The Eastern University men’s lacrosse team was dealt a blow recently when it was learned that one of its top recruits from a monster class was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Goalie Aaron Benz, who led St. Xavier of Louisville, Ky., to the state championship May 15, was diagnosed with the disease five days later. Eastern second-year coach Brandon Childs – who is bringing in a whopping 24 new players for 2009-10 – said Benz has responded well to chemotherapy and will report to Eastern in late August.
“He hasn’t lost any hair and is gaining weight,” Childs said. “The doctors are so impressed with how his body has responded.”
Benz is receiving chemo about every three weeks, Childs said. He will continue taking treatments at home and then begin receiving treatments in the Philadelphia area when he comes for the start of classes.
Benz will matriculate in the honors college, but may not be able to attend the annual week-long kickoff camp in the Adirondacks in mid-August, Childs said. All Benz wants is to be treated like any other incoming freshman.
“I have talked to him a lot and every time I talk to him he just downplays it,” Childs said. “It’s just like another day for him.
“What impresses me the most, through the recruiting process and phone calls, is that it’s always business as usual in everything he’s done.
“I just got an e-mail from mom. The family went to Colorado for vacation, and he had to come home for chemo. He felt bad that his mother had to leave vacation. ‘It’s just chemo,’ he told her. ‘I can do this.’ That sums the kid up; he’s a tough kid.”
Benz is one of many freshmen that Childs believes will elevate Eastern quickly in the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC). The former Dickinson assistant returns just 12 of 24 players from a 7-8 team (5-5 in the MAC) and is bringing in players from all over the country, including major recruits from Texas, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Maryland.
Some of the big names include midfielders David Darling (San Diego, Mount Carmel) and Ronald Johnson (Carlsbad, Sante Fe Christian), attackman Zac Ivy (Foothills Christian) and defenseman/LSM Matt Kenyon (Del Mar, Sante Fe Christina) of California; defenseman/LSM Ryan Cassidy (Austin Westwood) of Texas; and midfielder Matt Soldano (Davidsonville, Annapolis Area Christian) of Maryland.
From the Philly area, Childs welcomes attackman Ben Tuscai, who helped West Chester East adcance to the first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament.
“When I got here (he was hired in May of 2008) we only had 24 players,” said Childs, who was an assistant at Dickinson College for three years after serving as a graduate assistant at Lynchburg, his alma mater. “I didn’t have much of a chance this season.
“People have asked me a lot about this group. None of these kids have any preconceived notion about how good they are or how good they can be.”
Childs said the Eagles’ class will grow with the program.
“I love makeup of this group,” he said. “Some are highly touted, like, Soldano from Maryland, and Benz. They all kind of have this underdog story behind them, and I love that about this crew.
“Because of the nature of these kids, we may just surprise a couple people.”