Carolina’s Tobacco Road Climbs West

Lees McRae Lacrosse
Lees-McRae faces off against Montreat on February 21. (photo – T.Flynn)

BANNER ELK, N.C. (August 1, 2018)  – The hub of North Carolina’s men’s lacrosse power is centered squarely on Tobacco Road between Chapel Hill, home to the UNC Tar Heels, and Durham, home to the Duke Blue Devils.

The Tar Heels established lacrosse at the club level in 1937, and Duke followed suit a year later. The two are now members of the NCAA’s Division I, and UNC has five national championships on its resumé (the latest earned in 2016) while the Blue Devils boast three, including the 2014 national title. 

In the mountainous western portion of the state, the game is a much more recent arrival and is featured only at several smaller colleges and universities centered loosely around Asheville. They include Lees-McRae (NCAA DII), Montreat (NAIA), Mars Hill (NCAA DII), and Brevard (NCAA DIII)

The Bobcats are the lacrosse elder statesmen of the state’s western region, having begun play in 1997. Mars Hill followed in 2004, while Brevard added men’s lacrosse in 2007, and Montreat in 2015. The two largest universities in the region, Western Carolina and UNC Asheville, do not yet include the sport on the men’s or women’s side. 

This fall, all four of those programs will have first or second-year head coaches, including Brad Dunn, who enters his second year at Lees-McRae. Dunn previously coached Coastal Carolina’s entry in the MCLA’s Southeast Lacrosse Conference and was a member of the Bobcats’ team from 2002-2006. On staff with Dunn is assistant coach and 2016 Lees-McRae graduate and former Bobcat, Dustin Barrow

Lees-McRae Lacrosse

The team went 2-7 in Dunn’s first year at its helm, with wins over Montreat and Emmanuel (Ga.). The win over the Cavaliers was a dramatic comeback victory over what’s proving a well-matched regional rival. “We’re looking forward to another game in 2019 against Montreat, and getting Mars Hill back on the schedule,” said Dunn. “Both of those programs provide a unique challenge for us.”

The Bobcats defeated Brevard, 14-13, the last time the two teams played in 2017. In 2016, they dropped an 8-6 decision to Mars Hill. Parity among the four teams should help accelerate the rivalries beyond their relative youth.

Lees-McRae sits at 3,720 feet in the town of Banner Elk, the highest altitude of any college or university campus east of the Mississippi. Dunn sees the lofty heights as a factor in his team’s fortunes.

“I believe that if nothing else, the mental edge is ours against teams who travel up to play us, but it also impacts our roster in the first weeks of training,” said Dunn. “The squad does take a few practices to acclimate to the thinner air while conditioning. That said, we love our mountains and all that comes with them.”

Team USA Reclaims Lacrosse Title

NCAA LACROSSE: MAR 10 Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic - Princeton v North Carolina
Tom Schreiber, shown here in 2012, buried the game-winner for Team USA. (photo – Rich Barnes/Icon Sportswire)

NETANYA, Israel (July 23, 2018) – The US defeated Canada on Saturday, 9-8, to reclaim the FIL World Championship in Netanya, Israel. The two countries have taken all 13 of the gold medals since the championships were first staged in 1967. Most recently, Team Canada earned the world crown in Denver in 2014.

Former Princeton and current MLL star Tom Schreiber grabbed a feed from X from fellow Ivy-Leaguer Rob Pannell (Cornell) and scored the game-winner as time expired in regulation. Schreiber took the pass backhanded with his right hand, rotated back to his right and buried the score with .2 seconds remaining. 

The Canadians took a 6-4 lead into the halftime break, and the two teams were tied at six heading into the fourth quarter. 

Earlier this year, both US Lacrosse and Inside Lacrosse tabbed Schreiber as the “best player in the world.” 

For the second consecutive time, the Iroquois Nationals captured the bronze medal, besting Australia for the final spot on the podium.

US Faces Canada After Early Wins

US Lacrosse World Championships 2018 (1)
Trevor Baptiste of Team USA (photo – David Silverman/US Lacrosse)

NETANYA, Israel (July 14, 2018) – In an encore of the 2014 finale, the US will face Canada at 12:00 p.m. eastern time on Sunday. 

Team USA (2-0) got by the Iroquois Nationals on Thursday by a 17-9 margin. The Nationals took the early 3-0 lead on the US before the Americans answered with three of their own. University of Denver graduate Trevor Baptiste was 17-19 from the face-off X. Former Hopkins’ Blue Jay Ryan Brown led the US with four goals with Rob Pannell adding three goals and four assists. 

Team USA then defeated Australia, 19-1, early on Saturday. Tom Schreiber tallied three goals and set up two others. 

Canada (2-0) opened with a 12-6 win over England on Friday and followed that up with a decisive 22-3 win over Scotland on Saturday. The U.S. will face both of those opponents to close out the pool play portion of the tournament. 

Sunday’s game will air on ESPN2 in the U.S.

US Lacrosse Opens Today at Worlds

Team USA Schedule 2018
Team USA attackman Rob Pannell  (photo – James Cirrone/Pretty Instant)

NETANYA, Israel (July 12, 2018) – The US opens its 2018 schedule at the FIL Lacrosse World Championships today at 1:30 Eastern against the Iroquois Nationals. The game will be carried live on ESPN2

The US and Iroquois both compete in the blue division, the largest and most competitive of the 14 divisions that segment the 48-team field.  The Nationals include former University of Albany stars Lyle, Ty, and Miles Thompson on their roster as well as current Great Dane, Tehoka Nanticoke.

The US roster includes well-known stars Paul Rabil (M), Rob Pannell (A), Ned Crotty (A), and Matt Danowski (A). It will also feature what could be the most effective lineup of face-off specialists ever assembled on one team in Greg Gurenlian, Brendan Fowler, and recent Denver graduate, Trevor Baptiste.

The schedule for Team USA is below all times are local, and Netanya is seven hours ahead of Eastern time in the U.S. (graphic courtesy of US Lacrosse)

US Lacrosse Schedule

Team Canada is the defending world champion, earning the title when it defeated the US in the finale in 2014, 8-5. With the win, the Canadians gained some measure of revenge after dropping the tournament’s opening match to the Americans, 10-7, in Denver.

Team USA’s Jordan Wolf  (photo – James Cirrone/Pretty Instant)

Photos: Brevard vs. Montreat

BREVARD, N.C. (May 30, 2018) – The men’s lacrosse season opened in the Asheville area back on February 7 when the Brevard College Tornados of the NCAA’s DIII hosted the Montreat College Cavaliers.

The Tornados, who are in the process of fully joining the USA South Conference, defeated the Cavs, 15-6, and went on to a 9-3 record on the spring. Montreat finished at 6-11 on the year and received votes in the NAIA national poll after playing one of the association’s strongest schedules. The two programs will likely square off again in early 2019.

003 Fieldhouse Article.jpg001 Fieldhouse Article.jpg002 Fieldhouse Article004 Fieldhouse Article001 Montreat Brevard Lacrosse.jpg

Furman Falls to UVM in NCAA Opener


GREENVILLE, S.C.Furman’s Richie Meade didn’t get the opener he’d hoped for in 2018 as the Paladins fell to the Vermont Catamounts, 12-6, in the 2018 NCAA DI Opener.

For Furman, David Williamson had four goals, but Vermont five goal outburst in the second quarter put them in command for the remainder of the contest. put up five goals in the second quarter to gain the winning margin. Due to its timing on the calendar, Williamson’s first score was also the first of the 2018 NCAA lacrosse season.

Ian MacKay had four goals for Vermont, and was followed by Liam Limoges with three. The Catmounts compete in the NCAA’s America East Conference in lacrosse.

In addition to Williamson’s four, the Paladins got scores from Carson Sorrells and Keegan Pearl. 

Furman travels to face UNC on February 10.

Pictured: Furman’s Lou Yovino (photo / Furman Athletics)

Furman Opens Men’s DI Lacrosse Slate


Furman Lacrosse 2018 Furman Lacrosse Home Opener NCAA DI V2

Greenville, S.C. – The NCAA Division I lacrosse season gets underway this evening when the Furman Paladins host the Vermont Catamounts at 6:00 p.m at Paladin Stadium. For the Paladins, under veteran head coach Richie Meade, they’ll enter their fifth season of competition as an NCAA program.

The 2017 squad was the best in Furman’s short history, going 7-8 overall but ending the season with consecutive losses to the Richmond Spiders of the Southern Conference. The first defeat was the regular season closer, and the second came in the SoCon tournament. Meade was named the 2017 SoCon Coach of the Year as the Paladins rebounded from a 2-11 2016 campaign.

The Paladins return four of their top five scorers from 2017, including Jonah Moore, William Holcomb (pictured), Lou Yovino, and David Williamson.

In cage, they return 2017 starter Alec Van de Bovenmap, and senior backup Reilly McDermott.

Vermont finished the 2017 campaign at 5-8 and 1-5 in the America East Conference.

Pictured: The Paladins’ junior midfielder William Holcomb facing Vermont last season. (Photo / Furman Athletics)



Another Western State Adds Varsity Lacrosse

For several years I’ve contributed lacrosse articles to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). This week I wrote up an entry on the movement of the College of Idaho‘s men’s lacrosse program from a club program within the MCLA to a full varsity program in the NAIA.

It’s a noteworthy development as it’s the first collegiate varsity program in the state’s history, roughly 135 years after the sport established itself at a handful of eastern colleges. Here’s a link to the article. – TF

Archives: MCLA National Champion, Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon’s Joe Balestrieri (Photo / GCU )

The American Sports Network has ceased operations in its present form, so I’m presenting here for posterity some of the articles that I contributed during my time there, before the site officially shutters. All content is copyright ASN & Tom Flynn

This story was written as a preview of the promising season ahead for the Grand Canyon University Lopes in 2017 and first appeared on January 25, 2017. 

On May 13, the Lopes captured their second national championship in three years when they defeated Chapman University, 12-8.

In the Northeast, the February start to the men’s college lacrosse season is as much a battle against the elements as it is against respective opponents. Once novel, snow-filled games are now so frequent as to draw into annual debate the decision to start the season in the midst of winter.

Not so in Phoenix, where the Grand Canyon University Lopes prepare for their 2017 start beneath typically clear skies.
GCU, under head coach Manny Rapkin, captured the Division I Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) national championship in 2015, going 16-1 and averaging 15 goals per game in the process. Last year, the Lopes bowed out in the national semifinals to Cal Poly.
The combination of lacrosse-friendly weather and GCU’s success is helping draw talent to the Arizona desert as part of the sport’s larger spread away from its traditional power hubs in the East. The same year the Lopes won the MCLA DI title, the Denver Pioneers defeated Maryland to become the first team west of the Mississippi to capture an NCAA lacrosse crown at any level.
Jeff Guy, a Connecticut transplant, is GCU’s assistant coach and defensive coordinator. The former midfielder first arrived at GCU in 2007 as an assistant after graduating from the University of Delaware in 2005. By 2012, he was on the staff at Princeton, where the Tigers went undefeated in Ivy League play and made the NCAA tournament.
Even though he was coaching future MLL standouts like Tom Schreiber and Tyler Fiorito, the Southwest hadn’t completely left his mind.
“I still missed living in Arizona, that was one of the main things,” said Guy of his decision to depart the University of Dallas – where he was the head coach for two years following Princeton – for GCU in the summer of 2014. In the Lopes’ championship season of 2015, with Guy directing the defense, GCU allowed double-digit goals just five times in their 17 games.
“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, coming back.”
Rapkin is also an Eastern transplant, spending his undergraduate career playing football and lacrosse at New York’s NCAA Division I Siena College, and also serving as the head coach at New York’s Dominican College before arriving at GCU.
The two coaches, in addition to their work on the Lopes’ sideline, help sow lacrosse seeds in the desert at the youth level as part of Guy’s Accelerated Lacrosse Academy for middle school and high school players in the area.
Another critical part of the 2017 GCU squad arrived from far afield, in his case from the North. Senior Lucas de Jong is a Lopes midfielder hailing from Victoria, British Columbia.
Rapkin spotted de Jong when his club team, the Vancouver Island Seaspray, made trips south to tournaments in Seattle and San Diego. “He came and talked to our team and told us a little about GCU,” said de Jong. “My junior year I kind of shrugged it off because I wanted to keep looking. But the more recruiting letters, emails, and phone calls I received, nothing else was the full package for me.”
“I had a lot of good people telling me I had to pick a school based on the school first, lacrosse second. After visiting GCU, there was no question.”
The sports management major is also an RA, the president of the college’s local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and served an internship for the Phoenix Suns in 2016 that resulted in a job offer. “It was an amazing experience, something I’ll never forget and I learned a ton from,” said de Jong of interning for the Suns.
On the lacrosse field, de Jong describes himself as, “A pretty stereotypical Canadian – I grew up playing box lacrosse; I started in the third grade.” He added that like his fellow countrymen, his stick skills are centered on his dominant hand, honed in the tight confines of the indoor game.
“We [Canadians] play field lacrosse the way we play box lacrosse. We dodge hard, we get the ball to the net, and we set lots of picks.”
He was recruited as an attackman out of high school. “My first fall semester at attack at GCU, I was just awful,” said de Jong, laughing. “Coach called me in one morning and said he was switching me to defensive middie. I had a panic attack, but then I worked hard and got the starting position for my first game against Colorado State.” He scored a goal in the game and went on to earn All-Freshman accolades.
“You can really put Lucas anywhere on the field, and he’ll make the team better. You want to be better on face-offs and have your guy’s face-off percentage go up? Put Lucas on the wing,” said Guy, referring to one of the two players who – as with hockey draws – man the flanks or “wings” on the center faceoff. “You want a better clearing percentage? Put Lucas in on the clear. He’s a total team player.”
Senior attackman Joe Balestrieri began his college lacrosse career in Maryland, although he is a native of the San Diego area. His first stop was with perennial JUCO power CCBC-Essex, where he had 70 regular season points as a freshman, before moving to the state’s Stevenson University. While a Mustang, Balestrieri had 22 goals and four assists in 22 games as part of a 19-3 team.
“I think he’ll be the preseason MCLA Player of the Year,” said Rapkin in describing the senior’s talent. Balestrieri scored 56 goals and added 31 assists to lead the MCLA’s Top 10 Division I ranks in scoring in 2016. He also garnered first team All-American honors.
After deciding not to return to Stevenson, Balestrieri chose to look closer to home, somewhere where his family could watch him play. “I had a couple of buddies at GCU, and they told me it was a great environment, and a great team,” he said.
While he acknowledges GCU’s facilities, proximity, and weather as factors in his decision to come to Phoenix, he emphasizes that it was the coaching staff of Guy and Rapkin that sealed the decision.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to be part of this team,” said Balestrieri.
His coaches echo the sentiment.
“When he originally came here, we had him slotted as a middie,” said Guy. “Coach Rapkin quickly came to the conclusion, ‘We need this guy on the field all the time.’”
“Joe’s a great leader for our offense, another guy who also plays unselfish lacrosse and does a lot of great things for us,” he added. “He can shoot the ball outside, he can get to the goal on his own, and he can create goals. He can also be the finisher on the backside.”
Thanks to the influx of talent from across North America, GCU hopes to finish the 2017 campaign as it did 2015, with an MCLA Division I trophy in hand.

Cleveland State Lacrosse Gets Underway

CSU’s Nick Wendel moves past Duke’s Sean Cerrone (Photo / Andy Mead/YCJ/Iconsportwire)

Cleveland (February 27, 2017) 
Cleveland State is underway as an NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse program. The team, under head coach Dylan Sheridan, is 2-4. They’ve won two games against DIII opponents (as part of their first-year transition) and dropped games to Michigan, Duke, Denver, and Air Force. They play Canisius (1-2) this Saturday at home.

The Vikings, who formerly were a high-level MCLA team,  are independent in 2017 and play 15 games.

The last Division I program to begin play was Virginia’s Hampton University. The Pirates launched from the NCLL and played a five-game transitional schedule in year one. This year they bumped up to eight. They are led my former Morgan State alum,  Lloyd Carter.