WOODBURY – Mike Paniccia did not want to miss the opportunity to give back to his community and jumped at the chance to take the reins of head coach of Nonnewaug Lacrosse Club.
Paniccia, 24, of Woodbury, played four years on Nonnewaug Lacrosse and continued his education and lacrosse career at Division III King’s College following his graduation from Nonnewaug High School in 2013. He credits the club program for his success on the field and is eager to share his passion for the sport with kids here at home.
“I know the passion that all of the kids who play lacrosse have in this area,” said Paniccia, who played attack and midfielder both at Nonnewaug and at King’s College. “I want to give them the opportunity to expand their skill set and compete at the highest level that they can while still having fun.”
Paniccia, who also works full time is Shelton at an employee benefits company, has a goal for the team this year: “Get them playing smart, fast, and constant while having fun and growing as players and young men.” As a product of the club himself, he’s a firm believer in the strength of the program and sees the fact that Nonnewaug is club lacrosse as just another reason for his guys to work harder. There are currently about 18 players and counting from 8th – 12th grades.
The schedule this year includes Trumbull, Immaculate, Maloney/Platt and Pomperaug High Schools as well as Canterbury, Avon Old Farms and Litchfield Hills Lacrosse. “I want us to have a successful season, win all of the games we should, and play tough and competitive with the stronger teams on the schedule,” he said. “We have players with grit, natural athletic talent, and the passion to not only develop their skill set but lacrosse IQ as well. We have sent numerous players off to college lacrosse on the east coast, and will continue to do that.”
The Nonnewaug Lacrosse Club began in 2008 by Woodbury residents Tre Sherwood and Vic Losure as a place for local high school kids to play lacrosse. Back then, there were boys and girls teams with roster sizes that exceeded 24. Matt Glaser, who helped coach when the program started took it over several years ago and saw this three sons through the program as head coach. Two of Glaser’s sons also helped coach the team over the past few years.
Paniccia is thankful for the opportunities afforded to him because of Nonnewaug Lacrosse. “I was coached by an amazing coach who pushed for this program to play competitive programs early on,” Paniccia said. “Thankfully his push was able to expand my skill set to make it possible for me to be a part of Connecticut teams and invited to National tournaments where I played against players from some of the most established high school programs known on our coast.”
Nonnewaug Lacrosse is under the umbrella of Woodbury Parks and Recreation. Player registration fees cover referee fees, coaching costs and uniforms and the cost to the town to underwrite player insurance and its home field of Mitchell Elementary School. The players themselves are also responsible for everything from helmets and gear to transportation to and from all games.
Paniccia comes in during a transitional year for the club with Glaser looking to take more of a back end position with Nonnewaug Lacrosse. Now in its 11th year, it is mirroring the growth trend that is happening across the country and has seen its roster grow as a result. According to the publication “Coach AD.com” Lacrosse remains the fastest growing sport in American high schools and has been for the past six years. The NCAA says lacrosse is the fastest growing sport with more than 36,000 athletes playing at the college level now.
However, Nonnewaug remains one of the only two high school clubs in this area that play lacrosse during the regular high school season. The other is Litchfield Hills.
Nonnewaug Lacrosse made an unsuccessful bid several years get Nonnewaug High School to offer it in their varsity sports line up. It was declined by Region 14 due to budget constraints at the time.
Paniccia, a graduate of Nonnewaug himself, wants that to change and is hopeful there will be a place down the road for lacrosse at Nonnewaug High School. “I really want to make the program part of the high school community like it should be and help the local kids grow their skill set to their greatest potential,” he said. “There are so many kids in our community that don’t have a team come spring. Giving them this opportunity to play will not only be beneficial for them but also for the community to have another program to stand proudly behind. Lacrosse has been the fastest growing sport in the country for the last decade and it is time for our local community to be a part of this great game. “
Lacrosse parents have begun meeting to try to secure the future of the club, and with a new turf field going in at Nonnewaug High School by 2020, they said they are looking to Region 14 to help do that.
For now, however, Paniccia is eager to be back on the home field and get the boys practicing. The season opener is Saturday March 23 at Trumbull High School Turf. “I did not want to miss the opportunity to give back to my community and coach a sport that I love to kids who share that same passion.”
Registration for Nonnewaug Lacrosse is still open and can be accessed at www.nonnewauglax.com.