Baltimore, MD — The inaugural adidas National Lacrosse Classic featuring the top high school underclassmen boys on 16 regional teams from eight regions in the United States gathered at the Maryland Soccerplex in Germantown on July 19-20 for an exciting weekend of high school boys’ lacrosse action. In all, 31 games were played in a 24-hour span. The first national championship went to Rochester, which defeated Delmar Prep (Baltimore Private Schools), 9-8, in a thrilling, back-and-forth championship game not decided until the final 30 seconds.
“We are pleased to provide this unique experience for the entire lacrosse community,” said Jeff Bowyer of adidas Lacrosse. “Our vision is to expose parents, coaches and student athletes to the rapidly growing sport of lacrosse at all levels to all areas of the country.”
Crowning a champion is an exciting proposition, but according to Joel Franklin, Chairman of Level 2 Sports and the Event Directo, there is a higher goal at stake. “There is a wide diversity of lacrosse talent throughout the United States, but many of these players are not receiving the exposure that they deserve,” said Franklin. “Recruiting budgets for most college programs have not grown at the same pace as the game’s popularity and it is difficult for coaches to find opportunities to actually meet the players and see them play. We wanted to provide that platform and we are grateful to the folks at adidas Lacrosse for helping to make this a reality.”
Players were selected to their regional team over the past two months after a three-hour evaluation by high school coaches that included individual position drills, time testing for speed, and a series of games. Regional teams from Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Greensboro, Long Island, Los Angeles, Orlando, Princeton, Rochester, San Francisco, and Washington DC-Virginia competed in the first-ever of its kind National High School Games.
“This [tournament] is a perfect example of where the sport is going,” said Scott Conklin, who coaches at Episcopal School in Northern Virginia. “Players from all over the country come here to compete against the best. The guys from Denver, Orlando, and California are hanging in there. You can tell they have great athletes and their stick skills are coming around. They understand the game much better than four or five years ago. It’s not going to be long before lacrosse is nation-wide and there’s going to be 10 to 12 hotbeds.”
Many coaches were on hand to watch the games. According to Mike Blanchard, head coach at Emerson College in Massachusetts, “The adidas National Lacrosse Classic ran so well, and was so thought out, that I was amazed that this was an inaugural event.” Zack Burke, Baltimore Sun’s Coach of the Year, added that the “event gives high school underclassmen the rare opportunity to play with other great players from their area and join together to become the best lacrosse region in America.”
National champion Rochester will play for the Brodgen Cup against Canada in Orlando, Florida, December 5-8, 2008. “I’m going to Disney World!” Kyle VanThof shouted to the absolute amusement of his teammates, who surrounded him during a post-game interview.
Tylon Thompson scored three goals and VanThof netted two, including the game-winner with less than 30 seconds left in the game, to lift Rochester to a thrilling 9-8 victory over a talented Delmar Prep team on Sunday. Delmar consisted of private school players from the Mid-Atlantic region of Delaware and Maryland. This team has a handful of players that have already committed to play for Division I programs.
Chris Lightner, a three-year varsity lacrosse starter and team captain of the 2008 Calvert Hall (17-2) team has recently committed to play for Johns Hopkins. Teammates Tyler Adelsberger and Jason McFadden have committed to Ohio State and Georgetown, respectively.
Bill Cherry, head coach at Manhasset High School, and Steve Finnell, head coach at Garden City, teamed up to coach the adidas Long Island team. Manhasset and Garden City are have perhaps the oldest high school lacrosse rivalry in the nation.
In addition to Burke, the other participating high school coaches have many impressive accomplishments. Mark Sweeney, head coach at Madison High School in New Jersey, was the 2007 Star Ledger Coach of the Year and 2007 Fitch Division Coach of the Year. Mike Vergalito, head coach at Hunterdon Central in New Jersey, was the 2007 Pitt Division Coach of the Year.
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Sometimes, all it takes is a passionate speech from the coach to spark a team to success. Or a punch in the mouth, perhaps. It happened Sunday at the Adidas National Lacrosse Classic semifinals, when the Baltimore Private team found itself in a 3-0 hole at the break against Baltimore Public. The game had some added incentive, since most of the players on the field had spent many summers playing club ball together and have had some exciting meetings during the spring high school seasons.
“I guess our guys just took them lightly, and, if you do that in a tournament like this, they’re going to jump on you,” said Baltimore Private coach Zack Burke, whose team rallied back for a 7-4 victory and advanced to the finals at the Soccerplex in Germantown, Md. “It wasn’t so much a speech. I think they just came out and punched us in the mouth. My guys weren’t fired up until that happened. Sometimes, that is all it takes.”
Burke, the All-DigitalSports Boys’ Lacrosse Coach of the Year for the Baltimore-metro area, carefully watched Baltimore Public’s 10-5 victory over Princeton, NJ in the quarterfinals and awaited the match-up. To throw some fuel on the fire, Glenelg coach Josh Hatmaker, the Baltimore Public coach, led his team past Burke’s Archbishop Spalding squad last spring in an MIAA meeting.
“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a big rivalry,” said Andrew Scalley, who scored two goals for Baltimore Private and helped lift the team in the second half.
“It was private schools versus public, and we wanted to show what we had. Everything was on the line because we wanted to go to Florida. In the second half, we started to play together and we put some goals in the back of the net.”
The trip to Orlando barely eluded Baltimore Private, as it later fell to Rochester, NY in the championship, 9-8. One more victory would have secured a trip south to represent the U.S. against Canada for the historic Brogden Cup on Dec. 5-8 to determine the best region of high school lacrosse players in North America.
As old local rivalries were rekindled over the weekend, new long-distance ones were sparked. Washington, DC Private squeaked by a tough Chicago team in overtime, 6-5, in a quarterfinal game. Bob Degen, the Chicago coach, was happy with his team’s performance and was glad the spectators got to see some of the talent coming out of the middle of the country.
“We may not get to see this kind of quality play in the Midwest but at the same time, we got the opportunity to show that we have some great athletes,” Degen said. “The sport is growing by leaps and bounds in the Midwest and everyone had a great time here this weekend.”
Washington, DC Private coach Scott Conklin admitted that the torch hasn’t been passed yet but that the rest of the country is catching up. “This [tournament] is a perfect example of where the sport is going,” said Conklin, who coaches at Episcopal in Northern Virginia. “Kids from all over the country come here to compete against the best. These guys from Denver, Orlando, and California are hanging in there. You can tell they have great athletes and their stick skills are coming around. They understand the game much better than four or five years ago. It’s not going to be long before lacrosse is nation-wide and there are going to be 10 to 12 hotbeds.”
Andrew Cordia, of Washington DC Private, said he was a little surprised how talented the Chicago side was but it just taught him and his teammates that every team at the tournament could play. He scored the tying goal and game-winner in the quarterfinal victory. “It was a tight game,” the rising senior at Episcopal said. “They shut us out the entire first half. I was surprised Chicago could come out like that.”
On the final score, Cordia admitted a little luck played a part. “I really wasn’t trying to go to the cage,” he said. “I sort of ducked out of a double team and ended up on the crease. But it was nice. It always feels good to be in overtime and hit the game-winner.”