Steve Finnell

Garden City’s boys’ head lacrosse coach Steve Finnell grew up in the Trojan tradition, leading to a 22-0 perfect season a New York State Class B championship last year, the program’s fifth. The Trojans finished as the top team in the country, according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine. Before becoming head coach, Finnell was an All-Conference midfielder in 1990 and 1991 and an All-State linebacker on the football team too. Those lacrosse teams—coached by the legendary Doc Dougherty and Doug Dwyer—lost twice to Yorktown in the state semifinals. Finnell played lacrosse at Duke, where he was a captain on the 1995 squad that won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, and graduated with a degree in history. For a dozen years he’s taught Global History and Government at Garden City High School. He started coaching at Duke under head coach Mike Pressler in 1996 and 1997.

Long Island Pulse: What was it like replacing your old head coach?
Steve Finnell:
There’s always pressure to be good, so I was just hoping to continue and build on the success the program has enjoyed over the years. I have great assistant coaches in Dave Ettinger, Bryan Walker, Joe Jacovina and Mickey Blum. We have a terrific youth program with some great parents coaching the kids. Our varsity players give clinics to the third-graders on up and volunteer to help at their practices. We work hard here. I know some people think we’re the Evil Empire, but we teach our guys that they can be successful and be good guys, too.

LIP: Talk about last year’s team.
That was such a special group, with so much talent on offense and our All-Americans Devin Dwyer and Pat Berkery and Dan Marino leading them. We had two tight games we could have lost, to Ward Melville who had us down 7-5 before we got on a roll, and then down in Haverford, Pennsylvania we beat a very athletic Conestoga team 12-11. They were ranked number one in the country at the time. That game went back and forth before we pulled it out. We’ll be good again this year, with four of our five key defenders back, but those guys on offense in 2012 could have been a once-in-a-lifetime lineup.

LIP: What is the college-recruiting scene like at Garden City?
It’s an intricate process starting earlier and earlier with more pressure on the players and their parents. Next to getting married, this is one of the biggest decision a person makes and they have to do it when they’re 15 years old. I think we’ll see more mistakes made as boys are being placed. Too much time goes by between committing and when they actually show up at the school. Some kids mature early and then fall off. There are late bloomers who haven’t found a school early on, and they might feel they aren’t good lacrosse players, which just isn’t true. I talk to a lot of college coaches and they don’t think it will change. But with 50 guys on a roster they can afford a few mistakes because only 18-20 guys usually play. It can lead to boys going to schools that aren’t the right fit for them. They’re chasing the Division 1 dream, but they don’t ever get a chance to play.

LIP: Is the growth of the game continuing?
Oh, I think so. More kids play now than ever. The last two years I’ve been to Oregon and Seattle, Washington in the offseason to give clinics, places you wouldn’t think of. Excitement and thirst for the game is high.

LIP: You’re an assistant football coach, too, for head coach Tom Flatley. How does football affect lacrosse at Garden City?
In a very positive way. It’s good for our kids to put down their sticks for three months and do something different. It’s good for me because it can be easier to build a relationship with a player as an assistant. And I think our expectations of winning at lacrosse has helped the mindset of our football team. The guys find a way to win. Last fall when we won the Long Island championship we were behind at the half in all three playoff games but came back to win. Some people might think our kids are “soft” because the district has a lot of resources. We hear that a lot, but that could not be further from the truth. Our kids are resilient. They don’t give up. That’s my definition of toughness. Every year we have the same goal. We try to win our conference, then the county and then make a run.

john westermann

John Westermann teaches at Stony Brook University in the MFA in Writing and Literature Program. His novel Exit Wounds was a major motion picture starring Steven Seagal.