czelatka said, laughing. “He told me like six months later.”
Through emails and visits, interest built on both sides and eventually both committed to Stony Brook University. Czelatka made the choice to attend Stony Brook before his senior season. He had other offers but wanted to be a Seawolf.
“I wanted to play D-I,” Czelatka said. “I had plenty of D-III and D-II offers but Stony Brook was D-I and it was close to home so I was like, that’s where I’m going.”
Czelatka also had interest from Drexel and Springfield which are also D-I schools. But the fact that Bitzer is already at Stony Brook is helpful.
“It definitely helps having someone you know there,” Czelatka said. “He can show me the ropes. It’s good to know I’ll have someone looking out for me.”
Bitzer ended up starting a few games for the Seawolves as a freshman last year, playing in every single game. He registered two goals and five assists to lead all freshman in points with seven.
“I couldn’t believe he even stepped on the field,” Guadagnino said. “I wasn’t expecting him to play until his junior year. It speaks to the amount of work he put in.”
Asked whether Czelatka sees himself playing his first season, he answered, “Anything is possible with hard work. You just can’t drop the stick down. You have to play all year round. You have to be outside shooting by yourself, playing with your friends, every chance you get you should take advantage.”
Bitzer wasn’t even expecting that much playing time.
“Honestly, going into the season I didn’t know what to think as far as playing time,” Bitzer said. “There were a bunch a freshman coming in and I didn’t know where I was going to fit, where they were going to move me. A lot of kids got moved around to different positions and I kind of just stuck at midfield.”
He started to learn the system, understand the philosophies and make a name for himself by his aggressive style of play he always had in high school. He was awarded fourth midfielder at the start of the season and when one of the players ahead of him got hurt, it put him into the starting lineup.
“I tried to just not make mistakes,” Bitzer said. “Played within the concept of the team and I guess the coaches saw that and playing time just happened the rest of the year.”
Asked whether he had any advice for Czelatka for his freshman season, Bitzer said: “I’m planning on getting a hold of him before we start at Stony Brook again to work on some stuff but basically just be prepared to learn and listen. There will be a bunch of stuff that he hasn’t heard or seen before. And coming into college he’ll quickly realize how much faster of a game it is.”
Guadagnino says he doesn’t see both playing on the same field at the same time because they play the same position in a similar style — but who knows? Only time will tell.