Leading the Flying Dutchmen in their quest for another championship has been senior captain Gino Battaglia’s main focus in his last season as part of the men’s lacrosse team. But as he looks back at his time at Hope, he beams with pride at the growth he’s seen in the Hope squad over the last four years.
It’s been a time when the Flying Dutchmen have advanced up the MIAA standings ladder, from fifth place in 2016, to tie for second place in 2017, to first place in 2018. As the team stands undefeated in the MIAA so far this season, a second league title is within reach if Hope can beat Albion, also undefeated, on Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. at home.
Battaglia commends the coaches and the big personalities who have dedicated their time and energy to create a chemistry that prevails on and off the field. That strong bond and shift in winning mentality carried them to their first regular season MIAA championship and longest win streak in team history in 2018. This year, they’ve been striving to replicate that equation.
It’s clear the Dayton, Ohio-native operates on a team-first mentality, but it’s also been a road of personal growth for Battaglia, who has come a long way from the jovial freshman who was more concerned about making an on-the-field impact than being the heart of the team’s camaraderie as he is now. In the end, he’s been able to do and be both.
“I definitely started to take more of a leadership role as the years have progressed,” Battaglia said. “Sophomore year, I turned to mentoring the freshmen coming in and getting them through that first-year process. By junior year, becoming captain, it really was more about leading the whole team… and just being someone all the players can count on.”
A good sense of humor, doused with playful sarcasm, are still Battaglia’s trademarks, but he also emphasizes the importance of knowing when to flip the switch and get things done.
Lacrosse is a game of both physical and mental endurance that can bring a range of emotions, so Battaglia makes it a priority to provide the team with what they need in the moment — whether it’s cracking a joke to break the tension or rallying up to get everyone locked and focused before a game. He’s not one to shy away from giving his two cents during practice either, noting that the smallest details and improvements can make the biggest difference.
Battaglia personifies servant leadership on and off the field, says head coach Michael Schanhals, who is “perfect balance of what Division III athletics is all about.”
“Gino is the total package, and I have the utmost respect for him as a player and a person,” Schanhals raved. “He will do anything for the team. We don’t even need to ask — he already knows what needs to be done and just does it.”
This proved true when Battaglia volunteered to switch from attacker to midfielder his sophomore year when he noticed two freshmen attackmen who he said were “too good to not have them on the field.” He played attacker again his junior year, earning all-conference, but once again spoke up to shift to midfielder this season to give talented underclassmen the playing time.
For Battaglia, it’s about the team aspect and doing what would be best to make them most successful. He also joked that it’s easy to be a jack of all trades, but ask anyone who knows him, and they’ll tell you he masters anything he’s a part of.
“He’s worked his tail off on the field to be better and faster, and develop into the player he is today.” Schanhals said. “He’s capitalized on all the opportunities that have come his way, and that’s both as an athlete and a student.”
Battaglia, a mechanical engineer major, has already secured a job post graduation as an applications engineer at Koops, Inc. in Holland, where he interned this past summer. Math and science always came easy to him, and when his dad, an aerospace engineer, suggested he pursue mechanical engineering and find a field he was passionate about within that, Battaglia knew he’d found his path.
“The cool thing about engineering is that it’s so open-ended, and you can build upon skills you already have to make things within an industry more efficient and streamlined, which is what I’m most looking forward to,” Battaglia said.
“Hope has showed me that no matter who you are, no matter what you believe in, there’s always going to be awesome people out there. You just gotta open your mind up a bit.”
He’s also excited about the month-long break between graduation and starting the job, when he’ll get to fulfill a childhood dream of rebuilding a car with his grandpa Jim in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The two share their love for cars, and it’s something they’ve always talked about but never had the time for.
The best part? Battaglia will get to keep the 1940s Ford truck they work on this summer.
For now, Battaglia will continue to focus on the in-between moments of being a student athlete, where he says the best memories happen.
“I’ve met some of the best people [at Hope] and have gained some awesome friendships in a seemingly short amount of time,” Battaglia said. “Hope has showed me that no matter who you are, no matter what you believe in, there’s always going to be awesome people out there. You just gotta open your mind up a bit.”