Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Playing to the max: Nick Mariano brings strong work ethic, offensive reliability to UMass lacrosse

By Anthony Chiusano

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(Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian)

(Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian)

Tied 11-11 in an overtime thriller against Ohio State on Feb. 17, 2014, Nick Mariano quickly cut left from behind the Buckeyes’ net, looking for a final attempt to clinch victory for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team. As the freshman made his move, his teammate Grant Consoletti executed a perfect screen to separate Mariano from his defender.

Turning the corner with just enough spacing, Mariano still faced a tough angle in his pursuit toward the cage. But with the game clock quickly winding down, the attacker turned and fired a difficult left-handed shot past Ohio State’s goalie Greg Dutton.

The goal, Mariano’s fourth score of the game, came with 7.9 seconds left in the extra frame. As a result, the Minutemen walked away from the Moe’s Southwest Grill Classic with a victory over the then-No. 14 team in the nation.

“Grant set a good pick for me and I just got my hands free,” Mariano said in recollection of last year’s game-winner. “I kind of just shot the ball at the net and it went in. It wasn’t a planned situation. There was just seven seconds left, so at that time you just have to go to the cage and hope for the best.

“It was probably one of the greatest moments that I’ve had in my lacrosse career.”

Playing in only his second collegiate game at the time, Mariano’s game-winner launched the highly-touted freshman onto a national stage, as the Sunday night matchup was aired nationally on NBC Sports Network.

According to UMass coach Greg Cannella however, the performance came as no surprise based on what he had seen from Mariano since he arrived in Amherst that fall semester.

“It was on national TV, and he scored a goal in overtime, so you can definitely say that (it was his breakout game),” Cannella said. “But for us as a team, we knew who he was based on what he had done in the fall and what he had done in the preseason.”

Cannella grew accustomed to similar performances from Mariano, who finished his freshman campaign with a team-leading 29 goals and 39 total points, which earned him Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year honors.

“What impressed me was his consistency last year,” Cannella said. “He was able to be composed in each of the games, particularly early in the season when he really established himself as a top player in our program and one of the top freshmen in the country.”

Now with a full year under his belt entering the 2015 season, Mariano said he hopes to continue to lead the Minutemen’s attack and take on new roles as a sophomore at the forefront of a young UMass team.

Getting started

Mariano was not the first in his family to get involved in lacrosse.

As the youngest of five siblings, Mariano has two brothers who are currently head coaches at Division II universities. His oldest brother Tom is at the helm of Pace University, and his brother John currently coaches LIU Post.

“My brothers started off playing lacrosse in high school, and that’s when my dad fell in love with the sport,” Nick said. “Then I was the last one, so he definitely pushed me to play lacrosse as much as I possibly could.”

Along with his father’s help, Nick credited both Tom and John in helping him develop his lacrosse skills at the onset of his interest in the sport. Nick said he still keeps in daily contact with Tom, often discussing the sport and his recent performances.

“I text my brother Thomas every day,” Mariano said. “He and I are very close when it comes to playing lacrosse, so he always helps me out. It’s awesome to have someone like that in my life. I can’t complain about that.”

According to Tom, 43, the brothers’ phone conversations range from topics like school to how Tom’s children are doing. But when the subject comes to lacrosse, he said he often discusses upcoming opponents or any small observations he might have seen.

“I’ll kind of look at some of the guys that he’s playing against and we’ll maybe talk about them a little bit or what his thoughts are,” Tom said. “He has great coaches, he doesn’t really need my input. I just try to help with any little things that I may see.”

Despite the wide presence of lacrosse within the Mariano household, Tom said that it was evident that Nick never needed any push to spark a devotion toward the game.

“On his own, he fell in love with it and just the passion and work ethic that he has for it is pretty admirable,” Tom said. “It’s obviously been around him but no one ever forced him to really fall in love with it the way he did.”

“It’s a great experience to watch him develop into the kind of player he’s becoming.”

Reaching the ‘next level’

As Mariano’s passion for lacrosse grew, he developed into a four-year varsity player at Yorktown High School in his hometown of Yorktown, New York.

During his tenure with the Huskers, Mariano finished with 268 points, sixth all-time in school history. In his senior season in 2013, he led Yorktown to the semifinals in the New York State Regionals en route to earning all-tri state honors.

Meanwhile, Mariano saw similar success on the gridiron as a two-year captain and 2013 all-state student-athlete for the football team. But when it came down to deciding which sport to pursue in college, Mariano said that lacrosse was always the easy choice.

“I kind of always wanted to just play lacrosse,” Mariano said. “There was never really any doubt in that. I definitely had a good football career but lacrosse was always my sport. That’s what was going to get me to the next level.”

Once the initial path was chosen, Mariano then faced the question of what school to commit to. Ranked as the No. 34 high school lacrosse player in the country by Inside Lacrosse following his senior season, Mariano showed interest in Hofstra, Delaware, Albany, Army, Syracuse and the University of Massachusetts.

But once again, Mariano said his decision wasn’t challenging, as he verbally committed to the Minutemen during his junior year at Yorktown.

Mariano acknowledged the historical success of UMass’ men’s lacrosse program and the coaching staff as crucial factors in his choice. Led by Cannella, now in his 21st season at the helm, the Minutemen have reached the NCAA tournament 19 times, including a championship appearance in 2006.

“Just the coaches, right from the get-go, they were so straightforward with me and that’s what I was looking for,” Mariano said. “The campus is obviously great and just the tradition of our lacrosse program. It’s probably one of the best in the country.”

Leading by example

Despite Mariano’s terrific freshman campaign and UMass’ 7-2 run to begin last year, the Minutemen faltered down the stretch, losing their last four games en route to missing the CAA playoffs.

Mariano said that leading UMass back to the conference tournament and getting his first taste of the postseason is a top priority in 2015.

“That’s a goal of ours every year, to get to the CAAs,” Mariano said. “Last year we fell short of that and for the guys coming back, it definitely set a tone for us.”

The road back to the playoffs won’t be an easy one however, as the young Minutemen –UMass only has 12 upperclassmen on its roster – must endure a challenging nonconference schedule to begin the season.

Through two games, the Minutemen have already fallen to No. 20 Army and No. 5 North Carolina. Their upcoming schedule includes three more ranked nonconference opponents before heading into always-challenging CAA play.

Recognizing the team’s youth, Cannella said that the sophomore group’s performance, including that of Mariano, will loom large for UMass during its run against nationally recognized teams.

“Especially for the sophomores, they should be making huge strides,” Cannella said. “From the competition they faced last year, they should be very confident, very relaxed and primed to have a better year than last year.”

While Mariano has carried his offensive production from last season into the new year with six goals and an assist through the first two games, Cannella said that it’s been Mariano’s leadership that may be most evolved this season.

Cannella said Mariano’s personal motivation to succeed has proven infectious to the young corpse of attackers around him.

“That’s what we really need from him, particularly on the offensive end,” Cannella said. “Nick is not a rah-rah guy banging his head against lockers, but he is a lead-by-example guy. He needs to continue to do that for sure.”

Tom echoed the point about his brother’s work ethic, bringing up memories of Nick practicing his shot on Christmas mornings, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

“I think a lot people go, ‘Oh he had a great year (last year),’ but I don’t think they realize how hard he works,” Tom said. “He’s an athlete who, whatever success he earns on the field, he definitely earns it. He has natural talent but he definitely works at it.”

Mariano said that he has fully embraced his heightened role, crediting veteran teammates in helping him develop his own leadership style.

“That was definitely a big thing coming into this year,” Mariano said. “We have great leaders in (seniors) Andrew Sokol and Grant Whiteway but I definitely try to lead the team on the offensive side.”

Mariano added: “I’ve had some guys come up to me. I just try to give the best advice that I can. They work their butts off every day so that’s all I can ask for.”

Now faced with an 0-2 start, Mariano said that he is confident the communal effort he’s observed will soon pay off for the Minutemen and result in an upward trend as the season wears on.

“It’s definitely a different feeling for us,” Mariano said. “We just got to take it one step at a time and just hope for the best. … All the work you put in is what you get in return.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.

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