Coach Shaun Lally is conducting a tour of the space the 28 wrestlers in his newly formed wrestling club use as their practice room at the Pritchard Gymnasium from 6 to 8 pm on weeknights. It’s long been used as a racquetball court or a place where wrestlers or martial arts buffs can work out their moves. The space is tiny for 28 people.
But that’s okay, Lally says, because not everyone can make every practice due to scheduling conflicts.
Lally keeps tabs on who attends each session with an accountability chart posted on a wall in the practice room. As long the wrestlers make as many practices as they can, there is a place for them on the team, he explains.
The Stony Brook Wrestling Club will field 11 weight classes ranging from 125 to 285 pounds.
Most of the club’s wrestlers are from Nassau and Suffolk Counties, but it also features students from upstate New York, New York City, New Jersey, Arizona and Russia.
“We have talent here at the University that hasn’t even been tapped into,” said Lally.
As Lally and his squad await the purchase of a $10,000 mat, which will eventually find a home in the state-of-the-art Campus Recreation Center that opened next door to Pritchard on October 19, he grapples with the dilemma of how to stretch the $3,000 allotted to his club by the Undergraduate Student Government this year to cover costs such as equipment and travel.
In his first year as wrestling coach, Lally says he hopes to hold a golf outing and find other ways to help pay for the mat.
Prior to this year, Stony Brook students who wanted to wrestle were part of a loose-knit fraternity of athletes who used the space whenever it was available. As a result of Lally’s vision and recruiting, now, for the first time, the club is part of a league, governed by the National Collegiate Wrestling Association.
The club is set to embark on its first full season of competition, which begins with a dual meet on Saturday, November 10, at 12 pm against the University of New Haven in New Haven, Connecticut.
Because there is no home facility, for now, all the Stony Brook Wrestling Club’s meets will be away. But that doesn’t discourage Lally, who says he is grateful to finally have a “structure, a system, leadership and a model.”
Fortunately, the 29-year-old Lally, who is volunteering his time as coach, isn’t shouldering all of this alone. Club President senior Bobby Beneventano handles University protocol, including rosters and other paperwork.
Lally explains that lack of television coverage, a complex scoring system and other factors have taken their toll on the sport of folkstyle wrestling, which has been enjoyed by high school and college students and their fans since the dawn of the 20th century.
But Lally doesn’t dwell on the negative. Instead he tells his wrestlers an anecdote of how two shoe salesmen were told to travel to a remote, rural part of the world to assess business opportunities. Noting that none of the people wore shoes, one salesman said there was a tremendous opportunity to market shoes; the other said that there was no market to sell to.
Relating the anecdote to Stony Brook, Lally says it’s a matter of perspective.
“We are very lucky to have a budget and a charter and a place to wrestle,” he says.
A former collegiate wrestler at the University of Pittsburgh, Lally lived in New York until the age of five when his immigrant parents joined a wave of Long Islanders moving to the Pocono Mountains in the early 1990s.
He almost gave up on the sport after suffering a neck injury at the age of 23. “I herniated a disc and have a metal plate with four screws in my neck,” he says. Eventually over time he couldn’t turn his back on the sport that he loved so much. “I started volunteering to coach at Parkland High School in Allentown, PA, where I went to high school,” he said.
He then moved back to New York in 2008, to accept a position as junior high school coach in Port Jefferson. He followed that up with a head wrestling coaching position at Nazareth High School in Brooklyn from 2009-2010 to become a high school wrestling referee.
He also volunteered to participate in Beat the Streets for one year, a program aimed at establishing a wrestling program in every New York City school.
Missing Long Island, Lally returned in 2011 to put down roots and start a family. He contemplated building a wrestling program at the community college level but realized that the constant turnover would disrupt continuity. Instead he approached then Manager of Intramurals and Sports Clubs Dave Hairston at Stony Brook at the Department of Campus Recreation and was encouraged to join the National Collegiate Wrestling Association. “We’re excited,” says Lally “This program has the potential to turn out an All-American or a National Champion. With no alumni or history I’m excited to see who will be the first one atop the podium,” a term that Lally explained includes the top eight All-Americans.
Lally pauses, smiling broadly. “Perhaps you’ve heard of a coach here named Matt Senk,” he says. “He began a baseball program here 22 years ago and took it from there to Division 1 until he reached the Collegiate World Series this year. I would like to be that kind of a coach.
For more information, contact coach Lally at (610) 703-4974 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— By Glenn Jochum