This is part of a continuing series counting down the top Philly lacrosse stories of 2009
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/17/10
The number of Philly players headed to Division I schools continued to rise in 2009.
By the end of the year, an amazing number of senior girls (70) and boys (60) had either committed or signed with Division I colleges. Also, 20 junior boys had committed to Division I schools by the end of the fall.
These numbers are well up from last year. One reason is that the trend for early commitments is rising throughout the sport. But regardless, the amount of Division 1 recruits in Philadelphia is clearly rising.
Last year from the class of 2009 there were 62 boys and 60 girls that signed or committed to Division I schools. Already there are 10 more girls headed to Division I colleges from the Class of 2010 and only two less boys, so those numbers will be easily eclipsed. And this year’s junior boys’ class is being heralded as a bumper crop.
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. All three are expected to see significant time this year. Several top seniors have signed Letters of Intent 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 2010, Team HEADstrong, LB3, Rebel Elite and Twist – have become regular contenders in summer and winter tournaments. The Duke’s have won the prestigious Champ Camp title the past four years and Mesa Fresh placed fourth and Rebel Elite sixth in the recent Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions.
“Lacrosse in our area gets better every year,” said Emmaus coach Jef Hewlings, whose team reached the state quarterfinals last year and has four Division I recruits this year. “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.”
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 that earned gold at the national tournament.
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.”