30 in 30: Can Van de Veerdonk Be a Household Name?
|He wasn't the most polished
player coming out of high school, but with a tremendous amount of
hard work, Jimmy van de Veerdonk has become one of the best players
in NCAA Division III. "We looked like geniuses after that," said
Oneonta State head coach Dan Mahar.
© Jamey Novick Photography & Design
With all of the NCAA Division III programs and the student-athletes they feature, it's easy to quietly be one of the best all-around players in the country. It's even easier when you're playing in the SUNYAC, which has been shrouded by the Cortland colossus for nearly a decade.
It's a little harder to operate quietly when your name has as many syllables as some sentences. Still, Jimmy van de Veerdonk is hoping to make his final season at Oneonta State one that not only re-establishes the Red Dragons as an upstate power, but makes his lengthy Dutch surname synonymous with excellence in the midfield.
Since the day he first arrived in Oneonta, van de Veerdonk has done it all, and last year put it all on display. Taking all of the important faceoffs for Dragons, he won an astounding 64.5 (205-for-318) of his draws while also finishing as the team's leading scorer (36g, 10a). He's also a premier short-stick defensive middie.
"He's our best left-handed shooter and best right-handed shooter. He's our best dodger," said Dan Maher, Oneonta's head coach. "There have been countless times over the last couple of years where Jimmy's been at faceoff, he's picking it up with a full head of steam and taking it on a fast break down the throat of the defense. You can't stop it. There's nothing you can do to stop that situation. To have a guy with that kind of versatility be your best player, it is just a tremendous asset for us."
* * *
When Mahar was recruiting van de Veerdonk out of Putnam Valley, N.Y., located 50 miles north of Manhattan, he saw huge potential but raw lacrosse talent. A football standout and all-sectional swimmer, van de Veerdonk missed most of his junior spring after an ACL injury on the gridiron, leaving him off the radar during the height of recruiting season.
"He was basically a great athlete who was very unpolished," Mahar said. "We saw him and thought he had potential. We kind of took a chance on him hoping that his potential would be realized and he would make a commitment to lacrosse. I don't think he really bought into lacrosse until the summer after his junior year."
It was then that van de Veerdonk showed his penchant for hard work. He hit the weight room and training circuit – he's a CrossFit junky – while spending inordinate time on the wall. He came out for his senior year and crushed it for Putnam Valley, earning All-American honors. He arrived at Oneonta and quickly carved out a starting spot.
Part of his determination was likely the result of being the son of a construction man – Jimmy's father, Thomas, operates Dutchman Contracting, Inc. – but primarily it was an unwillingness to stand on the sidelines.
"My expectations for myself are to make an impact," van de Veerdonk said. "I've never been on a team where I've just sat on the bench or was second string. I was always first string, so I had a high expectations. I worked hard."
"We looked like geniuses after that," said Mahar, with a chuckle. "There's no one that I've been around who works harder in the offseason at their game and their body than Jimmy. Just being a physically dominating force. That's really his bottom line."
* * *
Van de Veerdonk's ability to dominate on faceoffs as well as impact both ends of the fields is nothing new. Roanoke's Justin Tuma and Cortland's Chris DeLuca, both of whom graduated in 2011, are two guys who helped set the mold. Van de Veerdonk is slightly different, however.
First, unlike those other two, van de Veerdonk is not surrounded with All-Americans as the other aforementioned players. Oneonta is certainly on the upswing, trying to replicate the magic that earned the Dragons a bid to the NCAA tourney in 1999, but they don't have anything close to the tradition of the teams at the top of the division.
* Day 11 | Where Does UNC Turn for 'D'?
* Week 1 | Week 2
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While van de Veerdonk has had to fly solo at times, thanks to his presence, that might change this spring.
This year's incoming freshman class is probably the best in program history, and there are guys like senior attackman John DeOrdio (21g, 14a) and senior goalie Chris Miles (67.9 sv%) who have the ability to change the game while van de Veerdonk is dealing with double- and triple-teams.
"We're only a couple of weeks into fall ball, but I can tell you that we're a better team than we were last year and we've had more balance," Mahar said. "Even with Jimmy being Jimmy and doing all the things he does for us, we have more pieces than we've had in the past who can contribute.
"His goal, and our goal for him, is to be the best player in the country, but he recognizes he can't do that on his own, and we recognize that we have to put some pieces around him and take a little bit of pressure and be more productive off the ball. We've done a nice job of building some pieces around him. We'll see how it all works out."
Second, those other two players were offense-first guys, with faceoffs taking a secondary role. They could handle their business at the dot, but their respective coaching staffs made sure they were as fresh as possible for work on the goal-scoring end, subbing in other faceoff specialists liberally to lessen the burden.
For van de Veerdonk, faceoffs take priority.
"That's my favorite part of the game, because that's where possessions come from," he said. "If I didn't face off, it wouldn't ruin my game, but it would take away a big part of how I produce offense. Sometimes I'll run it down, I'll pass it and the attackman will score. Then I'm in a rhythm. I'll win it again, come down and score and it just turns into a routine. I can't let that up."
He'd be a 60-minute man if it was possible, but when a break is needed, he's willing to give up a little glory to ensure he has things locked down as the Dragons' top defensive middie.
"On defense, I'll never come off the field, but sometimes I'll go off the field on offense," van de Veerdonk said. "It may be a crucial time of the game, but I know I've got to be out there with fresher legs on defense, so I'll take a break for a minute or two."
* * *
Coaches and opponents understand how much of a game-changer he is, cemented by the fact that he was named a second-team All-American for a program that finished with a 5-10 record in 2012.
"How good is he?"
That's the rhetorical question that Cortland head coach Steve Beville responded with, almost in reverential tones, when asked about van de Veerdonk. Coaches and opponents understand how much of a game-changer he is, cemented by the fact that he was named a second-team All-American playing for a program that finished with a 5-10 record in 2012.
Oneonta made it to the four-team SUNYAC playoffs, but expectations are higher this spring.
"Cortland is basically our goal," van de Veerdonk said. "Every game we play is to prepare for Cortland. Every practice is to get them off the map and get Oneonta up there."
It's a dangerous objective. The "other" Red Dragons might not only be the team to beat in the SUNYAC, but in the country. It's also somewhat out of character for Oneonta's best player.
"He's a quiet guy, but he is a ruthless competitor once he puts his helmet on," Mahar said. "He gets fired up. On gameday, he's a machine."
"I lead by example, but my senior year in high school I was made captain and we won sectionals," van de Veerdonk said. "I was very vocal. I was everybody's best friend, but I was people's worst enemy, as well. And I'm going to bring that here this year. I've already started it."
Jimmy van de Veerdonk. Remember the name.