Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series that examines the history, philosophy and success stories of the top club lacrosse programs in New England.
Most all club programs provide the opportunity for a player to continue to blossom within the game, working diligently at the fundamentals and skills versus some high-level competition.
In choosing a club based on those priorities the decision-making process can be difficult, but in finding what makes each program unique, parents and players are in a position to make the process much easier.
In New England, there are many options for those looking to up their game on the club level. In this issue, we look at three clubs (Top Gun Fighting Clams, Piatelli Lacrosse and 3D Lacrosse) that have earned a reputation for providing exceptional experiences for all involved parties.
Top Gun Fighting Clams
History: The Top Gun All Stars, a team built in the 1990s, became the Top Gun Fighting Clams in early 2003, according to the club’s website. Much like the team changed names, president Justin Walker admits he has changed a lot over the years, too.
“When I started this in 2001, I was win-at-all-costs,” he said. “We never lost to another team in Massachusetts. I did everything I could to win every game. I’d take kids from other clubs. I didn’t care how I was perceived. That got us a foothold, but when you do something as long as I have, you take a longer view. I’ve backed off on my abrasiveness.”
He views the current club landscape as one that works well together.
“We’re fortunate as a region,” he said. “One thing that’s cool is we have a number of clubs, but we all have mutual respect for one another. We all work effectively as a region.”
Philosophy/mission: “We’ve kept a competitive approach but seeing the big picture, worrying about each particular family, each particular player, and each particular outcome and what it means for the family and player instead of what the outcome of a game or tournament means for the club,” Walker said. “If you focus on the player, then the club will be just fine.”
Looking toward the future, Walker said he doesn’t want the club to grow too big that he couldn’t intelligently talk about every player in the program. His goal for the club is to continue to surpass its averages for players moving on to the next level.
“The cool thing is our averages aren’t just three or four seasons, it’s a lot of seasons,” he said. “I measure our success with the individual going to the right school, recognizing that player, but also our club against ourselves. When I started doing this, I was so hell-bent on looking at other clubs and measuring ourselves against them. These days, I don’t measure us against our competitors, necessarily, but against our history. I know we’re improving. That’s my biggest thing, to exceed our own standards.”
Success stories: The Fighting Clams program is home to one of the most notable lacrosse players to come out of the New England region: Max Quinzani (Duxbury, Mass.). He was a three-time state champion at Duxbury High School and was twice named Player of the Year by The Boston Globe.
Quinzani played collegiately at Duke, where he was a three-time All-American selection and graduated fourth in program history with 236 career points. He was drafted into Major League Lacrosse and helped the Boston Cannons win their first — and only – league championship in 2011 during the famous “Hurricane Games.”
A total of 18 former Clams have played professionally — 17 in MLL, including Tim Fallon (who will coach the 2022 Fighting Clams team), James Fahey and Larken Kemp, who played at Brown and was drafted by the Denver Outlaws in the second round of the 2017 MLL collegiate draft.
According to the program’s website, since 2003, 635 players from the program have played or are committed to play collegiate lacrosse, with an average of 15 players going to Division 1 between 2006 and ’17.
Walker said the club landscape has changed in a way that is helping to develop more and more talented players.
“Playing club used to be done to gain an advantage,” he said. “Now it’s done to not be at a disadvantage. It’s made more players very good. There’s more people working hard enough to be very good.”
History: Spun off of the Warrior Elite program, the club’s objective is “to create a team and family atmosphere based around the sport of lacrosse.”
Owner/director Jack Piatelli, a highly experienced jack-of-all-trades in the lacrosse world, wanted to start his own club program for his two sons with different philosophies than other clubs he had encountered. The goal was to emphasize the development of players while working as a team, being the best possible teammate and creating a fun environment.
“It’s not a bunch of independent contractors going out to play for themselves to get recruited,” Piatelli said. “It’s about working for your teammates and understanding what their strengths and weaknesses are. If you have a better understanding at that, you’re going to be able to compete at a higher level.”
With a plethora of highly experienced, top-level coaches chipping in, the program has quickly gained a reputation as a staunch competitor at all levels.
Philosophy/mission: The team-first philosophy has allowed Piatelli Lacrosse to create an entire family atmosphere within the levels, which consists of 20 boys teams broken down by region (617 Kings, Central Kings, Pioneer Kings) and graduating class.
“There is definitely this family atmosphere. People want to stick together. The boys hang out together,” said Shelley Alexander, mother of twins Tanner and Teagan, who play on the 2020 team and who both have committed to play Division 1 lacrosse at Bryant.
“They are as committed to each other as they are to their own development,” added Bo Koloski, who serves as a coach with the 2026 club. “Kids are pulling for each other.”
Success stories: With the team concept, Piatelli is cranking out players who are ready to contribute immediately to their college program. The 2017 club saw 19 of its 19 players go on the play at the next level, including John Piatelli (Cornell), Logan Liljeberg (Sacred Heart) and Bryce Adam (Tufts).
“I think the personal relationships you make within your team and with the coaches, that’s what sets that program apart from everybody else,” Adam said of his time with the club.
“The most enjoyable thing to me is to see their coaches and have them comment on how successful they have been as freshmen and now sophomores,” said Keith Campbell, who coached the 2017 squad alongside Bussy Adam.
History: The club is a national lacrosse services company, originating from Denver, that offers training for both boys and girls at the youth and high school levels, tournament events, recruiting showcases, travel teams and box lacrosse leagues.
The club expanded outside of Colorado, bringing a headquarters office to Boston and including two different local markets to service northern New England and southern New England. The club is known for including box lacrosse training in its player development.
Matt Rowley is the director for the New England and national club. He is most proud of how the New England arm of the club has grown since his arrival in 2011.
“We had a lot of parents take bets on us that we’d make their kids better and do our best to place them in the right schools,” he said. “With Dave Jenkins, who had no experience, and myself, coming from another club, it would be easy to stay the status quo. They took a bet on us and it worked out.
“From working at a Starbucks 10 years ago to an office with 10 people,” Rowley added, “I’m proud of what we’ve done and the kids we’ve had and being able to deliver on the promises we’ve made.”
Philosophy/mission: “We believe our job is to make kids as good as we can and develop them in as many facets of the game as we can to build skilled lacrosse players and high-IQ players,” Rowley said. “One of our goals is to produce a player where coaches can say, ‘That’s a 3D Lacrosse player.’ He learned skills that are recognizable. When they go to college, we want them to be ready to play, whether that’s for a college practice or the workload, just address all the things they need to understand going to college.”
Looking toward the future, Rowley applauded the collaborative effort New England-based clubs have shown in recent years, including playing in 3D’s Premier Lacrosse League, which features competitive games between clubs from around the region. He’d like to see the collaboration continue.
“The more we can create opportunities for kids to compete in areas, the better we’ll be. With new recruiting rules, I think staying home is more important,” he said. “I think the early recruiting, at times, pushed people into traveling to Baltimore or Long Island as many times as they could, chasing recruiting opportunities. As those dwindle, our opportunities will be at home. We have great clubs here. We don’t have to go to Baltimore 10 times a year to find competition.”
Success stories: Two names jump off the list of players from the New England region of 3D Lacrosse, both from the class of 2015: Pat Foley (Winchester, Mass.) and Ryder Garnsey (Wolfeboro, N.H.).
Foley is a defenseman at Johns Hopkins. After starting all 15 games as a freshman, he did not play in the 2017 season. He returned in 2018 and made an immediate impact, scoring the first goal two minutes into the opener against Towson. He finished the season with the team lead in caused turnovers (14) and was named USILA All-American (third team) and Inside Lacrosse All American (first team).
Garnsey, an attackman at Notre Dame, has led the Fighting Irish in points each of the past two seasons, totaling 43 points as both a sophomore and junior. In his sophomore season he also was named a USILA All-American honorable mention.
In the same class as Garnsey and Foley is Boston College women’s standout Dempsey Arsenault (New Hampton, N.H.), who was named an IWLCA All-American (first team) after completing a junior season with 64 goals, 39 assists, 139 points, 111 draw controls, 30 caused turnovers and a team-best 59 ground balls.
The club also was home to James Leary (Seabrook, N.H.), who played Division 1 college lacrosse at Vermont and played in Major League Lacrosse with the Atlanta Blaze as well as being drafted in the National Lacrosse League by the Philadelphia Wings.
The program has had a number of Division 1 successes, but Rowley is proud of the players who have gone on to play at smaller schools as well.
“It’s a result of our training philosophy,” he said, “and making sure we are placing kids in the right school for them.”