May 13, 2009

Seminal Moment: Stevenson Officials Relish Long-Awaited Turn in Spotlight

by Paul Krome | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Stevenson University men's lacrosse coach Paul Cantabene hugs university president Kevin Manning after the Mustangs' 11-9 win over two-time defending Division III champion Salisbury in an NCAA quarterfinal Wednesday.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Paul Cantabene laughed. Brett Adams cried. Kevin Manning beamed.

Their sons were all grown up.

And after the Mustangs of Stevenson University secured a new era in NCAA Division III men's lacrosse by dispatching of two-time defending national champion Salisbury, 11-9, Wednesday in a quarterfinal matchup before 1,302 adoring fans on a weekday afternoon at their NFL practice facility-turned-home field, words from the coach, the athletic director and the school president weren't necessary.

Like proud fathers on a wedding day, their faces said enough.

Cantabene's journey with his players is the most well-known of the triumvirate that today took its biggest step yet in a quest to turn the former Villa Julie College, then a women's school known as fondly for its scenic campus that housed summer camps for kids, into a nationally recognized academic and athletic university. The career Division I assistant coach gambled on his decision to accept his first head coaching job at a Division III school with no appreciable sports history five years ago, and only those on the inside could've someday envisioned Wednesday when the Mustangs began his tenure with a 17-player roster.

Cantabene laughed it up when the game clock finally hit zero, the biggest stage in his school's history now secured. While his players celebrated with one another, he accepted a congratulatory hug from university president Manning -- then proceeded to mess up the latter's hair in a way former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson would appreciate.

Cantabene laughed it up with reporters, too, before crystallizing the relationship between his team and the Sea Gulls, who will not appear in the NCAA final for the first time since 2002.

"We're trying to emulate Salisbury. They've won all those championships, so it means more to our guys to beat them," Cantabene said.

Manning, meanwhile, appeared business-like for most of the game while chatting with photographers and other sideline personnel. But the smile he flashed as the outcome gained inevitability contained at least a hint of see, I told you so.

"This is exciting for us. We've been working nine years for this," said Manning, who has spent more than 40 years in higher education. "We bought this property (the Baltimore Ravens' former practice facility) from the city with an eye toward building a nationally ranked athletic program, and we knew lacrosse was a sport that could position us for prominence."

Manning arrived in 2000, and Stevenson has been on the move since -- including literally, with the move of some of its educational and athletic components to Owings Mills from its Greenspring Valley origins. He was quick to point out a fall 2008 U.S. News and World Report that included his recently renamed school among 70 of the nation's most innovative for academics.

"I know how important athletics are to college spirit. Our effort to expand our publicity is giving our students outlets they didn't have before," Manning said.

But perhaps no dad was prouder today than Adams -- the Mustangs' arguably long-suffering athletic director of 15 years.

"It's been a long trip," Adams said with a laugh in a hallway inside Stevenson's nifty field house.
Hesitation replaced the laughter. Adams choked up when asked what he thought and how he felt of the day's event.

"Good people believed in a dream," he stammered. "We're really proud. I've seen us when we were next to nothing, when we had to cancel games because we couldn't get water off a field."

Adams, also the Stevenson men's basketball coach, recalled the never-ready-for-primetime history of the Mustangs -- who had 54 varsity athletes and eight coaches paid $1,000 each at one point.

Alumni of the school's club men's lacrosse team interrupted him to shake hands and laugh about the old days, when some athletes participated in sports such as cross country to help boost athletics numbers to justify the addition of varsity lacrosse.

Adams credited vice president Tim Campbell, academic dean Paul Lack and Manning for supporting a concentrated effort to build a national athletic program. Plans for a new stadium on the current site are already designed, with construction awaiting only the launch of a fundraising campaign.

"They believe in the educational value of athletics," Adams said.

And now everyone's believing in the Mustangs.


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