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High school lacrosse players are adjusting to NCAA recruiting rule change

As Eloise Clevenger and Kennedy Williamson left the field Thursday at the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse underclass tournament, the two Baltimore Girls’ Command Division players greeted friends and family members.

But the rising high school sophomores, who committed to Maryland last October for the Class of 2020, couldn’t acknowledge everyone who had come to see them play.

The NCAA changed its policy in April to prohibit college lacrosse coaches from contacting prospective student athletes before Sept. 1 of their junior years, so Clevenger and Williamson didn’t acknowledge Maryland coach Cathy Reese, who watched their game at Towson.

The 12th annual Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Games are Saturday, featuring the nation's top incoming college freshmen. The girls play at 5:30 p.m. and the boys at 8 p.m. in Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson.

But unlike the older participants, the underclassmen in the Command Division are adjusting to the new recruiting parameters.

“You see [coaches] on the sideline watching you play, and you know they’re there to watch you, and they’re coming to all your games, but when it’s over, you obviously can’t talk to them or communicate with them,” Clevenger said. “It’s definitely weird, but it’s what you have to deal with.”

Clevenger (Marriotts Ridge) and Williamson (Roland Park) said they’d spend the recruiting hiatus focused on improving their skills without the pressure of making visits and keeping in touch with their future team.

That’s the purpose of the NCAA’s change, said Monica Yeakel, owner, director and a coach for Diamonds Lacrosse Club, referencing the recruiting process that had previously started in middle school.

Yeakel educates parents and players in her program about college decisions, meeting with them in their homes and drawing on her own experiences as a player at Loyola from 1990-94 and as coach for UMBC from 1997-2005.

She tells them about the rigors of Division I, which for her meant a blown-out knee that required multiple surgeries and a replacement. She emphasizes finding a strong academic fit because “lacrosse ends,” and she’s had former players medically retire before taking the field at the college they’d chosen.

And Yeakel often asks what the players know about the different levels of competition.

“Half the time you get from an eighth grader, ‘Well, Division I is the best, Division II is next, and then Division III is third,’ ” Yeakel said. “That’s what you would expect from an eighth grader because they don’t know, but that’s not necessarily what it is.”

The players already committed said they appreciate the decreased pressure to follow who’s talking to which schools at different tournaments, but they said it’s often awkward to keep tabs from a distance on the coaches with whom they’ve already developed relationships.

Gabriel Goforth, a rising sophomore from Chester Springs, Pa., on the Philadelphia Boys’ Command team this week, played in a recent tournament that Maryland coach John Tillman attended.

Goforth, who committed to play for Tillman about two months before starting high school, waved from the field, and Tillman raised his hand before ducking his head.

“You can’t tell if they’re happy or mad at you,” Goforth said. “It’s like, ‘All right, yeah, see ya.’ ”

Goforth’s Philadelphia teammate, Scott Smith, a Johns Hopkins 2020 commit, has had to acclimate to the new guidelines, too.

He saw Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala watching him at a game a few weeks ago, but his club coach instructed him to pretend like he wasn’t there.

“My coach just said ‘Walk away,’ and I wanted to follow the rule because I didn't want to get my coach in trouble,” Smith said. “Hopefully when junior year comes around, we’ll catch up on everything.”

ccaplan@baltsun.com

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