by John Torsiello
In many ways, senior Sean Bannon ’11 is emblematic of the enhanced stature of Fairfield University’s men’s lacrosse program.
The Greenwich native was a Rhodes Scholar candidate this year, and his off-the-field contributions to his school and community at large are notable.
On the field, he is looked to as a leader, playing his position of long stick midfielder with guile and courage in helping the Stags gain national recognition over the last two seasons.
“I get asked to write recommendations on a lot of young men,” says lacrosse Head Coach Andrew Copelan, “and when it came to writing something about Sean for his Rhodes Scholar application, it came very easily. Socially, academically, and athletically he is the kind of person Fairfield looks for and is proud to have as a part of the school.”
Although he did not receive the Rhodes Scholarship to study abroad (he has also applied for Marshall and Fulbright scholarships), the 22-year-old Bannon, a star in football and lacrosse at Greenwich High School, reveled in the process.
“Yes, it was disappointing to not make it to at least the interview process,” he said as he sat in the Athletics offices at Fairfield one afternoon, bursting with energy. “But it was an honor just to apply. It’s usually the Ivy League schools or someplace like MIT that get the Rhodes Scholarships, and I think it was great for Fairfield to have someone up for consideration.”
The finance and marketing major interned at ESPN last summer and is an exemplary student. During the fall semester, Bannon ripped a 4.0 in five classes, and his 3.76 overall GPA has placed him consistently on the Dean’s List. He was named Fairfield’s Scholar Athlete last year, is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and serves as the secretary of the Fairfield Finance Club.
On the field, he is a key cog in both Fairfield’s offense and defense. Last season, he scored three goals and added one assist in 14 games and played solid defense as Fairfield finished 8-6, its second straight winning season.
But Sean Bannon is even more than great grades and a lacrosse star. He’s a humanitarian in the very best sense of the word.
Through his initiative, the lacrosse team partnered with the Friends of Jacyln Foundation to adopt Ryan Tucker as a member of the lacrosse team. Tucker is a local youngster who was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor and has undergone several difficult surgeries in attempts to remedy the malady.
As part of the Stags lacrosse team, seven-year-old Ryan receives e-mails, text messages, and letters from the players, is on the sideline at Stag home games and even has his own locker within the Walsh Athletic Center. His parents and siblings are special guests of the Stags throughout the year and the family participates in pre- and post-game team activities.
Currently, there are over 180 children paired with collegiate and high school teams through the Friends of Jacyln in 20 different sports, with over 1,000 schools waiting to adopt.
“I was watching a program on television about a youngster who was in the program at another school, and I thought it would be neat for our lacrosse team to get involved,” said Bannon. “I notified the coach and he and the team thought it would be awesome to do. Ryan is such a great kid and when you see what he has been through and keeps on going, it is inspiring to the entire team.”
He added, “We work hard so we can put a smile on a kid’s face every time we play.”
The lacrosse team has been putting smiles on the face of Ryan Tucker and other Stag fans in recent years. The team knocked off perennial powerhouse Notre Dame last season when the Irish were ranked third in the country, and hopes are high for this year.
“When we beat Notre Dame we felt like, `Hey, we can do this,'” said Bannon. “We’re making people aware of Fairfield lacrosse around the country. We’re a blue collar team and our attitude is that we will outwork other teams and run them into the ground. We expect to do well this season.”
The man who has helped raise the bar for the sport at Fairfield is Copelan, who was named head coach in August 2008. He was an assistant with the high-profile University of Maryland program for three years, and was the youngest Division I head coach when he was at Marist in 2004. He played lacrosse at Bucknell University.
Copelan believes he has the Stags poised for some great things.
“We’re cautiously optimistic about the 2011 season,” said the coach, who was just winding down from country-wide recruiting visits. “We have had what I call modest success the past few years and that has been building positive feelings about the team. We just had a locker room upgrade, which thanks to the generousity of the Friends of Fairfield Lacrosse, has been a nice plus for the program, and we have a general re-engagement of the alumni and student body with the team. There’s a genuine excitement on campus about the lacrosse program.”
He added, “We aren’t looking to do this overnight, because we want to do it right.”
Fairfield began its season in mid-January and will play 14 regular season games. Last year, the Stags logged lots of travel miles with games at Air Force and the contest in Houston (against Notre Dame) in addition to regional jaunts to schools such as Villanova, Hobart, and Maryland.
“We’ve got a good blend of players,” said Copelan. “There are some strong seniors leading the mix, but we are expecting contributions from players at all class levels this season.”
Midfielder Brent Adams ’12 led the team in goals in 2010 with 16, while attackers Sam Snow ’13 and John Snellman ’12 had 15 goals apiece. Snow also had 27 assists and Max Trunz ’11 had 21 assists. Matt Plominski ’12 had 12 goals and Nick Baglio ’12 notched 11 goals last season, so it is obvious the Stags have lots of firepower returning for 2011.
Solid midfield play, led by Bannon, and skilled deep defenders hope to make it difficult for opponents to score on Fairfield this season. The Stags will have to improve on their defensive play in the third and fourth periods of games. After giving up only 46 goals combined in the first two periods of games in 2010, Fairfield surrendered 73 over the final two quarters and one goal in overtime.
While Fairfield’s roster is laced with players from in-state and around the Northeast, Copelan says Fairfield’s newfound visibility has helped in national recruiting.
It appears the Fairfield men’s lacrosse roster is loaded with such individuals and it just may be their time to really create some buzz on campus and elsewhere this season.
The Stags knocked off perennial powerhouse Notre Dame last season when the Irish were ranked third in the country, and hopes are high for this year.