By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 11/23/12
John Liebig and Matt Ragan began playing lacrosse just three years ago as freshmen at Northeast High.
So excuse them for being a little intimidated when competition started Sunday in the Uncommitted Seniors Day at the Philly Showcase at Episcopal Academy.
“I played a little scared in the beginning because of the pressure,” said Liebig, a 6-2 lefty attackman who also plays for Bucks Select. “After the first game I got right back into my game and played a lot better.”
“Like Jon, that first game was a little unnerving,” said Ragan, a midfielder who also plays for Bucks Select. “After that I went out there and had fun.”
Liebig and Ragan are examples of the growth of lacrosse in the city. They were members of a Northeast team that has won the past two Public League championships and last year faced La Salle in the District 12 championship game.
They were two of nearly 100 players competing in Sunday’s Senior Day at the Philly Showcase. The day’s event also featured 38 elite club and high school teams from around the nation. Sunday’s event drew more than 120 college coaches; 150 came Saturday to the 2014-2015 Showcase.
Although most Division I college coaches are recruiting from the younger classes, many Division I and Division II and III coaches spent much time watching the three sessions of the Seniors games.
Ragan said the city’s growth is remarkable.
“There now are so many dedicated kids,” he said. “They see how much fun we have and they want to play. They start talking to their friends and start coming out.
“People like lacrosse because it’s a combination of every sport. If you like basketball or if you like football, it’s the sport to play. Everyone can find a way to play it.”
How did Ragan fare against the elite competition?
“Along with the La Salle game, it was the best competition we’ve seen,” he said. “I learned (today) that groundballs wins games.”
Ragan hopes this event helps him get seen by college coaches.
“I have been focused on academics,” he said. “But my parents are helping me and so is my coach. Hopefully, I will find something.”
Liebig is looking to play college lacrosse at a school that also fits him academically. He was happy with her performance as the day progressed.
“I had three goals two assists and I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “I thought the toughest game was one I had a player going to Syracuse on me. He was a tough defender.”
What does he have to do to find a willing college?
“I just have to play smart and have fun,” he said.
Another city player competing Sunday was Roman Catholic defenseman Ronnie Bolden (T-REF Tomahawks. Bolden was constantly being instructed by Team 1 coach Ian O’Hearn (Mercer Island, WA), a former standout at Albany.
“This is the best competition I have every faced,” said Bolden. “It is faster than anything I have ever seen.
“I learned a lot about myself. I have to work harder, and get faster, stronger and bigger. I also have to improve my lacrosse mentality; I mean looking at games and learning different situations. Coach O’Hearn was a great help fur me.”
Bolden said he gave up football for lacrosse and feels many in the city are following suit.
“I don’t play football anymore,” he said. “Lacrosse is like a lot of sports combined – it has the basketball mentality and the aspects of defense in football. I like the contact.
“I also like that it originated from the (Native Americans).”
Upper Darby face-off specialist Dante DeSimone (Team Philly)also was looking to face top competition and get seen.
“I feel I did alright,” he said. “It was a good team effort for not playing together. I think this (competition) is about as good as it gets. Some of the best kids that want to get recruited come here.”
DeSimone – who often has to overcome a size disadvantage – would be happy to find a school that fits his academics and will give him a chance to play.
“I would just like somewhere that fits,” he said. “I will take what I can get. I will see what I can do from here. You just have to practice. I you want it, you can play no matter what.”
One player who comes from a more lacrosse-rich heritage of the Philly region was Henderson goalie Chase Heisman (ManUp Lacrosse). Heisman, an All-EPSLA and All-Ches-Mont league pick last year who helped his team finish 17-3, had just committed to Juco power Essex (CCBC) of Maryland, but wants to eventually move up to a top Division III or a Division I program.
“Right now I want to get my grades up,” said Heisman, who also was looking at Cabrini and Widener.
“I did OK. I let up some bad goals here and there, but all together I thought I did OK. I just have to get into the classroom and improve and work on my low shots. That’s where I am weak.”