May 4, 2012

Queener Brings Energy to Syracuse Women's Sideline

by Stephen Bailey | LaxMagazine.com

Hamilton Nationals goaltender Brett Queener has brought his personality to the Syracuse women's team this season as an assistant coach.
© Syracuse 

An eye injury sustained during last year's National Lacrosse League season changed the way Brett Queener approached the game of lacrosse.

The 27-year-old was four years removed from a decorated career at Albany, and had found post-collegiate success as goalie with both the Hamilton Nationals of Major League Lacrosse and a forward for the now-defunct Boston Blazers of the indoor NLL.

But after the eye injury, Queener decided it was in his best interest to take this indoor season off and begin a career transition into coaching.

"It made me think about it," Queener said. "I was looking to get into coaching and I put the feelers out there and I got a call from [Syracuse assistant women's coach] Regy Thorpe, who I know well from the Nationals."

Thorpe and Syracuse head women's coach Gary Gait — both of whom coach Queener on the Nationals — offered him a volunteer coaching position to work with the goalies. (In a role reversal, Thorpe is the head coach of the Nationals and Gait is assistant.) 

With the Orange losing All-American goalie Liz Hogan, Gait and Thorpe decided in the fall that they needed additional attention for their young goalies, sophomore Alyssa Costantino and freshman Kelsey Richardson, and immediately thought of Queener.

He had other offers on the table — all of which were with men's teams — but decided to come to SU.

"It was a great opportunity to be able to coach with Gary Gait, the best player to every play the game and Regy Thorpe, one of the best defensive players to ever slash somebody," the gregarious Queener said.

At Syracuse's media day in mid-February, it was clear that Queener's personality and subtle aura of confidence were a perfect fit for the team.

On the field, at Albany and now in the MLL, Queener frequently clears the ball himself and is unafraid to venture deep into opposition territory. While playing for the Great Danes in 2006 and '07, he would even exchange his goalie stick for a short stick on man-up situations.

This season, the No. 2 Orange (16-2) has completed its most successful regular season in program history and, after surviving a scare from Georgetown in the Big East semifinals Thursday night, is on a 15-game win streak and will play Loyola in the conference championship at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Carrier Dome.

Costantino leads the nation in save percentage at 52.8 percent and she and Richardson are the only pair to have appeared in at least 10 games and each stopping more than 50 percent of shots faced.

Queener has helped the cause, and Thorpe said Queener's success as a coach can in part be attributed to his background in the sport.

His father, Harry, won five straight sectional titles coaching at Penn Yan Academy (N.Y.) and his mother and three siblings are also all actively involved in playing or coaching lacrosse.

"Understanding what makes people better, understanding how they react in certain situations, what makes them the player they are, it makes you a better player because it's not an individual sport, it's a team sport," Queener said.

The familiarity with both men's and women's lacrosse has allowed Queener to step in and coach Costantino and Richardson seamlessly. He recognizes that shots in the women's game often come from closer range than in the men's game, so he's emphasized that in practice. And he's brought energy to the team as well.

"I think that's good, especially on the days where we come and we just kind of feel tired," Richardson said.

Queener displays that enthusiastic both in practice and on game days.

During the team's walkthrough before each game he dons a dashiki, a colorful, draping shirt commonly worn in Africa. While warming up the goalies, he often breaks dances. His "little jigs" keep them loose, Costantino said.

But once the game starts, Queener locks in.

"No matter what time of the game it is, no matter the score, you can always look over and see him on the sideline jumping up and down, screaming for our team," Costantino said.

With the collegiate season wrapping up over the next couple few weeks and the Nationals' MLL season starting on Saturday, Queener will transition from the sideline back between the pipes.

He's already earned a Steinfeld Cup in 2008, then a member of the Rochester Rattlers. In the championship game, Queener made 10 second-half saves and created numerous offensive chances for his team with full-field clears, even recording an assist on one play.

But at this point, he stands by his decision to take the NLL season off.

"I'm definitely happy with my decision," Queener said. "I think that when you weigh everything, what I wanted out of this decision was to be with a national championship contender. I wanted to be with the best coaches in the game of lacrosse and I wanted to be with a young group of athletes who share the same goal and love for the game that I have."

What the future holds for Queener, however, is uncertain.

Next year he'll have to decide whether he wants to come back to coaching — as he does one day aspire to take on a full-time position — or go back to playing in the NLL.

"I haven't really thought about it yet," Queener said. "Usually in the fall, I take three months off and do a little traveling so we'll see. I would like to.

"I would definitely like to, especially if we're winning."


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