Joe Spallina has done what many would deem impossible.
In six short years, the Mount Sinai resident and Stony Brook University women’s lacrosse coach has turned the university’s program from a U.S. Lacrosse Magazine RPI-ranked No. 62 team, into the No. 2 team in the country.
“He knows what he’s doing,” said Frankie Caridi, 2014 Stony Brook graduate and former goalkeeper for the Seawolves. “His coaching style, his philosophy and his ideas are allowing them to get to where he wants to bring that program.”
Caridi played under Spallina as a freshman at Adelphi University. He had the opportunity to make the move to Stony Brook and encouraged Caridi, now associate head coach for the Adelphi Panthers, to make the move with him during her playing career.
“He was a great coach straight from the beginning,” she said. “Just playing for him at Adelphi that one year was amazing. The fact that he believed in the few of us that went with him that we’d be able to change the program pretty quickly — he sold us.”
Caridi said she was not only sold on making the switch because of his vision of building a national championship caliber team, but because he was honest about what he was looking for from his players and what he thought they could be.
“He shot the truth,” she said. “He’s someone who is able to get the most out of you. He demands you to be the best you can be … every single day. I respected him so much as a coach, because he respects us as players.”
Her first conversation with him when being recruited to play for Adelphi was about if she wanted to win a national championship and be an All-American.
“He told me the opportunities that I had, and he let them play out,” she said. “I credit all of it to him.”
Caridi became one of the most prolific goalies in Stony Brook program history. Her .514 career save percentage is tops in the school’s record book, while her 5.91 goals-against average is the best among any goalie with at least 1,500 minutes played.
The East Northport native won two America East championships and qualified for two NCAA tournaments, earning International Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Third-Team All-American status in 2014. She was also named the Lacrosse Magazine and ILWomen.com Goalie of the Year, picked as the America East Defensive Player of the Year and nominee for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the most outstanding American lacrosse player.
Current Stony Brook attack and soon-to-be senior Kylie Ohlmiller also bought what Spallina was selling.
“He told me I could live out my dreams here,” she said. “He told me I could win a national championship in my time here, I’ll be the face of women’s lacrosse and on the cover of magazines. And it’s all happening now. He painted my dream in my head for me and has been making it all possible.”
She agreed with Caridi that he’s been able to shape the athletes to get the program to where it is today.
“I think if I were to go anywhere else, and a lot of my teammates would say the same thing, that we might not be the level of lacrosse players that we are or even the people that we are,” Ohlmiller said. “We want to give our fans — all the little girls who play lacrosse — the dream of coming to Division I lacrosse games and watching a good, Top 5 Division I program play and compete for a national championship.”
“He’s someone who is able to get the most out of you. He demands you to be the best you can be … every single day.”
— Frankie Caridi
The Islip resident said she wants to be a coach one day, and Spallina is the inspiration.
“He’s able to be stern and be authoritative, but at the same time he can throw a joke in there like he’s one of your best friends,” she said. “He’s able to make it fun, and that’s ultimately the reason we play. It’s to have fun and win.”
He and Ohlmiller were big proponents in recruiting her younger sister Taryn, who will be a sophomore in the upcoming school year. As the leading scorers on the team, the two are referred to by their head coach as a couple of the “big dogs” on the team. Kylie Ohlmiller’s 164 points shattered the previous Division I record of 148. Her 86 assists are also a new DI record. She was American East Offensive Player of the Year, was named a Tewaaraton finalist, also an IWLCA ILWomen Attacker of the Year. Her younger sister led all Division I freshmen and ranked seventh in the nation with 98 points last season. The attacker was named America East Rookie of the Year and an IWLCA All-American.
“Once you’re one of his big dogs he wants to be closer to you,” Taryn Ohlmiller said. “He does one-on-one workouts with us, he gets you out there early, doing shooting drills. He cares about you as an individual as much as he cares about the team.”
The team-first mentality that the Ohlmillers and the Seawolves have bought into under Spallina, who is also the head coach of the Long Island Lizards, propelled Stony Brook to new heights in 2017, as the Seawolves went 20-2 and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals – all new high-water marks in program history. The team broke Division I single-season records for assists (222) and points (576) in 2017 while leading the nation in scoring defense (7.27) and scoring margin (8.82).
For his leadership, in turning the program around and becoming the winningest coach in program history, Spallina has been named America East Coach of the Year in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and was named IWLCA Coach of the Year for the Mid-Atlantic Region following this season. He also garnered several coach of the year honors with the Lizards.
“He deserves all of the recognition — he deserves the world and so much more,” Kylie Ohlmiller said of her head coach. “Last year we were ranked second in the nation behind No. 1 undefeated University of Maryland, and that’s just in a couple of years — it takes decades for some coaches to do. He’s doing what a lot of coaches can’t or haven’t done, and it’s really cool to see. It’s insane how he’s flipped the culture of Stony Brook athletics.”