Gutkin first Patriot boy to earn lax scholarship

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

It’s always nice to be the first at anything, and Freehold Township’s Mike Gutkin knows that experience firsthand.

The senior became the first Patriot boys lacrosse player to earn a Division I-A scholarship to play the sport in college when he signed with Wagner College.

“It’s a big privilege to be the first, but I’m not going around flaunting it,” he said.

It took one official visit to the Staten Island campus of Wagner to convince Gutkin that it was the right place for him.

“I checked out the campus and met the team, and I fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s a pretty young team, and they’re looking for me to play.”

Gutkin named former teammates Dennis Novello (Kean) and Adam Miller (Swathmore), who are playing lacrosse in college now, as his role models. They paved the way for him, he pointed out, opening the door to the sport’s potential at Freehold Township. Gutkin, in turn, wants to serve as that role model for today’s Patriot underclassmen. He may be the first Patriot to play at the Division I-A level, but certainly, he believes he will be the first of many.

“They [underclassmen] have a lot of heart and talent, and they know it can be done,” he said.

Just three years ago, Gutkin didn’t know the first thing about lacrosse. He had played all the usual suspects in youth sports before giving lacrosse a try as a freshman.

“When I started to play, I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said. “I picked it up quickly.”

A decision by varsity coach Steve Gibb was the big breakthrough for Gutkin. Lacking depth at goalie, Gibb decided to turn the best athlete on freshman team, which was Gutkin, into a goalie. That summer, Gutkin went to camps at Rutgers and Roanoke, Va., and in his sophomore year earned a varsity letter on Freehold Township’s Shore Conference Division championship team. By his junior year, he was the starter and on his way to becoming a keeper that colleges were interested in.

Gutkin gives all the credit for his success in lacrosse to Gibb, not just because of his decision to have him play goalie, but because of his encouragement and his lacrosse knowledge.

Gibb, in turn, knows that he has groomed a goalie who can make a difference on the field.

“Mike has been great,” he said. “His saves keep us in every game.

“He has a quick stick and he’s athletic,” he added. “He has good height, [6-foot-1, 175 pounds]. He’s perfect for a goalie.”

Gutkin has brought more than athletic ability to the position, however.

“Mike conducts the defense, he makes the calls,” said Gibb. “He’s the quarterback.”

The Patriots went through a major rebuilding season in 2005, losing 16 players from that division championship team. As one of the seniors who was a member of that ’04 team, Gutkin’s goal this spring was to help get Freehold Township back in the postseason, and to get the team back on the winning track. Gutkin and Co. have done just that, earning the No. 9 seed for the Shore Conference Tournament and qualifying for the state tournament that begins next week.

The Patriots won their first-round game in the SCT, topping St. Rose, 8-6, Friday.

Zack Carroll and Mike Rosenblum each had two goals for the Pats (9-7), Tom Vaccaro, Colin McCarthy, Tim Horsch and Frank Pascrell also scored. Rosenblum had three assists, and Pascrell, two. Gutkin made 13 saves in the win.

The Pats were scheduled to play top-seeded Christian Brothers Academy on Monday in the quarterfinals.