After Guiding Whipsnakes to 2nd PLL Championship, Stagnitta Bringing Winning Formula to Hun Boys’ Lax
WHIP SMART: Jim Stagnitta surveys the action in his role as the head coach of the Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club of the Premier Lacrosse league (PLL). Stagnitta guided the Whipsnakes to a 12-6 win over the Chaos in the final of the PLL Championship Series this August. Now, Stagnitta is bringing his championship approach to the Hun School boys’ lacrosse program as he will be serving as the head coach of the Raiders. (Photo provided by the Hun School)
By Bill Alden
Over the last month or so, four pro leagues have crowned champions in playoff bubbles prompted by COVID-19 concerns with the Tampa Bay Lightning taking the Stanley Cup, the Los Angeles Lakers winning the NBA title, the Seattle Storm prevailing in the WNBA, and the Los Angeles Dodgers coming through in the World Series.
Back in August, Jim Stagnitta showed how to coach a team to a championship in a bubble, guiding the Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club to the title in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) Championship Series held in Utah as they defeated the Chaos 12-6 in the title game.
For Whipsnakes head coach Stagnitta, keeping his team fresh mentally and physically was the main focus as the players were sequestered in Herriman, Utah from July 25-August 9.
“I think the challenge once you were there was literally about finding that balance between being able to train our guys and have practice but not overdo it,” said Stagnitta, noting that his team ended up playing six games in 15 days, going 6-0 on the way to the championship.
“Right from the beginning, even training camp, we worked on keeping them healthy. We never had a guy miss a game; we were the only team that didn’t have a guy miss a game. It was keeping that balance of keeping them sharp and continuing to play better and keeping everybody healthy and rested.”
With the Whipsnakes having won the title in the PLL’s inaugural season last year, coming up with an encore performance under the unique circumstances of 2020 was special.
“Any time you repeat, I think it is the hardest thing to do in sports,” said Stagnitta, 58, whose extensive coaching resume of more than 30 years includes stops at Rutgers University, Arcadia University, Penn, and Washington and Lee as well as stints with the Denver Outlaws, Florida Launch, and Charlotte Hounds of Major League Lacrosse and running two leadership companies, MVP Development Group and Complete Athlete 360.
“What we did is what I do for a living with the leadership consulting stuff. The reason that it is so hard to repeat or have another great year in any line of work or sports is because everyone focuses on the outcome, they focus on winning the championship. We just focused on winning one game at a time, getting to the championship. That was the key.”
Now, Stagnitta is turning his focus to helping the Hun School boys’ lacrosse program maintain its winning ways as he will be serving as the head coach of the program.
“I really decided that at this point in my life I am going to do what I enjoy,” said Stagnitta, who is also a part owner of an indoor training facility in Flemington.
“I enjoy the development piece. I have trained these high school kids. It is not like I haven’t worked with high school kids, I have been training Montgomery since my son (Matt, who went on to play at Johns Hopkins and will be playing as a grad student at Jacksonville University) was a sophomore. I do the offseason training in my facility. In the last year I worked with Westfield and Ridgewood and I have been working with Hunterdon Central the last five years.”
Stagnitta found a good fit in the Hun program. “I want to stay a little closer to home; it is a nice opportunity, there are some nice facilities there,” said Stagnitta, a resident of Point Pleasant on the Jersey shore.
“I was really impressed. I enjoy the coaching part at this point in my career. I feel like I have an opportunity to do something I enjoy. They were able to work it out so I could do the PLL. I think I can do some stuff with the facilities there also from a training, camp and clinic standpoint.”
While Stagnitta hasn’t had the chance to get on the field with his new charges, he held a Zoom meeting with the returning players and their parents to lay out his agenda.
“Our message was how to prepare and how to manage right now that they are at their own devices,” said Stagnitta, who is succeeding Jeff Snow as the Hun head coach.
“A lot of them don’t have all of the resources and they don’t have the push. In some cases, they just don’t have the focus because someone is not there to hold their hand. We talked a little bit about what my approach is and what my expectations are.”
In describing his approach, Stagnitta said it will center on being adaptable individually and as a teammate.
“It is not just about putting the right people in the right spots, it is about giving people an opportunity to reach their full potential,” said Stagnitta.
“To give the tools to not just develop their skill-set, but to develop capacity. Capability is a learned skill; it is about the unknown, it is about handling resilience. It is about developing the whole person. It is about everyone understanding that they make a contribution to this. As we say with the Whipsnakes, the best teams win, not the best players. It is how do you make the team better, what is your contribution.”
Drawing on his pro experience, Stagnitta points to one of his Whipsnakes stars as an example of that type of commitment.
“I have guys at the pro level who are the best players in their league and at their college like John Haus,” said Stagnitta of the midfielder and former Maryland standout.
“He will embrace any role you give him to make the team better on a daily basis and he is literally one of the best all-around players I have ever coached. It is how willing are you to do that because with that comes the reward. Are you willing to do what it takes for us to be successful?”
Stagnitta knows he has some work to do in order to make his Hun squad successful.
“I know there are some spots we have to fill,” said Stagnitta, noting that putting together his coaching staff is at the top of his to-do list.
“We have to back fill with some players and create some depth. I have had a number of people reach out. I am confident from a scheme standpoint and if I can put together the kind of staff I want that we will have the opportunity to develop these guys in a hurry and in a way where we can put them in a situation to be successful every time they step on the field.”
With the 2021 spring season up in air as schools deal with the ongoing pandemic, Stagnitta has urged his players to make the best of the situation.
“There are a lot of unknowns and that is why the resiliency piece is important,” said Stagnitta.
“It is control what we can control, that is the message right now; focus on making themselves better and don’t worry about the things that are out of their control. They have to develop that capacity, which is the ability to deal with the unknown.”
With his extensive coaching resume, Stagnitta believes he is uniquely qualified to guide his new charges through that process.
“I am looking forward to it, I am excited about it,” said Stagnitta. “None of us have dealt with anything like this. One of the things that my experience brings to the table is that I am not crazed. When we find out what the season is going to be, we will work within the framework that they give us.”