As the game of lacrosse continues to grow, the prominence of club programs for boys across the region follows suit, providing high-level options for players to continue their growth and excel.
These programs continue to strive thanks in large part to the talented, knowledgeable staffs in place who work tirelessly to help their players prepare for the game at the highest levels. A quick glance at any of these club programs and it’s easy to see the success stories of their players, a great number of whom have gone on to national prominence at the collegiate levels and beyond.
Earlier this year, New England Lacrosse Journal ranked both the top 100 prep and high school boys prospects from Massachusetts, and the top 100 prep and high school boys prospects from the other New England states.
The Massachusetts list was dominated by Laxachusetts, whose players grabbed 10 of the top 20 spots on the list. But clubs such as Fighting Clams, Prime Time and 3d also were well-represented.
On the New England list, one-fifth of the 100 prospects came out of the NH Tomahawks program, with Sweetlax, RI Bulldogs and Connecticut-based Eclipse and CT Chargers also placing multiple players on the list.
In short, there are many avenues across the region for players to develop their lacrosse skills in the offseason and position themselves to play at the next level. Each state in New England has its own clubs that attract players looking to take their games to the next level.
In order to better understand the club lacrosse scene, New England Lacrosse Journal is going to examine individual clubs, including their history, philosophy and success stories. Over the coming months, NELJ will highlight specific clubs — both boys and girls.
For our debut effort this issue, we take a look at three of the most prominent and successful boys lacrosse clubs:
History: A founding member of the National Lacrosse Federation, alongside five other top-ranked national club programs, Laxachusetts routinely has been rated the top club in New England and one of the best in the country.
Offering elite boys and girls club teams, as well as an intensive “Futures” skill training for grades K-3, the program is aided by a staff loaded with experience at every level of the sport. Laxachusetts also offers the luxury of having 10 different venues across the commonwealth to accommodate a larger pool of players, most all of which are within 30 minutes of any of these facilities.
Brought about by the combination of the original Laxachusetts club model and the Eastern Massachusetts Minutemen’s unique skill program, Laxachusetts players continue to thrive through high school and into college.
“If you have the desire to train and learn how to play lacrosse, we want you,” said David Evans, co-director and college recruiting director for Laxachusetts. “Our guys are playing everywhere, at the highest levels. They’re on All-American banners, they’re players of the year at different positions. You’ve got it all.”
Philosophy/mission: “Character first. We want to work with good kids that make good decisions off the field,” Evans said. “Good teammates, leaders, guys that are hard-working. School is paramount, academics are paramount … we’re trying to instill in them the work ethic that will make them successful in life.”
Evans also stressed the importance of basic skill development — groundballs, throwing and catching.
Success stories: Last season, there were five goalies in Division 1 college lacrosse who played their club ball for Laxachusetts. Notre Dame All-American defenseman John Sexton (Sudbury, Mass.), who now is playing for the Dallas Rattlers of the MLL, is another recent standout from the program.
Will Bowen (Cohasset, Mass.), now a freshman at the University of North Carolina and one of the nation’s top defenders, was once cut from a Laxachusetts club, only to work hard to get back with them. Last year he led Boston College High to a Massachusetts state title.
Then there is Joe Kearney (Duxbury, Mass.), a recent Harvard graduate who, despite having offers at other prestigious institutes, had but one aim as to where he wanted to play in college. He capped his career with an All-Ivy League honorable mention nod.
“That was a product of a kid who just worked hard and his work ethic really paid off,” Evans said. “At the end of the day, he was the best defensemen with his résumé in the country that was still available. That basically forced Harvard’s hand. Now he’s guarding the other team’s best attackman, game in, game out.”
History: After taking over the head coaching role for the firstyear program at Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., in 2003, Chris Cameron found it tough for his top players to get much exposure during the high school season.
In 2005, he saw 24 kids try out for the 22 spots available on his first NH Tomahawks team. The next year, after adding a second team, the number of candidates at tryouts rose to 70. Now the NH Tomahawks see 800-1,000 players trying out for the program, with boys and girls starting as early as kindergarten going all the way through high school.
Cameron moved on from Trinity to Bishop Guertin, building that program into a state powerhouse that has collected nine Division 1 titles in New Hampshire during his tenure. Not surprisingly, the Tomahawks success has been on the same level, cranking out top national talent.
“We want this to be their happy place,” Cameron said. “When they go to practice, we want this to be their best two hours of the day. When they go to a tournament, we want that to be awesome. We want every kid to have a great experience.”
Philosophy/mission: “The focus is developing them to get them ready for high school, one. Then, two, getting recruited by the time they hit their junior year,” Cameron said.
Success stories: The Tomahawks’ class of 2018 saw 60-plus players — boys and girls — continue their careers in college, including Cameron’s son, Brian, at North Carolina and Zach Ludd at Ohio State.
“The coaching is definitely unparalleled, and it is truly the best players,” said Brian Cameron, who played for the Tomahawks from third grade to his senior year at Bishop Guertin. “You get coaches that are college coaches or have experience at a high level. They not only help you on the field, but with the Victory Academy off the field it’s really the best experience possible.”
Last year’s Division 2 national championship for Merrimack saw eight former Tomahawks players (Eric Coburn, Blake Boudreau, Paul Spinney, Mitch Green, Alex Marceau, Drew Johnson, Bailey Walsh and Ryan Burke) contrib-ute to the cause, while Chris Keating (Windham, N.H.) helped Yale win its first Division 1 national championship before being drafted by the MLL’s Dallas Rattlers.
“I guess proud is the best way to describe the success,” Chris Cameron concluded. “We’ve been doing it long enough where kids are getting married and kids are having kids. It’s great. We just want to keep it going for these kids. We feel it brings out the best in them.”
History: The partnering of 401 Next Level LLC and Presslax Inc. in 2016 birthed the RI Bulldogs club lacrosse program. But what the Bulldogs may lack in years, they more than make up for in experience and prestige.
Powered by a pair of legendary coaches in Bryant University’s Mike Pressler and LaSalle Academy’s Steven O’Donnell, the Bulldogs aim to put Rhode Island club lacrosse among the other elite programs in the region.
“Our coaching staff is pretty key,” said Cody O’Donnell, a program director and coach who completed his first professional season with the Boston Cannons earlier in the year. “Having Bryant involved, the kids get to come and have Coach Pressler speak to them and have his insight and wisdom. Our coaching staff is all former college players, former college coaches. I think for us our coaching is top of the line.”
Philosophy/mission: “Our goal right now is to build them up from the youth level, teaching them the fundamentals and lacrosse IQ. As time goes on they keep increasing that and can become a top player at the highest level,” Cody O’Donnell said.
Success stories: Still a fledgling program, there were many top-ranked players coming through the ranks of Next Level and Presslax Inc. prior to the merging, including the likes of Duke attackman Joey Manown (Saundersville, R.I.) and his brother, Matt, a midfielder for Army.
But with the two programs combining, players have received greater exposure already and, with Pressler on board, there is a direct local pipeline to a top program — noted by LaSalle senior defenseman LaJohn Jones’ commitment to the Bulldogs — and a coach willing to help those seeking to find their fit elsewhere.
“It’s good that Coach Pressler is involved,” noted O’Donnell, who played his college ball at Bryant. “If it’s someone he might want to keep local and vice versa, if someone wants to go elsewhere, Coach Pressler is very good at reaching out to other coaches and seeing if that kid can fit. It’s a win-win situation for most of the players.”