Nike/US Lacrosse Midwest Region Report
by Jonah Rosenblum | LaxMagazine.com
Cam Irwin, Glenbrook South (Ill.)
Charlie Venable, Eden Prairie (Minn.)
Tom O'Hara, MICDS (Mo.)
Games to watch
O'Fallon Township (Ill.) at St. Louis University Jesuit (Mo.) — March 22
The Panthers are off to a rip-roaring start, winning their first three contests of the season, including an impressive 15-9 victory at Parkway West and a 14-12 home victory over Cary-Grove (Ill.). O'Fallon Township's first two fallen foes went a combined 24-11 last season. Of course, St. Louis University Jesuit is an opponent of a higher order, having defeated O'Fallon Township 10-4 in 2012. The Panthers' quest for legitimacy will face a critical challenge as they seek to prove that their 3-0 record is more than just a hot start. Give O'Fallon Township credit for challenging itself if nothing else as it will face up-state Land of Lincoln foes New Trier (Ill.) and St. Rita (Ill.) as well as Show Me State foe and MICDS (Mo.) in 2013.
Hinsdale Central (Ill.) at Wheaton Warrenville South (Ill.) — March 20
The Red Devils start their 2013 campaign with eight-straight road games, and with a contest against Louisville St. Xavier (Ky.) looming two days later, the pressure will be on Hinsdale Central (Ill.) to leave the Land of Lincoln with some positive momentum. After all, Louisville St. Xavier plays a tremendously tricky schedule, facing the likes of Carmel (Ind.) and Georgetown Prep (Md.), and has fared decently in the past against both schools. Meanwhile, the Tigers of Wheaton Warrenville South are looking to maintain their recent dominance, which includes three consecutive winning campaigns, two straight four-loss seasons and an impressive knockout of New Trier in last year's state tournament.
Archbishop Moeller (Ohio) at Worthington Kilbourne (Ohio) — April 3
The Worthington Kilbourne Wolves were competitive for the duration of the 2012 season, never losing by more than three goals. Meanwhile, the Crusaders of Archbishop Moeller dropped tightly-fought contests against regional powerhouses Upper Arlington (Ohio) and Brother Rice (Mich.) by two goals apiece and came up one goal short against Dublin Jerome (Ohio). Perhaps most relevant, Archbishop Moeller and Worthington Kilbourne were deeply competitive with each other last season, with the Wolves coming out on top in both meetings by a combined four goals. Quinnipiac commit Alex Burgdorf of Archbishop Moeller and goalkeepers James Gundling and Kyle Johnson of Worthington Kilbourne insure that there will be no soft goals in this heated in-state rivalry contest.
1. Culver Academy (Ind.)
After splitting four games on a grueling East Coast trip and losing to Brother Rice, Culver went on a 12-game tear last year and avenged its loss to the Warriors. Zach Currier (Princeton) and Joel Tinney (Johns Hopkins) starred for Canada's U19 team.
2. Brother Rice (Mich.)
The Warriors' lone two losses came by a combined four goals. Brother Rice went undefeated against Michigan foes for its 10th straight state title. Look for more production from Notre Dame-bound Sergio Perkovic.
3. Dublin Jerome (Ohio)
Dublin Jerome and Upper Arlington are neck-in-neck in Ohio. They played three times in five weeks in 2012 — all one-goal games. Dublin Jerome won two of them, part of an impressive stretch in which it won six of seven on the road.
4. Upper Arlington (Ohio)
While strong in state, a 15-3 loss to Loyola-Blakefield (Md.) and an 11-6 loss to Culver demonstrated Upper Arlington still must establish itself nationally. The Golden Bears have a chance to do so with winnable games in Pennsylvania.
5. Loyola (Ill.)
The Ramblers rebounded from blowout losses to Culver and Brother Rice to beat Lake Forest for the Illinois crown. Their five losses came to teams from Canada, New York, Indiana and Ohio. They must replace goalie Kevin Steger.
6. Eden Prairie (Minn.)
The Eagles return their top four goal-scorers — including Denver-bound Jake Woodring (31 goals) and Brooks Armitage (28 goals) — from a team that fell short in the state final against Eastview.
7. Eastview (Minn.)
The Lightning avenged their only loss, an overtime defeat at Lakeville North, with a decisive 9-5 win in playoffs, and then beat Eden Prairie for the title. They will be hard pressed to replace Jacob Heppner and goalie Andrew Koenen.
8. Worthington Kilbourne (Ohio)
The Wolves jumped out to a 7-0 start, including an impressive win over Calverton (Md.) and a gritty low-scoring win over New Trier. They're still strong defensively with Ryan Maloney and goalies James Gundling and Kyle Johnson.
9. Lake Forest (Ill.)
The Scouts split their first eight games against a daunting schedule that included a trip to Maryland but rebounded to win 14 of their last 16, including a 9-6 victory at New Trier. They'll need more offense with goalie Ethan Ulmer now at Syracuse.
10. Carmel (Ind.)
You can forgive Carmel's one loss at Culver. Against everyone else, the Greyhounds were very good, including wins over New Trier and Louisville St. Xavier (Ky.). They're a sleeper.
News and notes
Into the Fire
For MICDS coach Andy Kay, the nation's capital has become a fixture on the Rams' schedule. Kay, who coached at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes (Va.) before venturing out west, has used his old connections to set up a number of games against Washington D.C. teams. Though his Rams have not fared well against many of their Atlantic Coast challengers, including a 14-5 loss to the Saints in 2009 and a 15-3 loss to St. Stephen's and St. Agnes last season, it has been a valuable experience.
This season, Kay managed to set up a match against St. Albans, where his old athletic director at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes, Gary Schnell, now serves as athletic director. In that contest, his young MICDS team fell behind early and lost, 9-4. Still, Kay said that he was pleased that his team was able to keep St. Albans off the scoreboard for 18 minutes.
"Really, we've been traveling since I got here," Kay said. "The way that the kids have looked at it is it's a lot of pressure on them because they have one shot to beat a D.C. area team. It's a lot of pressure and we lost. Fortunately, we have more than one shot at getting a New Trier or a Memphis University School, schools where we can take what we learned and then hopefully apply it to them and get a win."
For a team that graduated approximately 18 seniors and is only playing three seniors this season, improvement is paramount. Particularly on the defensive end, the Rams will need a young core, led by sophomore goaltender Tom O'Hara, to mature quickly. Though Denison University commit John Coulter and returning three-year starter Andrew Schaberg bring some level of experience to the defense, relative newcomers like O'Hara and bulky freshman defender Jacob Burmeister are being tossed into the fire early against talented teams like New Trier and St. Albans.
"Here in Missouri, we're one of a handful of teams that play at a high level, so I don't have too many concerns about how they'll settle in because we do have an established youth program," Kay said. "When we get out and we play teams like St. Albans or we'll play a more traditional team like a New Trier and Memphis University School here shortly, the reality is that the ball moves so much more quickly in those games. So, I think for our kids, on-ball they do fine, but when you play a high-caliber team that is smart and moves the ball efficiently, I think our kids get lost off-ball."
In their loss to the Bulldogs, their inexperience showed, according to Kay. They were rattled to begin the game and defensive mistakes led to easy goals for St. Albans. But it's far better to make those mistakes now than in games that actually affect the state title race.
"We have a very young, untested group," Kay said. "Some of our goals were frankly rookie mistakes, not covering back side, not having the two slide. We feel like the more opportunities we have to play teams that are good, the more opportunities we have to be exposed early on, and then ultimately, hopefully, that will pay off for us as we play our Missouri schedule."
A Novel Enjoyment
When Andy Kay moved from the fertile lacrosse lands of the Chesapeake Bay region to the wide-open plains of the Midwest, he saw opportunity as well as obvious challenges. He was particularly pleased by his school's support for a youth lacrosse program, chock full of fifth and sixth graders that are just now beginning to filter into his lacrosse program.
"That was my first priority when I got out here was to establish the youth," Kay said. "This current sophomore class is kind of our first wave of kids that have been playing together for five years."
Kay said that when he first came out to the Show Me State, he perhaps tried to show his new players a little bit too much, expecting them to play the same slow-paced, tightly-controlled, high-intelligence games that the high school athletes out east play.
"When I came out here, I think I tried to over-coach the team," Kay said. "Around year three, I kind of just said let's cut loose, and we tried to play a faster pace, and now that our kids have the higher skill set, we have been able to narrow in on our X's and O's so we can try to hang in there against some of these teams that maybe run more bodies than we do."
And for all of the challenges, there are the unique rewards, such as a trip to Philadelphia, in which a cheese steak run led to a run-in with professional lacrosse player Brett Bucktooth.
"Our kids are not too cool for the game," Kay said. "One of our kids said, 'Wow, that's Brett Bucktooth,' and Brett Bucktooth came onto our bus and talked about the spirit of the game, and you know what, I thought that was cool. They don't have that all of the time in St. Louis, whereas out east and in D.C., I think the kids were too cool for something like that. Our kids just soak it all in."
The Youth Movement
Youth is contagious in the Show Me State, where coach Mark Seyer is also dealing with an unusually young team at St. Louis University High School. Seyer said that he has never had more than five freshmen/sophomores on the team before. This season, he has 10 sophomores and a freshman, giving this team a decidedly different look.
"It's the youngest team I've coached my four years here," Seyer said. "There's a lot of potential for these guys to get a lot better. It's exciting for me as a coach to have such a young team."
This new-look team is due in no small part to the increased presence of youth lacrosse in the St. Louis area, which has led to players exhibiting varsity-level skill sets at far younger ages than ever before.
"That kind of alludes to the fact that the youth talent in St. Louis is really starting to come up," Seyer said. "We're seeing a lot more kids freshman year that have two, three, four, five years experience in the game. They're not starting from scratch their freshman year. They're able to jump in and be a major participant right off the bat."
Given that the usual mix for a high school team is to have a bunch of seniors accompanied by a smattering of juniors and sophomores, the Bills will need to strive for a different social dynamic, given the unusual makeup of their team.
"Coming off of years past, the team has always been, there has always been a bond — you can see it, you can tell — that the kids have with each other," Seyer said. "With the diversity in the age groups more so this year than last year and in years past, you can tell that they're working toward that relationship right now. It's been a good challenge."
Still, if the Bills are no longer senior-saturated, they're certainly senior-led. Justin Mayfield remains the leader on the offensive end while Stephen Lordo will serve as a mentor on the defensive end. Both have committed to play college ball at Robert Morris University.
"Our seniors really truly are leaders," Seyer said. "Defensively, Stephen Lordo, who is committed to Robert Morris, is really locking down our defense and teaching these younger kids the way how to play, schematically, on-ball, off-ball defense and all that good stuff. On the offensive side, Justin Mayfield is another commit to Robert Morris. We've got some younger attack guys that he is going to be mentoring a little bit. We've got a senior goalie, three-year varsity starter, so he has a lot of experience, and he's really coming out of his shell as a leader on the team."
If their youth showed in their season-opening tigher-than-expected 5-4 victory over Rockwood Summit (Mo.), the Bills will rely on Mayfield, Lordo and the rest of their senior class to get them back on track fast. After all, meetings with O'Fallon Township, New Trier, MICDS, Carmel and Worthington Kilbourne await.
"It took us by a bit of surprise. It was a good battle, opening the season up. If anything, it was an eye-opener for our guys," Seyer said. "It's a challenging schedule. That's what we set out to do at the beginning of the year. That's the expectation. That's where I want us to be."
Check back to LaxMagazine.com every other Wednesday throughout the high school season for updates to the Nike/US Lacrosse Regional Boys' Top 10 rankings and the Nike/US Lacrosse National Boys' Top 25.