James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University is unusually quiet.
There are no fans in the stands. There are no workers at the concession stands. No one is on the sidelines. It is indeed an eerie feeling.
But the New York Lizards are ready to take to the field, even though it won’t be on Long Island. The MLL season is set to take place from July 18 to 24, with semifinals on July 25 and a championship battle on Sunday, July 26.
However, instead of teams playing in their own stadiums, the week-long title battle will take place at Navy-Marine Corp Stadium in Annapolis, MD. Six teams will battle for the MLL championship trophy, as the Lizards look to rebound from a 5-11 season a year ago. Head coach BJ O’Hara is excited for the week-long slate, saying the team is thrilled to finally play. Fifteen of the team’s players are from New York, keeping a local flair to the roster. And the shortened schedule might help the Lizards bounce back from 2019.
While fans won’t be allowed in the Maryland grandstands, all of the matches will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.
“We are very excited to be able to give our fans the opportunity to see the best players in the world on the best sports network in the world,” Lizards CEO Jeffrey Rudnick said.
Anton Media Group spoke with O’Hara, previewing the Lizards’ season, as well as highlighting his expectations in a rather unusual year. If the Lizards can win it all, they’ll hoist the Jake Steinfeld Trophy for the fourth time in the franchise’s history.
Q. What are your expectations with this crazy schedule that you guys have?
A. It’s been a challenge with everything everyone is dealing with. We’re excited we have a chance to all get together, even though it’s for an abbreviated season. We’re going to get the boys together and compete. We have some great competition and we’re excited. The plan was put in place to meet all of the health guidelines and it gives us an opportunity to play.
Q. How difficult will it be to play in such a tight situation?
A. We have a lot of games in a short period of time. We do have an expanded roster from the typical one. We have five extra players that we’ll be able to use. All of the teams are in the same boat. We all have the same amount of players and we’re all in the same situation. It should be interesting.
Q. Who do you feel will stand out for you guys when you take to the field for the five-game regular season?
A. On the offensive end, Dylan Molloy is one of the top offensive names in the world. We’ll look to him to lead us on the offensive end of the attack. One of our team leaders is Austin Kaut, who’s our goalkeeper and a veteran. Statistically, he’s one of the top goalies in the league. We have two Long Island guys who I really hope will deliver a lot for us. Nicky Galasso and Nick Aponte are both from West Islip. We’re going to look for those guys on the offensive end for sure.
Q. What does it mean to have people on this team from the area to represent Long Island?
A. It’s nice that a lot of the guys playing for us now grew up watching the Lizards. It’s fun to have them in a Lizards uniform and I know they always look forward to representing the region and playing for the hometown team. We always try to keep a lot of Long Island flavor on the roster.
Q. You work with Joe Spallina, who’s also the head coach of Stony Brook University’s Division I women’s lacrosse team. What’s it like to work with him?
A. Joe’s great. He’s a good friend and a good lacrosse mind. We think alike and a lot of the ways as to how we approach the game. It’s great to lean on him when I need some help.
Q. What has he taught you since you joined the Lizards that have helped you become a better coach?
A. I couldn’t even begin to tell you. He’s a good guy to be around. He’s a good resource and he’s a better friend.
Q. What would it mean for you to win the championship this year given the circumstances?
A. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s a different scenario from what we envisioned in the wintertime. But it’s a worthy goal and one I know our guys are ready to compete for. Hopefully, we can bring the championship trophy back here.
Q. Is it disappointing that you won’t be playing on Long Island?
A. Oh yeah, it definitely is. We have a great fan base and we look forward to playing in front of those folks. They’re very supportive of the team. But the games will be televised, so they’ll be able to watch. While they won’t be in the stands, they can certainly cheer us on. We’re anxious to get going.