Hall of Fame Inductee: Nicky Polanco
Everyone loved to have Nicky Polanco on their team; and they hated playing against him.
“He’d get on his eye black. He’d take a swig of water. He’d spit it out. And he’d be a completely different human,” said Atlas LC head coach Ben Rubeor, who won back-to-back MLL Championships with Polanco on the Chesapeake Bayhawks. “He was trying to win at all costs. Who doesn’t want to play with a guy like that?”
A three-time MLL Champion (‘04, ‘12, ‘13) and two-time MLL Defensive Player of the Year (‘04, ‘05), Polanco won everywhere he went. He was a playmaker on defense. Dodging him was a dead end road for an offense.
“I don’t even remember people dodging on Nicky,” said Greg Gurenlian, who played with Polanco on the Long Island Lizards. “They would just catch the ball and throw it to the next guy. It’s almost like he made your attack line one less guy.”
Trailing by two with 29 seconds remaining in the 2004 MLL Championship, the Boston Cannons gave the ball to Mike Battista out of a timeout. The Philadelphia Barrage put Polanco on Battista.
Polanco stripped Battista, scooped the groundball, and cleared before Boston could attempt a shot. Maybe the biggest of his 480 career groundballs (10th-most all-time).
What people didn’t see about Polanco was the dedication to the process. Winning neither happened overnight nor by accident. He competed in practice the same way he did in games, jawing at the offense when the defense got a stop.
“We’d practice on Wednesdays,” recalls Rubeor, “and he’d drive from Long Island down to Annapolis to come to practices. And then he’d drive back that night. For a vet to do that… that translated to his team’s success.”
That’s the type of teammate Polanco was. When Gurenlian was with the San Francisco Dragons, Polanco broke his stick over Gurenlian’s facemask on a fast break. And when Gurenlian joined the Lizards in 2010, Polanco and Brian Spallina were the first to welcome him to the team.
“You think that they really hate you when you’re playing against them,” said Gurenlian. “Then you get there, and they’re like, ‘Anything you need. You can stay at my house. Meet my kids.’ Nicky would do anything for you.”