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November 23, 2010

Top 10 NLI Signing Period Winners

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

Believe the hype, not the hate, about Lyle Thompson's decision to sign with Albany, writes Joel Censer. Thompson has transferred from Lafayette (N.Y.) to Salmon River (N.Y.) for his high school senior season.

© Greg Wall

This past weekend, I watched ESPN's "30 for 30" episode, "The Best That Never Was."

The documentary chronicled running back Marcus Dupree, who as a high school senior in 1981 was the best football player in the country, a 6'2", 230-pound slab of "can't miss" who could move past people as fast as he could run through them.

Quick cuts, long runs and brutal stiff arms brought unheard attention to Dupree. Coaches, agents and boosters from nearly every college descended on rural Philadelphia, Miss., to try and convince the kid with the golden ticket and the jheri-curl to sign.

Dupree eventually committed to Oklahoma, and during his freshman year justified the hoopla. He rushed for nearly 1,150 yards and garnered second team All-American honors. A year later, the luster had worn off though. After a couple injuries and some squabbling with head coach Barry Switzer, Dupree left OU. A year later, he was playing in the USFL. The next year, he had blown out his knee.

Of course, Dupree's recruiting saga and truncated college experience provide a grim reminder during the NCAA National Letter of Intent signing week (Nov. 10 to Nov. 17 for lacrosse) that even the best laid plans can go awry. This doesn't mean that most kids are in for some tumultuous ride once they put their verbal commitment on to paper. In fact, I'd imagine the large majority of recruits have positive experiences going to the school of their choice.

But projecting how recruits are going to do when they hit campus isn't easy. College lacrosse is a different, faster and entirely more complex game than its high school counterpart. Guys who could turn the corner or hit top shelf from 12 yards in high school can't necessarily do it consistently against increased competition. Injuries also happen, and there are plenty of distractions.

So to trying to project the impact of even the most talented 17- and 18-year-old recruit (like Dupree) is a pretty tricky business. Still, in the same way I get sucked into the NFL and NBA draft every year. It's fun to prognosticate how teams have improved. Here are five Division I men's and women's squads that, in my mind, addressed team needs during the signing period and are now in a better position.

First, the men...

1. MARYLAND

You have to feel for Dave Cottle. The same year he recruited probably the best class of his Maryland tenure, he was unceremoniously dumped by athletic director Debbie Yow (who then jetted to N.C. State). Attackmen David Solomon (Salisbury School) and Jack Forster (LaSalle) are explosive skill guys who can break down defensemen and consistently draw slides (something Maryland hasn't had much of in the Grant Catalino, Travis Reed and Joe Cummings era). Faceoff man Charlie Raffa (St. Anthony's) is a blue-chipper who can immediately help Jake Bernhardt and Curtis Holmes at the "X," while goalie Kyle Bernlohr (Western Reserve Academy) is a talented stopper -- and insurance -- if Niko Amato or Mark White fails to lock down the position by the time Bernlohr arrives in College Park for the 2011-12 academic year.

2. NORTH CAROLINA

If signing week showed us anything, it's that life will go on for the Tar Heel attack after Billy Bitter graduates this spring. Of course, by 2012, crafty clones Thomas Wood and Marcus Holman will still be finishing in open space, while Nicky Galasso will likely be entrenched in that lefty attack spot. But Carolina skipper Joe Breschi also brought a whole cadre of talented attackers to immediately push for time (or at least get burn on EMO or the invert). Shifty jitterbug attackmen Joe Sankey (Penn Charter) and Billy's younger brother Jimmy Bitter (Deerfield) were the pick of the stop-and-go litter, while the Hill School's Chad Tutton is a crafty Canadian finisher. Defensively, the Tar Heels reload -- Ryan Flanagan and Charlie McComas graduate in 2011 and 2012, respectively -- behind a slew of talented long poles including headliner Brian Sullivan (Bishop Timon-St. Jude).

3. HARVARD

I know, I know there are no National Letters of Intent in the Ivy League. But after hearing enough times how the growth of the game was going to eventually relegate Princeton, Cornell, Harvard, Penn, Dartmouth and Brown to second-tier status, it's clear talk is talk. Blue-chippers are still taking their talents in droves to the land of the Athletic Index and non-scholarships. And while none of it can be made official by John Hancocks, smiling photo-ops and humming faxes, the Crimson seems to have a head start, especially on the defensive end. Garden City's close defensemen duo of Brian Fischer and southpaw Stephen Jahelka have verbally committed and will get an opportunity to contribute on the backline immediately, while goalie recruit Jake Gambitsky (Wantagh) might be the best backstop in the class. On offense, Sean Mahon (Chaminade) gives new coach Chris Wojik (who owes former Harvard John Tillman a steak dinner or two) another big-time midfielder to team with young talent like sophomores Alex White, Peter Schwartz and Jack Doyle.

4. ALBANY

Look, I've heard all the rumblings and rumors about signee Lyle Thompson. "Only looks for his brother on offense... More style than substance... Syracuse passed on him... Probably tried to sign his NLI by putting the pen behind his back." But he's got such a unique skillset, it's hard to not think Albany head coach Scott Marr pulled a major coup by signing the Salmon River, N.Y., (via Lafayette) midfielder. Thompson is plenty fast, can face off, dodge, and has the crafty stick skills in settled offense of someone who has spent plenty of time in the box. So for a Great Danes team that went 5-11 last year, nabbing Thompson (brother Miles is a freshman this year), seems to be a step in the right direction to replicating the pesky, transition-oriented Albany squads that were so deadly 4-5 years ago.

5. UMASS

Looks like coach Greg Canella got super sophomore attackmen Will Manny some toys for his junior and senior seasons. The gem of the class is probably midfielder Brandon Gamblin -- a smooth and fearless dodger from Hicksville, N.Y., who could pair immediately with current UMass juniors Anthony Biscardi and Art Kell in 2012. On attack, the Minutemen had a solid in-state pick-up in Grant Whiteway, an explosive right-handed dodger from Billerica, as well as Gamblin's high school teammate Joey Leonard. Goalie Zach Oliveri (Connetquot, N.Y.) is a nice player who could solve some of the Minutemen's keeper issues. They were 52 percent last year between the pipes.

Now, the women...

1. DUKE

Last year, the Blue Devils were a solid defensive, possession-oriented squad who struggled to score goals against top-tier opponents. Give a lot of credit to coach Kerstin Kimel for nabbing midfielder Taylor Trimble (Episcopal Academy) and attacker Brigid Smith (Good Counsel), two prodigious offensive talents who can fill it up in a hurry. Midfielders Chelsea Landon (Nobles & Greenough) and Kerrin Maurer (St. Anthony's) provide some additional firepower between the 30s and in settled situations.

2. NORTH CAROLINA

If Maryland proved anything last year, it's that in the ACC you win games with a deep, athletic midfield. Carolina coach Jenny Levy seemed to take note, and is now stockpiling talent to replace departed talent like Jenn Russell and Megan Bosica. The Tar Heels took a hit when the headliner of the group Kelly McPartland (Farmingdale), reneged on her verbal commitment and signed with Maryland, but expect Samantha McGee (Bryn Mawr, Md.), Morgan Rubin (Bryn Mawr, Md.) and the more defensive-oriented Kelly Devlin (Downingtown East) to contribute immediately between the boxes.

3. BOSTON COLLEGE

The Eagles, coming off a their best season ever, which included a 12-6 record and taking eventual national champion Maryland and ACC rival Duke to the wire, also had a couple of serious recruiting pickups . None more important than end-to-end midfielder Mikaela Rix (Garden City) and slick attacker Covie Stanwick (Notre Dame Prep). Both are blue chips who should contribute immediately at the offensive end.

4. GEORGETOWN

The rich get richer. After head coach Ricky Fried brought in the nation's top-ranked class last year, the Hoya skipper continues to pile up talent. Garden City attacker Caroline Tarzian and Fayetteville-Manlius's Molly Caputo could anchor the Hoyas in the settled offense (where they need a boost with Molly Ford having graduated). Also expect Caroline Seats (Roland Park) and Lauren Schwalje (St. Anthony's) to pair with young athletic midfielders already on the Hilltop (Sophia Thomas, Kelyn Freedman, Hannah Franklin) to make the Hoyas a real terror between the lines.

5. FLORIDA

Pretty terrifying when you consider the Gators, in their first year of competition, went 10-8, including a 14-3 smackdown of Hopkins in the conference playoffs. Even more terrifying? Almost everyone returns, and the recruiting class is loaded. Midfielder Shannon Gilroy (Northport) might be the best player on Long Island. Midfielder Nora Barry (Marcellus) might be the best player in Upstate New York. Both have played varsity since eighth grade, and have sophisticated stickwork and a knack for the goal. Defender Sally Jentis (Ridgewood) is a force to be reckoned with down low and should contribute immediately.


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