Veterans Deane, Fechtmann and Gillotti were re-united with younger siblings in ’13
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — In the history of Eastern Connecticut State University intercollegiate athletics, Brother Acts have not been all that unique. Beginning with the Fitzgerald brothers in the late 1960s, the Silvas and Smyths in the’70s, the Gierases and Borsaris in the 80s, and most recently, the Bartuneks in the early part of the decade and the Levys in the latter part.
Over the years, for sure, a number of brothers — and sisters — have shared space on the Eastern playing and practice fields and basketball courts.
Beginning with Justin and Mark Murphy and Keith and Greg Gallinoto in 1996, no less than six brother combinations called themselves teammates in the first 16 years of the men’s lacrosse program.
In 2013, however, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates of “We Are Family” fame, had nothing on the Eastern men’s lacrosse team. This past season, the program’s brother bonanza took a unique twist under six-year head coach Justin Axel, when incumbents Drew Deane of Vernon, Mike Gillotti of Danbury and Kevin Fechtmann of Levittown, NY were all joined by their respective freshmen brothers: Angus, Brendan and Sean.
While two sets of brothers had previously lettered in the same season under Axel, 2013 marked the first time that three sets of siblings earned varsity letters in the same season. And while there are no official supporting figures, this confluence of siblings sharing the same patch of 60 x 110 turf is indeed an anomaly, if not a downright first at the collegiate level.
Axel feels that the willingness of parents to entrust him with multiple children speaks well of the process of developing successful students and athletes.
“I think that this means that the word is being passed around – that good things are happening here,” says Axel. “I believe that after the families got to see first-hand that what I spoke about when I recruited their son was actually happening, this gave them a lot of confidence, and between (the players) having a good, healthy balance of knowing what was expected, knowing how to work hard, but still enjoying the Division III athletic philosophy, that I think that made it a good sell for the younger brother.”
Last fall, Angus and Sean arrived just in time to share their respective brother’s final seasons in an Eastern uniform (as well as joining in on a Little East Conference championship), while Mike and Brendan Gillotti will enjoy a second and final season together in the spring of 2014.
To be certain, it was not a completely random coincidence that three high school seniors would eventually settle upon the same college as their older brothers in the same year. But the prospect of having an older brother already at Eastern did not necessarily make the decision to attend Eastern a slam-dunk, either.
To a person, the three younger siblings indicated that their parents were generous with advice throughout the college process, but that the ultimate decision rested squarely on their shoulders.
Of the three younger siblings, the decision may have been the easiest for Sean Fechtmann, who had been exposed to the Eastern lacrosse program for nearly one third of his life. For six years beginning in junior high through his senior year at Division Avenue High School, Sean regularly took the three-hour car ride with parents Eileen and John from their Nassau County home to Willimantic to first watch oldest brother Brian, and later Kevin.
“For me personally, I was influenced by Brian and Kevin,” noted Sean. “I knew that they loved it here, and I’d talked to Coach Axel since I was in eighth grade. So, I’ve always been a part of Eastern. I knew that I was going to come here.”
Brian and Kevin were both four-year players and senior captains under Axel. With Brian, the Warriors went undefeated in the regular season in winning consecutive Little East Conference regular-season championships, and also claimed their first LEC playoff title and qualified for their first NCAA tournament under the current head coach. Both older Fechtmanns majored in Physical Education. Brian, currently awaiting the results of his police academy test scores, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father, who served on the New York City police force before retiring and moving on to coach lacrosse and serve as director of athletics at Kellenberg High School on Long Island. Kevin, who chose Eastern over Division III power Cortland State, graduated with a concentration in exercise science and is eyeing a career in the challenging physical therapy field.
Attending the same university has provided the opportunity to re-connect for the Fechtmann brothers, who had only sporadic contact after Kevin graduated from high school and headed to Eastern. Entrenched as a lacrosse family – the elder Fechtmann having gained All-America honors twice at Nassau Community College – the Fechtmanns were impressed with the experience and lacrosse knowledge offered by Axel.
An honors student in high school, Angus Deane entertained several options – one which had him attending a private college to study business and play hockey or lacrosse – before ultimately settling upon Eastern. The lure of attending college close to home and joining older brothers Drew and Aiden (a junior transfer) was attractive, but not overwhelming.
“I’m the youngest (brother) and always like being around my older brothers,” admitted Angus. “When choosing Eastern, (my brothers being here) didn’t really have a huge effect on my choice, but it was a plus, an extra benefit.”
While admitting that athletics was a secondary consideration to academics when evaluating college choices, Angus made the team’s final roster as a walk in the fall. According to Drew, Angus made significant improvements this past spring, and early in the season, the two appeared on the field together in an official match, marking the first such occurance in their lacrosse careers.
Angus’ inclusion in the program was a boost to the psyche of Drew, who credits his brother’s presence for improving his own physical and mental performances.
The first graduate of the Rockville High School lacrosse program to earn a spot on a college lacrosse roster, Drew saw increased time each season of his four-year Eastern career. This past year, he shared starting duties in net with freshman Blake Smaldone, winning three games and compiling over 400 minutes.
“Of all the years I played at Eastern, this year was definitely the best, solely because Angus was here,” noted Drew. “I don’t really know how to describe it, but it made the experience so much more enjoyable. It made me so much more comfortable and confident in myself because he helped me improve day to day.”
In addition to lacrosse, the Deane and Fechtmann brothers played a number of other organized sports throughout high school – among them hockey, football and wrestling. Not so with the Gillottis. Born two days shy of exactly two years apart, Mike and Brendan had narrowed their focus to lacrosse by the time they were sophomores at Danbury High School.
The Gillottis were introduced to the sport by their uncle, Marty Morgan, who was involved in the youth program in nearby New Fairfield. Mike and Brendan played midfield and attack in the New Fairfield youth leagues, but Brendan switched to goalie as a ten-year-old upon joining the newly-created Danbury youth league. In those years, their father, Mike, coached the two boys, and currently serves as president of the Danbury Youth Lacrosse Association.
The lacrosse development of the Gillottis can be attributed in no small part to the proximity of their ages and their contrasting positions. With only a two-year gap in their ages, their similar skill level allowed them to test each other on even terms, without one dominating the battle. And, like the Deanes, one being an offensive player and a defensive player helped each hone their respective skills.
In similar fashion to one-on-one basketball, the Deanes and Gillotti boys spent hours before and after games and during free time, Mike refining his shot placement and Brendan adjusting his positioning and reflexes in order to stop that shot. In addition to push each other to new levels, these sessions – often played out in isolation – served to cement the relationship between the brothers.
Since they are four years apart in age, the Fechtmanns and Deanes played only minimally together – if at all — on the varsity level in high school. Such was not the case for the Gillottis. As the No. 1 varsity starting goalie position as a freshman, Brendan spent two full varsity seasons practicing and playing every day with Mike.
During their high school lacrosse seasons, the Gillottis were inseparable (and when they both wore their hair long, were often mistaken for each other), which made Mike’s departure for college in 2010 a traumatic event in the life of the younger Gillotti. “After Mike’s senior game in high school, there were lots of tears shed,” Brendan admitted. “I thought, holy smokes, it’s over. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Two full years as teammates helped our relationship,” says Brendan. “Sharing that experience with Mike made it that much better. We stretched and squeezed every little bit out of that (final) season. We enjoyed each other’s company and cherished that relationship that we had. We played sports so that we could do something together,” he added. “We could have been kicking a rock down the street, but as long as we were doing it together, it made that time so much better. I could never say a bad word about my brother. I love him so much.”
Mike arrived at Eastern unsure of his educational path, finally settling upon Sport & Leisure Management. For Brendan, the Youth Preparation Program at Danbury High School gave him an opportunity to receive hands-on experience in the area of physical education during his junior year. The exposure gained by the YPP program turned on a light bulb instantaneously in his head.
As with the Deanes and Fechtmanns, the bond between the Gillotti brothers remains unbreakable. While they maintain separate residences at Eastern – Mike off campus and Brendan at Mead Hall — it is a rare day that they do not communicate either in person, on the phone or through text messaging. “It’s definitely nice to have not just a brother, but a brother and a best friend,” offered Mike. “We make a point to see each other every day. We catch lunch in the student center, or just catch up. I see him every day – in season or out of season. We’re always together doing something.
We provide constructive criticism to each other when and where it’s needed. We push each other, we definitely get in each other’s faces,” confesses Mike, “but at the end of the day, we’re still brothers. Lacrosse is only going to go so far, then we have to live with each other for another 40 years after that.”