By Matt Noonan
Dwayne Stewart seemed ready for his next challenge.
After assisting Ryan Kuhn with starting a men’s lacrosse program at Lincoln Memorial University as both an assistant coach and offensive coordinator from 2015 to 2018, Stewart was ready for his next challenge, coaching a first-year varsity squad at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
“I was excited because I was going to be the leader of a team,” said Stewart, who is currently in his second season with the Hawks.
Being involved with a new program seemed “normal” to Stewart, who has aspirations of one day winning a championship – “I want to do that fast,” he said when introduced as the school’s first-ever men’s lacrosse coach on August 9, 2018. Stewart has won a championship before when he played midfield at the University of Albany in 2013 but as of Thursday morning, the Copiague, New York native seems determined to provide his squad with as much playing and practicing experience as possible this season.
SUNY New Paltz’s inaugural campaign was cut short last spring due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, but the Hawks enjoyed a successful start, winning two of four matchups, including the team’s first varsity contest against Elmira College.
Stewart and the team used the lockdown, as well as the past few months to begin planning for this season – so far, the squad has competed twice, and despite dropping their initial State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) clash to the State University of New York at Plattsburgh (SUNY Plattsburgh) on Monday, Stewart and the Hawks were able to gain a better understanding of what they must work on, so they can be better prepared for future league matchups.
“It was great to see the level of play (in the SUNYAC),” Stewart said of his team’s recent outing with Plattsburgh. “I am sure my guys learned a lot.”
The Hawks will gain more experience as the season progresses – in fact, they will learn a lot more over the next few weeks when they compete against other league foes, including the State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam), a team they will see next Monday, as well as later this month. But beyond the offensive and defensive reps, Stewart also plans to use these next few weeks to “instill” a team culture, as well as improve the system he is currently teaching the Hawks.
Like any coach, Stewart knows his system – and yes, his team’s goals – will be tweaked over time. But as for his vision – well, more his dream for where the Hawks can go from here is something his young team already believes in.
“You know, I pretty much sold them a dream (for this new program when I was hired in August of 2018) and they believed that dream and vision,” said Stewart when reflecting on his time the past few years with the program.
“We had a really strong showing (last February) against Elmira, and after we got that first win, along with an overtime win against SUNY Purchase, the team really started to buy into that message. And they’re feeding (into it more and more) as a second-year program.”