Michigan Lacrosse and the Canadian Question

Michigan Lacrosse and the Canadian Question

Submitted by Brooks on June 30th, 2011 at 11:16 PM

 

My next diary entry was supposed to be Part III in my recruiting analysis (Feel free to check out Part I and Part II), but I wanted to address a question/assertion that has appeared several times in the comments of both posts.  A lot of readers have asserted that Michigan needs to make headway recruiting Canadian players if they want to compete quickly at the D1 level in lacrosse.  Canadians are certainly not new to college lacrosse, after all arguably the two greatest players of all time were the Canadian brothers Gary and Paul Gait, who won 3 National Titles for Syracuse in the late 80s.

In the last two years, however, there has been a spike in interest in Canadian players in the media, particularly ESPN/Inside Lacrosse Magazine’s Quint Kessich.  This attention has stemmed from the success of a couple of Canadian players the last couple of years.  The most famous is Kevin Crowley of Stony Brook, who was one the NCAA scoring leaders in 2010 and a preseason favorite for the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2011.  Hofstra attackmen Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln also impressed many with their breakout performance in 2010 and great follow up in 2011.  Sophomore Matt Cockerton had a solid season for NCAA champion Virginia this year, totaling 17 points and showing that Canada produces players than can contribute on the deepest of squads and on the biggest stages.  More and more teams are recruiting Canadian players, so do they provide Michigan with a “magic bullet” in recruiting?

 

What Canadian Players Bring To Your Team

I will admit this is a gross generalization upfront.  Obviously each player’s experience and talent are unique, and many Canadian players actually attend school in the US and play here more than in their hometowns, and much of this will sound as asinine as “you recruit football players from Florida because they’re faster!”  With that out of the way, here’s how Canadian players in general are different from Americans.

Here is a highlight video of Virginia from 2010.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fO_uWWrqm20

If you are not familiar with lacrosse, you can get a feel for what the game is like from these camera angles.  In lacrosse you always have to keep 3 players on the offensive side of the field, and 4 players on your defensive side.  So, although you have 9 field players plus 1 goalie on the field at all times, in settled situations the game is actually played 6v6.  The lacrosse field is 120 yards x 60 yards, so that gives the offense a tremendous amount of room to create shots.  One player normally will initiate the offense by dodging (driving) to cage, another player will cut to cage/backdoor for an easy shot, and a third player will pop out into space for an outside shot/pull the ball out and regroup.  For the vast majority of Americans, this is the only type of lacrosse they play.

Canadians, on the other hand, tend to grow up playing a lot more indoor lacrosse (also called box lacrosse, box or boxla).  Lacrosse was a way for hockey rink owners to keep their spaces busy in the summer once the ice melted in Canada (and the Great Lakes), so for the better part of a century this has been how Canadian players were introduced to the game.  This is what box lacrosse looks like at the highest level.

http://www.youtube.com/user/NLL?blend=3&ob=5#p/u/31/hNvK6N5Qi9g

It almost looks like two completely different games.  While outdoor lacrosse looks like basketball on a soccer field, box lacrosse is hockey played with the ball in the air rather than a puck on the ground (literally.  Check out the goalie pads and how they hold their sticks.  Also, feel free to check out any of the inordinate number of fight highlights they offer).  You play only play 5v5 in box and on field the size of a hockey rink.

With this different experience, Canadians bring a completely different skill set to their teams when they start playing outdoors for American colleges.  In box lacrosse, the field is obviously much smaller and the game is more compact, so Canadian players are used to playing in much tighter spaces than Americans.  It is a game that rewards quickness in the first step, since the field is smaller burst is much more important than 40 yard dash speed, so Canadian players are very explosive dodgers.  They are also used to passing into very, very tight windows, and just as importantly, they are used to catching passes under great duress.  Finally, they are used to shooting at a goal that is half the size of a field lacrosse goal and against goalies wearing hockey pads, so they tend to be very accurate shooters with a quick release.  When they get to college they don’t lose any of these skills, and they are suddenly given a space twice as big to work with.  These skills, again speaking in broad generalities, make Canadians great attackman and crease players.  They make great attackman because they are quick, know how to create offense on their own with little space, and are very accurate feeding to the crease, despite not having the full out speed to run 120 yards back and forth with the midfielders.   They make great crease players because they are great at catching the ball in traffic, so they get passes other players would miss, and their shot release is so quick and accurate they score before the defense can collapse on them.

Here is a 1 minute highlight of Hofstra’s star Canadian Jamie Lincoln.  He’s #8, but you’ll recognize him as they guy involved in every goal for the gold team.  The video isn’t great, but you can see how precise his passes are, as well as how creative and accurate his own shot selection is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90BUt47yktg

 

So Are Canadians The Key For Michigan Recruiting?

Despite the media attention, the numbers are not there for Canadian recruiting to justify the hype quite yet.  There were only 18 Canadian players total on the roster of the Top 8 D1 programs last year, which is 5% of the total rosters.  Even Denver, who received the most hype of any team for the way they were recruiting out of Canada since supposedly it was key to their rise from nothing to the Final Four in two years, only has 4 players from our neighbor to the North.  According to Laxpower.com, only 29 Canadians total have signed D1 letters for the Class of 2011 (H/T to Tim for passing on that link).  That’s 3% of the total players signed for this year, or just under what Virginia alone produced (which itself is not a hotbed).

So, it appears as of now that Canada is not as much an untapped resource as it is a place where it’s very top level players are getting a lot of media attention.  And rightly so, since these Canadian players mentioned are tremendous.  If Michigan can get top players out of Canada that would be tremendous, but I do not think it’s the land of diamonds in the rough that some have made it out to be.

 

I’ll be back with Part III next week.

Intro To Lacrosse, Part II: How Michigan's Roster Stacks Up

Intro To Lacrosse, Part II: How Michigan's Roster Stacks Up

Submitted by Brooks on June 23rd, 2011 at 12:09 PM

HelmetBeauty-200x300

(photo courtesy of mgobluelacrosse.com)

It’s time for Part II of my Introduction to Lacrosse Recruiting.  In this section, I will compare Michigan’s roster to some of the top programs in Division 1 Lacrosse.

Before we get into Michigan’s roster, I will explain the data that I tried to track with all of the rosters. First, I tracked the number of Inside Lacrosse Top 100 players (lacrosse&rsquao;s equivalent of the Rivals 250). The other piece of data I kept track of, for lack of a better term, is the “pedigree” of the players by following their location and whether or not their high school is listed on Laxpower.com’s Top 100 High Schools for 2011 (the BCS rankings of high school lacrosse, Laxpower uses a formula to rank all 3,000+ high schools that play lax in the country from #1-#3,000. It has yet to state why it is better than a playoff). As the comments from my last post showed, the lacrosse community assumes that only the top-ranked national high schools produce D1-level players, and the only players on these top college teams are from the four major hotbeds (New York, Maryland/DC, New Jersey, Pennsylvania). 

My hope is that we can see whether or not these locations and schools actually produce D1 talent in the numbers most people assume. That will give us a sense of how long it will take Michigan become a nationally competitive lacrosse program.

I know I should have averaged out the last 4 years of Laxpower ratings rather than just taking one year seemingly at random, but at the end of the day all national rankings are based mostly on reputation so there is not great variance in who is in the Top 100 year after year. This is an opening analysis, so if anyone wants to make it more precise, I’d love to read what you find.

Michigan Roster Analysis

I started with Michigan’s roster from 2007, the year before they won their first national title, and ended with the 2011 roster.  In terms of location, here is where Michigan has drawn their players from over the past five years:

State

'07

%

'08

%

'09

%

'10

%

'11

%

MI

17

43.5

19

48.7

17

43.5

13

28.2

14

35

NY

6

15.3

4

10.2

4

10.2

5

10.8

1

2.5

NJ

6

15.3

4

10.2

4

10.2

4

8.7

2

5

MD

3

7.7

3

7.7

2

5.1

3

6.5

4

10

PA

 

 

1

2.5

1

2.5

1

2.1

2

5

CT

 

 

2

5.1

1

2.5

2

4.3

3

7.5

MA

 

 

1

2.5

1

2.5

2

4.3

1

2.5

VA

1

2.5

 

 

1

2.5

2

4.3

 

 

IL

3

7.7

1

2.5

2

5.1

4

8.7

1

2.5

CO

1

2.5

2

5.1

2

5.1

1

2.1

1

2.5

FL

 

 

 

 

1

2.5

1

2.1

1

2.5

DC

 

 

 

 

1

2.5

1

2.1

1

2.5

KY

1

2.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MO

1

2.5

1

2.5

1

2.5

 

 

 

 

CA

 

 

1

2.5

1

2.5

3

6.5

2

5

OH

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

4.3

3

7.5

MN

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

2.1

1

2.5

UT

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

2.1

1

2.5

TX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

2.5

Michigan’s roster has changed over the last five years as they became an MCLA juggernaut. The number of Michigan kids on the roster has dropped from a near majority in 2008 (nearly 49%) to a mere plurality this past season (35%). It has increased its draw from 9 states to 15 in 2011, which shows that the team’s name recognition increased as the team began winning MCLA titles.

The team has remained heavily dependent upon players from the Midwest. In 2007, the team had 21 players from the Midwest—almost 54% of the roster; in 2011, it had 21 players—51% of the roster. The East Coast representation has dropped slightly in this stretch, starting at 16 players (40%) and ending with 14 (35%). The remnants come from the South and the West.

Michigan has never signed an Inside Lacrosse Top 100 player, which should not be a surprise since it wasn’t a varsity team. In 2007 the team had 3 players from Top 50 high schools and 8 from the Top 100; 2008 had 3 Top 50 high schools, 8 Top 100; 2009 had 5 Top 50 and 10 Top 100; 2010 had 4 Top 50 and 9 Top 100; and in 2011 the team had 2 Top 50 high schools and 6 Top 100 high schools represented. On average, that comes out to 3.4 kids out of Top 50 high schools each season and 8.2 kids out of Top 100 high schools on the roster each season.

How Michigan Stacks Up Nationally

I chose eight schools to compare with Michigan’s roster. Here’s how I chose them (I will look at Michigan's conference, the ECAC, in my next entry):

  • Virginia, Maryland, Duke, Denver: The 2011 Final Four participants. Since that’s the ultimate goal for any program, those are the teams we want to compare ourselves to first
  • Cornell, Syracuse: They were the #1 and #2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and champions of two of the toughest conferences in lacrosse (Ivy and Big East). They missed the Final Four, but were the class of lacrosse for most of the season
  • Johns Hopkins: They are the Notre Dame [Ed-M: ... when ND was relevant] of lacrosse. This year they were the #3 seed in the NCAA tournament. They have the most wins in lacrosse history and the most Final Fours even though they are not affiliated with a conference
  • Notre Dame: They were #1 for a good portion of the season, came in second in the Big East, and were NCAA runner ups in 2010. Also, they happen to be the closest to Ann Arbor in terms of location and were the last BCS school to add lacrosse (in 1981)
  • It also happens that these teams are ranked #1-8 in Inside Lacrosse’s way-too-early 2012 Preseason Poll.

Not infallible, but I hope you see the rationale.  On to the breakdown!

Virginia

2011: 13-5 (National Champions)
2012 Preseason: #1
Inside Lacrosse Top 50 Young Guns on Roster: 30
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 11 Top 50/18 Top 100
2010 Recruiting Class Rank: #4

Roster breakdown:

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

New York

9

21.9

Maryland

8

19.5

New Jersey

4

9.7

Virginia

4

9.7

Ontario

3

7.3

Connecticut

2

4.8

Pennsylvania

2

4.8

Massachusetts

2

4.8

Florida

1

2.4

Illinois

1

2.4

Rhode Island

1

2.4

California

1

2.4

North Carolina

1

2.4

Delaware

1

2.4

New Hampshire

1

2.4

 

Maryland

2011: 14-4 (NCAA Runner-Up, ACC Tournament Champion)
2012 Preseason: #7
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns Roster: 27
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 9/19
2010 Recruiting Class Rank: #3

Roster breakdown:

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

Maryland

23

46.9

New York

6

14.6

Pennsylvania

5

10.2

Virginia

3

6.1

New Jersey

2

4

Florida

2

4

Ohio

2

4

Washington

2

4

Connecticut

1

2

Michigan

1

2

Massachusetts

1

2

North Carolina

1

2

Duke

2011: 14-5 (NCAA Final Four, ACC Runner Up)
2012 Preseason Rank: #3
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on Roster: 20
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 13/20
2010 Recruiting Class Rank: 5

Roster Breakdown:

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

New York

12

29.2

Maryland

5

12.1

Pennsylvania

5

12.1

Connecticut

5

12.1

Massachusetts

4

9.7

New Jersey

3

7.3

New Hampshire

2

4.8

Ohio

1

2.4

Alberta

1

2.4

Texas

1

2.4

California

1

2.4

North Carolina

1

2.4

One thing to note about the number of Young Guns on Duke: Their program took a big hit after the infamous “Duke Lacrosse Party/Sexual Incident/Legal Clusterfuck” of 2006. The program was suspended for a year, an entire senior class was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, and a new coach was brought in. Not surprisingly, that led to a junior class (class of 2008) that only had 2 Top 100 players. Expect a big bounce back in that number over the next 2 years for Duke.

Denver

2011: 16-2 (NCAA Final Four, ECAC Champ)
2012 Preseason: #4
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on Roster: 8
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 12/17
2010 Recruiting Class: Not ranked (so below 20)

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

Colorado

9

20.9

Connecticut

6

13.9

Maryland

4

9.3

New Jersey

4

9.3

Ontario

3

6.9

Massachusetts

2

4.6

California

2

4.6

Rhode Island

2

4.6

Washington DC

1

2.3

Illinois

1

2.3

Minnesota

1

2.3

Kentucky

1

2.3

Arizona

1

2.3

British Columbia

1

2.3

Washington

1

2.3

Missouri

1

2.3

Florida

1

2.3

Ohio

1

2.3

Oregon

1

2.3

Denver is an interesting case. They came out of nowhere this year to make the Final Four (they have made the NCAA before, but never before had it made it to the Final Four). They are in a strange location as they are the Westernmost D1 school. The closest school to them in terms of distance is Notre Dame [edit: unless you forget to count Air Force. So, one of two teams in Colorado and west of Notre Dame. Thanks for the catch, Tim], so they are on a bit of an Island.

On top of that, they are in their second year under the helm of legendary coach Bill Tierney.  Tierney won 6 NCAA titles at Princeton before moving to Denver, so this would be the equivalent of Mack Brown leaving Texas to lead Villanova to the FBS. Tierney has said he thinks Colorado is a tremendous recruiting area, so it has more in-state talent than outsiders probably think. Interesting from a Michigan prospective since it shows how you can win from a new location, but also not relevant since we don’t have a Hall of Fame coach that is a living recruiting legend coming in to take the helm (not a shot at John Paul, just a fact).

Syracuse

2011:  15-2 (NCAA Quarterfinalist, Big East Champion)
2012 Preseason: #8
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on Roster: 29
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 11/15
2010 Recruiting Class: #2

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

New York

28

56

New Jersey

5

10

Virginia

3

6

Connecticut

3

6

Ohio

3

6

Massachusetts

2

4

Illinois

1

2

Maryland

1

2

Pennsylvania

1

2

Ontario

1

2

Oregon

1

2

Colorado

1

2

New Hampshire

1

2

Cornell

2011: 14-3 (NCAA Quarterfinalist, Ivy League Champion)
2012 Preseason: #2
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on Roster: 7
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 9/17
2010 Recruiting Class: #12

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

New York

18

42.8

Ontario

6

14.2

Massachusetts

4

9.5

Pennsylvania

2

4.6

Washington

2

4.6

California

2

4.6

Virginia

1

2.3

Maryland

1

2.3

Delaware

1

2.3

Rhode Island

1

2.3

British Columbia

1

2.3

Texas

1

2.3

Connecticut

1

2.3

Washington DC

1

2.3

Johns Hopkins

2011: 13-3 (NCAA Quarterfinalist)
2012 Preseason: #5
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on Roster: 26
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 10/22
2010 Recruiting Class: 6

State

Number on Roster

% of Roster

Maryland

10

23.2

New York

9

20.9

Pennsylvania

5

11.6

New Jersey

5

11.6

Ohio

3

6.9

Arizona

2

4.6

Ontario

2

4.6

Florida

2

4.6

Rhode Island

1

2.3

Massachusetts

1

2.3

Minnesota

1

2.3

Michigan

1

2.3

Texas

1

2.3

Notre Dame

2011: 11-3(NCAA Quarterfinalist, Big East Runner Up)
2012 Preseason: #6
Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on Roster: 16
Top 50/100 High School Graduates on Roster: 13/22
2010 Recruiting Class: #11

State

Number of Players

% of Roster

Maryland

12

24.4

New York

8

16.3

New Jersey

6

12.6

Pennsylvania

5

10.2

Connecticut

4

8.1

Virginia

3

6.1

Massachusetts

2

4

Ohio

2

4

Georgia

1

2

Michigan

1

2

California

1

2

North Carolina

1

2

Texas

1

2

Illinois

1

2

Florida

1

2

Chart Overload and Feeling Overwhelmed, So What Does This All Mean?

We can see a couple of trends appear in the makeup of these teams. It turns out that the conventional wisdom is accurate: an overwhelming number of players on the top D1 teams in the country come from the Mid-Atlantic hotbeds. These 8 rosters included a total of 358 players. 25% of all the players on these Top 8 rosters are from New York. 18% of players on these rosters are Marylandians. Those two states alone constitute more than 40% of all top level college players. New Jersey (8%) and Pennsylvania (7%), not surprisingly, check in as the third and fourth most represented states, respectively. The hotbeds represent almost 60% of the players on these rosters. Extreme outlier Denver is the only program that does not have a majority of players from the hotbed.

We also see trends in what schools these players are getting recruited out of. Every school has at least 9 players on its roster from the current Laxpower Top 50 high schools; every school has at least 15 players from Top 100 high schools. The average number for these programs is 10.8 players from Top 50 high schools, and 18.5 players from Top 100 high schools. These schools carry 40-50 players on the roster, so between 20-25% of the roster is composed of players from these Top 100 high schools. Not surprisingly, the majority of these schools are in the Mid-Atlantic region. Michigan has 1 school in the Top 100, Illinois 1, Indiana 1, Ohio 3—there are few options in the region.

Finally, we see similar trends in quality of recruit. These schools average 20 Inside Lacrosse Young Guns on the roster, which comes to 5 per recruiting class. The two outliers are Cornell and Denver, who with 7 and 8 Young Guns respectively, are the only teams on the list with less than 15 Young Guns. If you eliminate these two outliers, the average jumps to 24.67 (or 6 per recruiting class). Inside Lacrosse provides this great map of where there Top 100 players have come from for the past four years. From 2007-2009, Michigan produced 3 Top 100 players (2 Brother Rice, 1 Detroit Country Day). The Midwest as a whole produced 13 (3 from Michigan, 2 Illinois, 8 from Ohio). For comparison sake, New York produced 27 in 2009 alone. There is some serious D1 talent in the state and region, but not the depth to rely solely on Michigan and its contiguous states.

So no matter how we slice it right now, location means a lot, and where you recruit seems to play a very serious role in how your team stacks up nationally.

 

What This Means For Michigan

Michigan is going to need a pretty serious overhaul of their roster before they are able to compete with the big boys for national championships. This should really only shock lacrosse players that haven’t played games outside the state of Michigan before. We’re going from having players who pay tuition and $1-3,000 dollars in dues per year (I don’t know Michigan’s figures specifically, but that’s typical for an MCLA program), to attempting to bring in the best players in the nation. We’re going to have to do things differently, and the faster we change, the faster we’ll be competitive.

So, how do we need to change? Here’s a chart that compares the regional make-up of 2011 Michigan’s roster to the Top 8 schools.

Region

% Michigan Roster

% Top 8's Roster

Midwest (MI, OH, MN, IL)

47.5

5.9

Mid-Atlantic (NY, NJ, MD, DE, PA)

25

58.7

New England (CT, MA, NH)

10

13.5

West (CA, UT, AZ, WA, OR, Canada)

5

12

South (VA, NC, GA, FL, TX, KY)

7.5

9.2


As stated before, the Mid-Atlantic represents nearly 60% of the players on the top programs. The Midwest represents less than 6% of the roster on those teams, and the state of Michigan has only produced 3 players total in the last four years that earned roster spots on these Top 8 programs. Michigan’s current roster is nearly 50% Midwestern players, and only 12.5% are from New York and Maryland. Michigan needs to cut the number of Midwestern recruits on its roster by 85%, more than double the number of players it recruits out of the Mid-Atlantic. Just as the Michigan football team cannot compete for national championships by recruiting players only from the state of Michigan, neither can the lacrosse program. While in the long term hopefully having a varsity team in state will increase the growth of high school lacrosse in Michigan, and consequently lead to more in-state talent, in the short run this presents a problem for Michigan.

 

So How Long Will This Take?

Good question.  Most likely, Michigan will not have a recruiting class that reflects the school's attractiveness to the sorts of guys who play lacrosse on the East Coast until 2014. They will probably be getting in too late for top 2013 kids. After all, here’s a list of the current commits from the Class of 2012. All of the top schools have pretty much closed their recruiting with the exception of 1-2 spots for “athletic projects” or transfers. That means we’re looking at 5-6 years before we see a roster composed of dominant players from dominant regions that played for dominant high schools. That’s a sobering number—it means John Paul’s building project is much more along the lines of Tom Crean and Indiana basketball than Urban Meyer and Florida football.

There is one wildcard out there. We don’t know how long John Paul and Dave Brandon have talked about making Michigan a D1 program. If John Paul has known for a year, he may very well have spent the last 12 months getting in touch with high school players in the classes of 2012 and 2013. Maybe these players are listed as committed to a Duke or Syracuse, but were ready to switch their commitment if Michigan made the move to D1.  This would mean Coach Paul’s been able to make headway with these players at the ground level, and isn’t just trying to scramble in at the last minute. If Paul was able to do this hush-hush recruiting, he may be able to sneak a couple of low-level Top 100 players in 2012 that buy into his vision, and then have a very good-to-great class in 2013. If that’s the case, we could be looking at 2-3 years before our roster on paper could hang on paper with the big boys.

I hope this gives you all a better sense of how the program will adjust to D1 status. My next diary will look at how Michigan’s roster stacks within it’s own conference, the ECAC. Please leave anything else you'd like me to include for next time in the comments.

Introduction to Lacrosse Recruiting—Part I

Introduction to Lacrosse Recruiting—Part I

Submitted by Brooks on June 16th, 2011 at 12:16 PM

[Ed.: part of what promises to be a series orienting people unfamiliar with lacrosse to the sport.]

UMich Press Conf600px

Courtesy of Insidelacrosse.com.

(We now have the best helmets in three sports.  Also: Maize uniform rage spreads to two sports)

I’ve started this diary to help introduce Michigan fans to lacrosse and to explain what’s going on both on the field and off as best I can.  Since there are no games to recap and I don’t have any video of this past season to break down, I figured it was best to begin with an investigation of Michigan’s roster and how much overhaul and time would be needed before the team became competitive.

There has been a lot of chatter in the message boards and perhaps some diary entries for the past year speculating how Michigan’s 3x MCLA National Champion lacrosse team would fair at the varsity level.  Some have argued that Michigan will need a minimal level of roster overhaul or change in recruiting strategies in order to be competitive both within their conference and nationally, particularly in light of the fact that Brother Rice High School won the Inside Lacrosse High School National Championship in 2008, and that the general University student body is already heavily composed of kids from the East coast.  

I’ve broken this introduction into four parts:

  • Part I of this Introduction to Recruiting will compare and contrast lacrosse recruiting to other sports. 
  • Part II  will attempt to compare how Michigan’s roster compares to the dominant programs in Division 1, in order to see what recruiting changes are necessary to compete for a national title
  • Part III will compare Michigan’s roster to its conference foes in the ECAC to see how long it will be before they compete for conference championships and NCAA bids
  • Part IV will look at two other new Division 1 programs to see if their experience gives us any indication into how long it will take for Michigan to become nationally competitive.

An Introduction to Lacrosse Recruiting

In terms of what coaches are looking for, it’s pretty straightforward.  First, college coaches are looking for a player that has the proper size and speed.  If you are a defensemen at a top level program, you are probably going to be around 6’2”-6’3” and roughly 220 lbs, a top level midfielder is 6’0”-6’1” and around 190 lbs, and attack can vary anywhere from 5’10” 190 lbs to 6’2” 215 lbs.  In terms of speed, you are looking for players that run in the 4.5-4.6 range in the 40.  Max Seibald, former Cornell midfielder and 2010 Tewaaraton Trophy winner (lacrosse’s version of the Heisman or Hobey Baker) recently clocked the same time in the 40 yard dash as Percy Harvin (sub 4.4), so lacrosse is increasingly bringing in top-level athletes (not just guys too slow or uncoordinated for football, etc).

The last element that factors into the scholarship equation is stick skills.  Coaches vary widely in how interested they are in a players stick skills.  Some coaches love to take athletic guys that were great at multiple sports and true athletes—particularly Dom Starsia at Virginia and John Desko at Syracuse—and trust their own ability to teach stick skills.  Other coaches want “lacrosse players” that have the stick skills to immediately contribute the moment they set foot on campus.  These players won’t be ranked in the Inside Lacrosse Young Guns list (Top 100 high school players in a graduating class, their version of Rivals 250, etc), but coaches hope they will turn into something special as upper classmen.  Normally, only the most successful programs have the luxury of taking a risk on this type of player since they know they have 5-6 instant contributors already in their recruiting class.

Lacrosse recruiting is also in a state of flux right now—for years it operated under the radar due to minimal participation in the sport and neglect from television and print media.  As the sport has grown in the past 15 years, and as ESPN and CBS have steadily increased the number of games on television, more people are starting to chart and follow high school players and their recruitment.  Overall, lacrosse recruiting is a hybrid to what we are familiar with from football, basketball and hockey.

Similarities to Football

At its core, lacrosse recruiting is still most similar to football recruiting.  To begin with, what matters most is your performance with your high school team.  How you perform on tape or in person during your high school season is still the single most important element in getting recruited—college coaches want to see you how you play in settled offense, settled defense, transition, special teams, when a defense is focused on one player, etc.  The only time you really see teams scheme is during the high school season, so it’s the most realistic chance for college coaches to see how players will translate to the college level.

It is also similar to football in the importance that the camps most major schools host during the summer play in recruiting.  Colleges host team and individual camps, and like football, they provide the opportunity for coaches to get a player on campus and to see how they play in person.  It’s a chance for the college to get an accurate height and weight, to see how fast the player is both with and without the ball, and to meet the player in order to get a feel for how they will fit into your locker room.  As well, there is an Under Armor All America lacrosse game (one for juniors and one for seniors), and the team is selected through a series of combines like the UA or Army All America games in football.

Finally, lacrosse is similar to football in the sense that location matters a great deal. Just like Florida, Texas, California and Ohio/Pennsylvania are the four major hotbeds in terms of producing high-level football talent, the same is true for Baltimore/Washington DC, Long Island, and Upstate New York (you can also start making a very strong argument for including New Jersey and Philadelphia on the list).  Like football, you can find talent in other places, but it is impossible to match the density of top quality athletes and high-level coaching of these areas.  The players coming out of these 3-4 areas grew up with a stick in their hand, went to high schools where the most athletic kids in the school played lacrosse, and had coaches that treated them like low-level college players from the time they were 14 years old.  If you want players who will contribute immediately and a team that will compete for national titles, conventional wisdom says you have to recruit heavily out of these areas (Part II will examine whether this is myth or reality).  Players from outside the hotbed areas tend to be recruited as the proverbial “athletes” since they do not have the stick skills to immediately contribute or a natural position on the field.

Similarities to Basketball

Now that you feel like lacrosse recruiting is incredibly familiar and easy to grasp, let’s complicate it by adding elements of basketball. If you follow basketball recruiting, there are two similarities between lacrosse and basketball.

First, club teams and programs are a big deal in lacrosse recruiting.  While this seems like a contradiction to primacy of high school tape in recruiting I wrote above, club teams are essential in getting your name on a coach’s watch list.  Most college teams have little to no budget to travel during the season, let alone does a team that has 1 head coach, 2 assistants and 1-2 graduate assistants have the man power to travel during the season.  Consequently, if a coach is going to see you live, it’s going to be in the summer or fall when you’re playing for a club team.  If you want to be noticed by a coach, particularly if you are not from one of those lacrosse hotbed areas (or you are in a hotbed, but on a high school team so stacked that you won’t see the field until your senior year), your club team and the tournaments they qualify matter.  Once they know your name after seeing you in a summer tournament, then they’ll start watching your high school tape  Playing for major club programs like the Blue Crabs (out of Baltimore) or the Long Island Express is often the first step towards a D1 offer. Club teams are so important that Inside Lacrosse Magazine now ranks the top club programs in the nation at the end of every summer.

The second similarity to basketball is the recruiting timeline for a top player and the top programs.   If you are a Top 100 Young Gun, you will probably start collecting scholarship offers during your sophomore year and will commit sometime before the start of your junior season.  Johns Hopkins, one of the top programs historically, just received its third commitment for the Class of 2013.  Obviously the majority of players still commit around their senior year and the majority of teams do not fill up their classes early, but if you want to land a Top 25 player odds are you will need to lock in a commit 2-3 years before he sets foot on campus.  I hate this aspect of the game and think it has the potential to lead to very dirty tactics if the sports exposure and TV money continue to grow, but that’s where the game is right now.

Similarities to Ice Hockey

Now time to really complicate the issue.  Lacrosse is a suburban sport, so the top players tend to come from school districts and families that are more affluent on average than a typical BCS-level football or basketball recruit.  It’s a sport that requires a lot of equipment and travel, so like hockey it tends to attract more affluent families.  This means players in this sport have options that a lot of top level football and basketball recruits do not.  On top of that, the sport is still small so that if you want to play on a top high school team, you only have a few options.  This means that you could be a stud attackman at Garden City high school on Long Island and be talented enough to be ranked in the Top 100 nationally for your high school class, but you could never see the field until your junior or senior year because there are 3 other attackman in the Top 100 in the class above you on your team.  Coaches won’t see you and recruitniks will forget about you.

So what’s a player to do—they are outstanding, but can’t get the playing time to warrant a scholarship offer from a D1 school.  What many players will choose to do is to go to a boarding school for a year or two.  Some players will do a post-graduate year after graduating from high school, some will repeat their junior year and stay at boarding school for two years, and some will repeat freshmen year and stay at the boarding school for four years.  So, like ice hockey, you may gain a commitment from a kid that appears to be a year too old for their recruiting class.  Sometimes a team will also ask a player to take a PG year, either to grow or because they will have more room in the following year’s recruiting class.

This route has proven to be a great way for kids to get more exposure and for school to find the “diamond in the rough” in their recruiting classes.  Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Salisbury School in Connecticut are national powers at the high school level in large part because of the contributions of PG players, and 2011 Tewaaraton Finalist Rob Pannell and 2011 All-American Billy Bitter are both products of a PG year.

Takeaway

I hope this helps illuminate the process of lacrosse recruiting for everyone.  I know this post does not have a lot to do with Michigan specifically, but I wanted to make sure we are all on the same page with how the recruiting process works with lacrosse.  It’s obviously going to take Michigan some time to fill their roster with high level talent, considering they are already missing out on some key rising juniors who have committed already.

Welcome to Division I Lacrosse, Michigan Fans!

Welcome to Division I Lacrosse, Michigan Fans!

Submitted by MaizeAndBlueWahoo on May 24th, 2011 at 7:49 PM

Greetings, fellow Michigan fans, and now that it’s official, or will be in short order: As a dual fan whose other school is a lacrosse powerhouse, on behalf of fans of other lax programs, welcome to the world of D-I lacrosse.  Michigan is joining an NCAA sport that is growing at a pace that doesn’t satisfy a lot of its fans, but is actually one of the fastest of any that the NCAA sponsors.   For some, Michigan lacrosse is a symbol of a new and potentially very exciting frontier of expansion: the Midwest.  We are not the only fans wondering about a potential Big Ten lacrosse conference.  This is intended not to be an introduction to the game itself, but a primer on the NCAA “scene”, if you will.  Hopefully this will get you smart (or smarter) on how the world of Division I lacrosse is arrayed.  (Men’s lax only – I’m not qualified to speak on the women’s game.)

Like hockey, lacrosse is a very regional sport; in fact, even more so than hockey, at least for now.  Hockey is big in the Northeast and upper Midwest; lacrosse is largely limited to the mid-Atlantic.  This year was the first in which an NCAA tournament game was held west of the Mississippi; west of Lake Michigan, in fact.  Last year was the first in which a championship game was held with a participant (Notre Dame) from a state that didn’t border on the Atlantic Ocean.  Roughly 80% of the 61 teams that played D-I men’s lax this year are clustered in the Boston-to-Washington corridor.

Not only that, but lacrosse is still more insular than hockey with respect to national championships and the “top tier” of the sport.  The line between hockey royalty and hockey hoi polloi is much more blurred than in lacrosse; ask a lacrosse fan who the top teams are and he’ll probably rattle off eight teams: the four ACC squads (that’s Virginia, UNC, Maryland, and Duke) plus Cornell, Hopkins, Syracuse, and Princeton.   Denver and Notre Dame are working on breaking this octumvirate, but it’s tough.  And guess who are the eight teams in the quarterfinals of this year’s tournament?  Only Carolina and Princeton are missing, and the former got stuck with Maryland in the first round.  The rest have proven largely interchangeable.

Let’s take a look at some of the things you’ll want to know about in case you feel like sounding smart about national men’s lax sometime in the future:

CONFERENCES

The polar opposite of hockey, this is an ever-shifting landscape as the sport grows.  Conferences are much smaller, too, as teams vie for a spot in an auto-qualifying conference of six teams – but not too many more.  Things are beginning to match up with the ordinary D-I conferences.  The Big East has begun sponsoring lacrosse, as has the Northeast Conference; the ACC and Ivy League always have.  Some conferences (such as the CAA) have wildly different membership than their nominal grouping; others (Big East, for example) are just smaller versions of their regular bunch.

THE ECAC

Michigan will be playing in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) which has little to do with the hockey ECAC and has been a very fluid conference in recent times, serving as a stopping-off point for many teams on the way to a more permanent home such as the Big East.  With Michigan onboard, it is also lacrosse’s biggest conference at eight teams and may get larger if High Point joins; it may also get smaller if Fairfield and Loyola decide to join the MAAC, where they exist in the rest of the world.   The current membership should not be expected to be the long-term membership.

The ECAC is also wildly divergent in the quality of its teams.  A quick rundown:

Denver – Burgeoning powerhouse and a team to be reckoned with going forward.  The biggest obstacle to dominance Michigan will have for some time.  They are coached by Bill Tierney, a Hall of Fame legend who won six NCAA championships at Princeton, and are in this year’s Final Four.

Loyola and Fairfield – Loyola is a respectable team that has some history getting into the NCAA tournament and flirted with it again this year; they are located in the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore.  Fairfield is a less-accomplished team, but they can be tough.  Both are MAAC teams in real life, and there has been speculation (and nothing more than speculation) that now that the MAAC allows the full allotment of scholarships, they may want to join up.

Ohio State – Slowly gaining respectability in the lacrosse world, games against the Buckeyes will probably be tough pills to swallow in the first couple of years.  OSU knocked off North Carolina earlier this year and gave Virginia and Notre Dame a difficult time, but also won by just a goal against Detroit and lost to Fairfield and Albany.

Air Force – Perhaps a good litmus test of where Michigan stands in its first couple of years.  Air Force is the only service academy that hasn’t tasted much success in lacrosse.  They were 6-7 this year but largely on the backs of the NCAA’s crap teams like Mercer and Presbyterian; and some of those crap teams beat them.

Hobart and Bellarmine – Non D-I schools that play lacrosse as their specialty D-I sport (similar to, say, Ferris State in hockey.)  Michigan should be very competitive with these teams and hopefully beat them in their first year.

This isn't even necessarily the guaranteed lineup.  Conference membership has been so fluid in this sport that a change between now and next season wouldn't surprise anyone.

The conference tournament, like all other lacrosse conference tournaments, invites just four teams; this is for RPI purposes and ease of scheduling.

THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Like hockey, the lacrosse tourney is a 16-team, single-elimination affair; it is much less of a plinko game, however.  Chalk advances with great frequency.  It does not fuss about with regionals; first-round games are hosted by the seeded team.  The NCAA determines these matchups mainly by seeding the teams 1-16 and then fudging the bottom half a little bit for travel purposes.  The quarterfinals are hosted at two neutral sites, which are usually somewhere between Long Island and Baltimore.  The NCAA is fanatical about giving teams as short a ride as possible to their quarterfinal site, even to the extent of allowing a lower-seeded team to play on their home field against a higher-seeded team if they happen to be a host.  (This happened when #8 Stony Brook hosted #1 Virginia last year.)  As with every NCAA tourney, the Final Four is hosted at another neutral site.  The NCAA uses NFL stadiums for this purpose and often fills them, especially if the game is in Baltimore or Philadelphia.  The men’s lax championship is usually the third or fourth best-attended NCAA championship each year, depending on how you account for the College World Series; the championship game, at times, outdraws the basketball championship.

Currently, six conferences have autobids to the tournament, but that will change in 2012; there will be eight next year.  Because of this, and because of the NCAA’s usual desire to see its marquee teams on the marquee, I expect the tournament to expand to 20 in the near future.  Interestingly, the ACC has no autobid because it has only four teams, but its teams nearly always qualify anyway.

Only eight teams – the abovementioned eight “royalty” teams – have ever won the NCAA tournament.  Five additional teams have made it to the championship game and lost: Notre Dame, UMass, Towson, Navy, and Loyola.  Unseeded teams – those that don’t host first-round games, almost never even make it to the Final Four – it’s happened just four five times, the fifth this year with Maryland.

RECRUITING

Lacrosse has three recruiting hotbeds, in order of importance: Long Island, Baltimore, and Philadelphia/South Jersey.  This isn’t to say that talent can’t be found elsewhere, but Michigan will want to establish a presence in at least one of these three areas to start with.  Fortunately, the school has a very good name on the East Coast.  U-M will also draw players from Chicago, Ontario, perhaps New England, and of course, its home state.  Long term, it’s my opinion that having two D-I lacrosse teams in the state, playing each other, will help create a critical mass of interest in the state that just wasn’t there when MSU was the lone D-I team here, and that will be a bonus for Michigan’s recruiting.  That’s a factor for ten years and beyond.

One important source of players is the Ivy League.  Teams like Virginia and Syracuse typically try to attract an Ivy transfer most years.  Ivy schools don’t allow their athletes to play intercollegiate athletics while in grad school, so redshirted players look elsewhere for grad school to finish up their fifth year of eligibility.  Because of the NCAA rules about grad school transfers, these players are available right away without skipping a year.  Michigan should work very hard to attract these players, especially in the first few years of D-I play; they’ll help bridge the gap between the club years and the beginning of Michigan’s true contending years.

One of the best things about recruiting and fanhood in general in the lacrosse realm is the total lack of concern about the lure of professional sports.  In the distant future that may change, but for now, lacrosse has none of the accompanying worry about competing interests.  There’s no junior hockey in Ontario, no MLS or overseas club system, no slimy agents whispering NBA dreams in your players’ ears, no minor league farm system.  Players play four years and occasionally five.  Nobody leaves early for the pros and nobody drafts your committed recruits.  It’s the only college sport that enjoys a big-time feel and a four-year guarantee.

OUTLOOK

I’ll leave the full-scale predictions to the experts.  Suffice it for now that there’s a wide range of expectations out there in the wide world for Michigan lacrosse.  Most don’t really expect Michigan to contend right away; neither do I. Some go so far as to suggest Michigan will be winless or nearly so, entering the league at a level below even Bellarmine.  I don’t think so.  But it’s a brave new world of sorts; Michigan will go from the top rung to near the bottom.  The first goal: win the ECAC.  That will be a few years down the road, especially with Denver in the way in the immediate future.  In three years UDM, in the MAAC, came within one game of making the tourney and that was considered an eye-opening feat.  My hope is that within ten years, Michigan has established itself as a team firmly established as a contender to earn at-large berths to the tournament; fewer, if the tourney expands.

Good luck to the teams as they take a big new step to the future!  It’s a big deal for Michigan to be joining the world of D-I lacrosse, but it’s just as big a deal for the world of D-I lacrosse to welcome Michigan.

Hello: Zach Hyman

Hello: Zach Hyman

Submitted by lhglrkwg on May 18th, 2011 at 9:32 PM

Per Yost Built and Bob Miller, Michigan has landed the commitment of Zach Hyman (edit 2: totally didn't see that typo for about 18 hours), the CJHL player of the year. The guy put up a freakin 42-60--102 last season. The guy is mega-legit and could be an immediate solution to our offense problems. This would be like picking up a 5* guy on signing day. As he put it over at Yost Built:

This isn't getting all excited about the prospect of Max Domi. This isn't looking ahead to what could be a ridiculous class in 2013. This isn't Tristin Llewellyn being a top prospect as a 14 year-old. This is a five-star prospect for next season.

Yost Built link

edit: my bad, didn't see that the topic lower contained the Zach Hyman news. Either way, I feel it's a strong enough development that it can have it's own topic