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Teammates at last, Lewnes brothers leading UMBC lacrosse

University of Maryland Baltimore CountyDon ZimmermanAdam Sandler

Coach Don Zimmerman estimates that between 20 and 30 pairs of brothers have played lacrosse for UMBC.

But remarkably, the latest set hadn't played on the same team until they suited up for the Retrievers.

Not at St. Mary's in Annapolis, where Arnold natives Neill and Nate Lewnes spent their high school years. Not in a variety of youth and rec leagues. Not even in games with their neighborhood friends.

"I had never played with him," said Nate Lewnes, who has earned a starting role on attack as a freshman. "I had always grown up watching him. But it's definitely a good experience to get to play with him for a year."

Added Neill Lewnes, a senior short-stick defensive midfielder: "I was really excited. It was our first chance to play together. I got to see him play a couple times [at St. Mary's], but I was always busy with my games [with the Retrievers]. So I really hadn't seen him grow up as a player. So I was obviously excited, but I was also a little nervous, hoping that he could do his best and play well. He's proven it so far."

As UMBC (1-3) prepares to face No. 10 Johns Hopkins (4-1) at Homewood Field on Friday, the brothers figure to play pivotal roles in the outcome.

Nate Lewnes has recorded three goals and two assists in four starts, joining seniors Scott Jones (Severna Park) and Matt Gregoire (South River) on the first-string attack unit. Neill Lewnes, meanwhile, has nine ground balls in three games and is asked to play wing on faceoffs and shadow opposing midfielders.

Separated by three years, the brothers attended St. Mary's at the same time in 2009, but Nate, then a freshman, was a member of the junior varsity, while Neill was a senior on varsity.

So when Nate chose UMBC over Loyola, Towson and Delaware, the brothers knew they would at least have one season together — though it almost didn't come to fruition.

Last March, Neill tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, and he rehabbed furiously to be cleared to return this spring.

In the fall, Nate Lewnes injured his left elbow seriously enough that he had to undergo surgery, and Zimmerman said he considered redshirting the first-year player.

"I think they've both been really looking forward to this," Zimmerman said. "It's not because they're playing the game of lacrosse together, but it's because they're sharing this experience and learning from one another. It gives Neill an opportunity to be the big brother again. For Nate, it's, 'Yeah, you're the big brother, but I'm going to compete against you.' I think it's great. We've had a lot of brother combinations, but these two are special."

In addition to not playing on the same team at St. Mary's, the brothers said they usually ended up on opposite sides during neighborhood games. Their competitive spirit spilled into eating contests, and their mother, Tina, said when the boys were younger, their father, George, would trick them into seeing who could rub his feet the longest.

"I don't think they knew it wasn't a real competition," Tina Lewnes said with a laugh. "He just wanted somebody to rub his feet. If you made it a competition, they would compete and get the job done."

At UMBC's campus in Catonsville, the brothers are more collaborative than combative. As a freshman, Nate Lewnes is required to live in an on-campus dorm, which he shares with freshman midfielder Pat Young, but on weekends, he spends most of his time at the off-campus house that his brother shares with seniors Nick Doub and Scott Hopmann — fellow St. Mary's graduates — and Jake Zimmerman. Neill Lewnes also does most of the driving on- and off-campus.

The tutelage extends to the lacrosse field. Tina Lewnes said she was encouraged when she watched Nate Lewnes approach his brother several times during the Retrievers' 14-9 loss at Fairfield on Saturday to get advice; Neill Lewnes said he has been reinforcing Zimmerman's message of looking inside for a teammate when the Retrievers are on offense.

"I was pretty critical when he was in high school just because I knew he was going to have to adapt and make some changes if he wanted to play college lacrosse, and he's done a great job of that," Neill Lewnes said. "I didn't play in the fall. So I got to see him play, and I just saw the changes he was making to be able to play, and I just thought the whole time, 'He's going to get a chance to play in his freshman year. He's really adapted to the changes.' "

Like any other younger sibling, Nate Lewnes sometimes tunes out his older brother, but he also understands what Neill is trying to accomplish.

"Sometimes it can be frustrating, but I know he's just trying to make me better," Nate Lewnes said. "I know it's good for me and I appreciate it a lot."

Although they play on opposing sides of the field, the brothers have more similarities than differences. Nate Lewnes is listed at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, while his brother is 5-8 and 165 pounds. They listen to the same music, enjoy watching comedies and are well-versed in quoting Adam Sandler movies.

The brothers' enthusiasm that they're playing together might be matched by their parents'. Tina Lewnes acknowledged that although she and George left Nate's college choice up to him, they were internally pulling for UMBC.

"It's awesome," she said of being able to watch games with her husband. "It was hard splitting up during games. He would go to one and I would go to one, and we would be on the cell phone. So this is really nice, just having one game for both of them."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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