SALEM, Va. — Devan Crimi is finally back in the NCAA Division II national title game, and what a wild three years it’s been.
Since Adelphi claimed its last of three consecutive national championships in 2011 (when Crimi was a freshman), the changes in the Panther’s program, and in Crimi, have been drastic.
Shortly after her freshman year ended, Crimi found herself having to make some decisions she probably never expected.
“It was a little crazy,” she said Saturday after Adelphi ended current two-time defending national champion LIU-Post’s season with a 17-10 victory in the national semifinal at Kerr Field on the campus of Roanoke.
And “a little crazy” might be a bit of an understatement.
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Not too long after Adelphi beat Limestone 17-4 in the 2011 title game, Panthers coach Joe Spallina resigned to take the same position at Division I Stony Brook. And he wasn’t the only one who left that year. Several players decided to transfer to other schools, some recruits decided re-open their college search, and there was also the normal loss of players to graduation.
He was replaced by Rob Grella, an Adelphi graduate himself who had gone on to coach lacrosse at the high-school level. This would be his first college head-coaching job.
Crimi, still just a year removed from high school, had some decisions to make.
Should she consider transferring as well? How would she get along with this new coach who had nothing to do with recruiting her to Adelphi. As she looked at what was left of what had been a national championship team, it was a question worth asking.
“I wouldn’t say [the coaching transition] was smooth. It was a challenge,” Crimi said. “Coach Grella came in and he rose to that challenge.”
There was plenty of work to be done. The new coach took over a program that just 11 players on the roster at the start of the summer. Sure, they all had a national championship pedigree, but a lacrosse season isn’t going to go too well without any depth.
“We were kind of scrambling around to find girls [to fill the roster],” Crimi said. “We weren’t even necessarily looking for lacrosse players. We were just looking for athletes — something.”
But Crimi decided to stay. She said some advice from her mother, Carolyn, convinced her that she should stick with the Panthers and see how the future would turn out.
“She taught me one of my best life lessons,” Crimi said of her mother. “If it’s not broke, you don’t fix it. I felt that I found a school that I loved, and teammates that I loved, and an athletic administration that I loved. Everything about the school I loved.”
That makeshift team the Panthers put together wasn’t too shabby. Adelphi went 16-2 that year and earned a bid into the NCAA tournament. But the run of titles ended with a lost in the first round to LIU Post, which went on to win the national title.
The next year, with a few new recruits, Adelphi was back in the tournament again, even winning its first-round game against Le Moyne, giving the Panthers another shot at LIU Post, a school located just nine miles from the Adelphi campus on Long Island. Once again, the Pioneers prevailed, and went on to win another national title.
“That loss was devastating,” Crimi said. “It was hard. When I was coming into the press conference [on Saturday], I was thinking about the video we saw last year of all the girls crying after we lost. It was heartbreaking.
“This is much more than a team. It’s a sisterhood. When those summers come, and you have time to look back at the games you lost, it really gives you more determination and drive to come back next year and fix it.”
It appears all is now fixed for the Panthers. Another national title awaits them if they can get past Lock Haven in Sunday’s championship game. Crimi said she and her teammates have Grella to thank for getting them together. Six players earned either first- or second-team all-conference honors in 2014, and the future looks bright with the likes of freshman Jakie Jahelka, who scored four times on Saturday.
“This is Grella’s team,” Crimi said. “To see us come from where we were to where we are is incredible. …
“But to see myself step up, and my teammates step up and grown into the players that we are today, I kind of owe that to that little rocky time I had to go through.”