By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 9/8/09
The Philadelphia lacrosse boom continues to explode.
As schools reopen and still over two months remain before the early signing period (Nov. 11-18), a remarkable number of Philly boys and girls have already made verbal commitments to Division I colleges.
So far, 49 Philly boys and 42 Philly girls have committed to Division 1 colleges from the senior class.
Last year, there were 60 Philly boys that signed with Division I colleges and 59 Philly girls that signed on for Division I. It appears those numbers will be eclipsed easily by the class of 2010.
To compare where Philly’s Division I numbers compare to other hotbeds, one can look at the LaxPower database of early commitments. Although LaxPower’s list is not complete and is unofficial, it serves as a definable measuring stick.
Currently, there are 62 Division I boys’ commitments listed for the entire state of Maryland, which, of course, includes the hotbed of Baltimore and other surrounding sources of D1 prospects. There are 65 girls’ commitments listed for Maryland girls.
In New Jersey, there are 36 boys listed by LaxPower as having committed to Division I colleges. There are 18 girls listed from New Jersey.
One also can compare the Philly numbers from previous years. The Class of 2008 had 36 boys sign on for Division I lacrosse. There were 52 boys that signed for Division I from the class of 2007.
The girls’ numbers have been steady. From the class of 2008, there were 63 girls that signed letters of intent to play Division I lacrosse; the number was 65 in 2007.
Philly lacrosse success can be found in other ways. Two-time defending state champion La Salle has been ranked in the top two in at one point in each of the past two years in national polls. And in May, the Philly 1 girls’ team won the National championship at the US Lacrosse National tourney, while two other Philly squads won their divisional titles.
Philly Boys benefit from quality coaching, youth and year-round lacrosse
Lehigh men’s lacrosse coach Kevin Cassese, a native of Long Island who starred at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., has a unique perspective on Philly boys’ lacrosse. He said in recent years that college coaches rate Philly as a hotbed that can rank closely with the likes of Baltimore and Long Island for top talent and depth of talent.
“As a Long Island guy it is tough to say this… but Philly lacrosse has bridged the gap that used to exist between the two regions,” he said. “Why? I think there are tremendous athletes in the Philly region; tough kids who like to compete.”
Cassese has been harnessing the Philly talent pool since he arrived in Bethlehem three years ago. This fall he welcomed several standout Philly recruits such as Mike Noone (defenseman) and Derek Bogorowski (midfielder) from two-time state champion La Salle and Dan Carr (goalie) from Penn Charter. Several top seniors have given verbal commitments to Lehigh from the class of 2010.
Cassese noted that the lacrosse boom is now spreading from Philadelphia throughout the state.
“(Philly kids) are smart kids who value a high quality education,” Cassese said. “There are multi-sport athletes who are gaining exposure to the sport at a younger age. The sport is exploding in the Philly region and also state-wide.
“Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the Lehigh Valley and the talent coming from this region is going to get better and better every year. It is an exciting time for PA lacrosse.”
Episcopal Academy coach Andy Hayes, who has organized the inaugural Philly Lacrosse Showcase in November to help region players get seen by Division I coaches, credits the strong youth programs, quality of coaching and year-round access to leagues and clinics for the rise in Philly’s Division I talent.
“We have some of the best youth organizations around,” he said. “Kids are playing lacrosse instead of baseball now. The best athletes are playing lacrosse.
We also have some of the best coaches at the youth levels and lacrosse is becoming a year-round sport here.”
The Philly boys’ clubs have indeed enjoyed success year round. Many club teams – such as the Duke’s (ranked by Inside Lacrosse), Mesa Fresh, Team HEADstrong, LB3, Rebel Elite and Twist – have become regular contenders summer and winter tournaments.
Jef Hewlings, coach of District 11 champion Emmaus and formerly the coach at Central League power Penncrest, has seen the strong talent level move north to the Lehigh Valley. Already, four of Hewlings’ seniors at Emmaus have committed to Division I schools.
“Lacrosse in our area gets better every year,” Hewlings said. “And the college coaches have seen – and many have experienced – the impact players from our area have had at the highest level of college play.
“So, it’s only natural for them to gravitate to our area to look for the best players.”
Philly girls profit from youth lacrosse, advanced club scene and large number of home-grown D1 coaches
Archbishop Carroll coach Lorraine Beers – who Patriots have won nine straight Catholic League championships – believes the rise of club programs has made a big impact for recruiting for Philadelphia-area girls. Beers is a coach for the Phantastix club team, which has seen many of its players sign with Division I colleges.
Beers noted that Philly has long been considered a hotbed for women’s lacrosse coaches, but the depth of talent has risen greatly in the past decade.
“The rise of the club programs for girls has put more girls into college programs,” said Beers, also a co-coach for the Philly 1 team at the national tournament. “That is the purpose of the club. I started with Phantastix in 2002. I think and we were the only club from the area along with Phyllis (Kilgour) and WestLine. Then came SEPA, Ultimate Goal and PA Express.”
Hofstra University coach Abby Morgan, a Great Valley graduate, agreed with Beers.
“Because of the increase in the club programs in the Philadelphia area, players are in front of coaches earlier and more often in their high school career,” said Morgan. “The youth programs play a big part as well. Student-athletes are getting better with more teaching and more opportunities to play. The Philadelphia area has always produced great athletes, who are smart and versatile and that is what coaches are looking for.”
Strath Haven girls’ coach Jen Duckenfield has been working with lacrosse players at all levels in the Philadelphia area for 15 years as a youth, club and high school coach and a personal skills trainer. She said the growth in youth programs has helped scholastic and club teams.
“We have youth programs where kids are now starting at third and fourth grades,” Duckenfield said. “Radnor was the first to have a program for girls that age, 20 years ago. Now, practically every youth program offers it at that level.”
Duckenfield, though, also believes that many of the past greats from the Philadelphia area have continued to impact the area. She noted that there are 18 Division I women’s coaches that graduated from Philly high schools and that their presence in the coaching and recruiting scene raises the level of Philadelphia lacrosse in many ways.
Many of these coaches are considered among the most respected in all of women’s lacrosse – most notably Navy’s Cindy Timchal (Haverford School), who won eight national titles at Maryland; Princeton’s Chris Sailer (Haverford High), a recent inductee into the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame; former national team standout Mandy O’Leary (Spring-Ford), who has started the new program at Florida; Duke’s Kerstin Kimel (Haverford High), who has taken her Blue Devils to the National semifinals five times; and Old Dominion’s Sue Stahl (Upper Darby), also a Hall of Famer (Eastern PA chapter) who served as the longtime national team coach.
Also, there are younger coaches who are making their mark. Stanford’s Amy Bokker (Phoenixville) and Boston University’s Liz Robertshaw (Strath Haven) were recently named as assistants on the National Elite Team. Several Philly grads have come home to coach in the area, such as Temple’s Bonnie Rosen (Harriton), Lafayette’s Alison Fisher (Hatboro-Horsham), La Salle Candace Taglianetti (Haverford High) and Delaware’s Kim Ciarrocca (Plymouth Whitemarsh).
“It’s a domino effect,” Duckenfield said. “These coaches help to draw back lacrosse in the area by coming back and setting the example.”