Constructing a roster in the prep lacrosse world isn’t quite a Herculean task, but it’s one that certainly requires shrewd moves and knowledge of the sport’s landscape.
Just ask Stew Curran, the head coach at Thayer Academy, which is a member of the Independent League School. As part of the ISL, Curran isn’t allowed to recruit, which leads to about 50 percent of his roster coming organically from the student body and the other 50 percent being applicants.
So when Curran goes about assembling his roster, he leans upon his relationships in the lacrosse world, specifically throughout the club scene.
“There’s always seven or eight kids in a grade who are connected through Fighting Clams or Laxachusetts or Eastern Mass Hawks or other club teams,” Curran said. “These kids, they all seem to know each other.”
Adam White, coach of ISL champion St. Sebastian’s, also encounters the league’s recruiting ban, though he’s not opposed to that obstacle by any means. With a rich lacrosse history, the allboys school in Needham, Mass., inherently has a significant chunk of students who normally play.
Thus, White isn’t really hitting the pavement, looking to convince student-athletes that St. Seb’s is the right fit for them. Instead, he relies on a fluid system with the school’s five teams, one which allows him to be a “teacher first, coach second,” and call players up as the game schedule demands.
“There are times where you look around at programs than can recruit because they’re not in the ISL, where it seems like they can plug in a player no problem,” White said. “I kind of go, ‘That looks nice. I’d love to be able to pluck a guy off the street and bring him in.’ On the balance, it works out much better our way where we build from the ground up.”
On the flip side, others across the vast prep lacrosse landscape aren’t limited by such rules when building their teams.
Just ask someone like Justin Simon, the head coach at the New Hampton School, who liberally talks about recruiting when discussing the topic of roster construction. Outside of coaching in the Lakes Region Conference, he helps out with 3d Rising, an elite club program that affords him the luxury of traveling all over the country to watch games.
His recruiting efforts are slowly branching out to the West Coast and Texas, two non-traditional lacrosse areas, and that same strategy helped him land Dominic Dimitroff this past year as a post-graduate, following his career at prep power Deerfield Academy. The two met through 3d several years ago, which eventually led to the Holy Cross commit and midfielder electing New Hampton for his PG year.
“I get exposed to kids from all over the country and develop these relationships with kids when they’re younger,” Simon said. “When they get to the high school level, I’ve already been in contact and established a relationship so we can start recruiting them. I think it’s important to really know who you’re coaching, and the goal is to develop these kids so they’re ready to play at the next level.”
Ian Boldt, the head coach at Cushing, shared a similar experience, though his recruiting tale branches into Canada, the game’s birthplace, and a place many college programs turn to for talent.
Braydan Walker, a sophomore attack from Ancaster, Ontario, became interested in Cushing last year after Boldt developed a relationship with his father. After a campus tour, squaring away transcripts and selling the program as a whole, Walker enrolled for 2016-17 as a freshman, exploding for nearly 70 points. That success story now has Cushing working closely with the Apex Lacrosse Club up in Edmonton.
“His dad has been great in hooking me up with guys from Alberta, where he’s originally from, and now in Ontario where he just moved,” Boldt said. “That’s been a big thing for me. A ton of kids are looking to come down to the States, which is pretty cool. It’s a fun opportunity to build those bridges.”
Whichever approach a school takes, the method remains the same at its core. Coach es catch wind of a player who’s interested in the prep school lacrosse experience, their family visits campus for a tour and the coach does his or her due diligence with research — watching film, talking to contacts and watching the prospective student-athlete in person, if possible.
It’s a process that Al Brown, the longtime coach at Portsmouth Abbey, spoke at great length about, one that helped him develop a relationship with the Kreinz family from Wisconsin. At a camp in the Badger State, Brown got to talking with Drake Kreinz, a midfielder who had dreams of playing Division 1 lacrosse. A repeat junior season at Portsmouth Abbey ignited those hopes, as he landed at Penn State, where he developed into a top faceoff guy and will be a key part of the team in his redshirt senior season this year.
With Drake’s dream realized, eventually his younger brothers Austin, who played at Penn, and Logan, a Marquette commit, ended up at the Rhode Island-based prep school. As Brown said with a laugh, it was the perfect case where all the pieces fell perfectly into place.
“You can’t plan those types of situations,” Brown said, “but they happen.”
While coaches sometimes get creative in building their roster — either from the ground up or from outside — there’s also an unavoidable restraint prep schools face: the money. Such institutions can easily cost between $30,000 and $40,000, so if the financial aid piece doesn’t work out, an acceptance letter might ultimately be null and void.
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of good players out there, but you can’t take them all,” Boldt said. “The financial aid piece is tough.”
There’s the academic piece, too, one where a player’s grades have to be commensurate with their skills on the field. For Simon, he said a student-athlete’s grades arguably are what he’s looking at the most.
“They need to be able to do it in the classroom,” Simon said. “That’s just how we’re recruiting. I want to make sure that these guys are going on and representing their families and themselves and New Hampton in the future.”
But, if all the pieces come together, prep school lacrosse has the potential to be an invaluable experience for a student-athlete. And that’s why coaches search for the best talent, with some crossing borders and others sticking right in their backyard. Either way, the end goal remains the same.
“At the end of the day, they’re students, they’re kids,” Curran said. “They want to be led in such a way that allows them to feel good about what they’re doing, challenge themselves and set and achieve lofty goals. That’s what we try to do.”