Brian Ruppel, Chris Huppmann and James Azbill were key starters as freshmen on the 2019 Catonsville boys lacrosse team that defeated Dulaney by a goal before falling by one goal to eventual state finalist Howard in the Class 4A North Region playoffs.
Although it ended their first prep season, the dynamic trio will be showcased at the 2019 Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Weekend June 27-30 as players for the Baltimore Boys in the Command tournament.
Players on the Command teams are rising freshmen and sophomores.
Along with Westminster’s Alex Steers, they were the only non-private school players selected to the 23-player squad.
There are 12 teams in the tournament from different regions throughout the country.
Baltimore opens at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 against Washington D.C.
They will also play two games on June 28 and one on June 29, before playing in the single-elimination tournament on June 30.
All games, except for the championship game, will be played at Meadowood Park in Timonium.
The championship will be played at St. Paul’s School on Sunday, June 30, at 2:15 p.m.
Ruppel and Huppmann made the team at positions that they barely played during their first season on Catonsville’s varsity.
Ruppel made it as a goalie after he was the second leading scorer (25 goals, 6 assists) as a midfielder at Catonsville High.
Senior Ian Callanan was the starting goalie for the Comets last season.
“We know he’s a goalie by trade, but with having Ian last year, we know he’s pretty solid in the cage and we realized pretty early in the season that he (Ruppel) could help us as a middie, so he would kind of split his practices this year, play some in the goal and some in the midfield,” Catonsville second-year coach K.R. Schultz said. “He brought out all of his pads every day and to every game to be ready to do either, depending on what we needed.”
Ruppel did play in goal briefly in wins over Sparrows Point and Pikesville, but his most important goalie play came in the final minute of the Comets’ 4-3 loss to Howard in the regional semifinals.
Catonsville trailed by one and Howard had possession after a time out with 48 seconds left.
Schultz moved Ruppel to goalie with the intent to have him chase the ball, but Ruppel ended up making a save and the Comets called their final time out with 26.9 seconds remaining.
“The goal was to have Ruppel out chasing people, but he did a great job of getting in and making the save,” said Schultz after the game.
After the restart, a shot by Huppmann was high and the Comets didn’t get another scoring opportunity.
Ruppel had scored the first goal in that game and he also scored one in the 7-6 triumph over Dulaney (11-4).
At tryouts, which were held at Johns Hopkins University over two days, he impressed his Catonsville coach, who was watching the workouts.
“Brian did really well at the tryout. He does really well at the clearing game,” Schultz said. “He saw the ball really well, attacked it really well and he could communicate with the defense. He consistently throughout both days cleared at a really high level which helped him earn that spot on the team.”
Schultz noted several other coaches at the tryouts were surprised he played midfield for the Comets because of how well he performed at goalie.
“It (playing midfield) was just one of those things, where can he best help the team?” Schultz said.
The same can be said for Huppmann, who led the Comets in scoring (27 goals, 5 assists) despite missing some games.
Huppmann played attack for Catonsville, but made the Baltimore Boys Command team at midfield.
“He can be successful at either spot,” Schultz said.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Huppmann’s acrobatic body flying through the air on a shot from an awkward angle or in pursuit of a ground ball.
“He has no problem sacrificing his body, for being a smaller guy,” Schultz said. “He’ll put his nose right in there and mix it up in the middle of the field.”
Against Dulaney, it was Huppmann’s dive to the turf that kept a loose ball alive and helped teammate Jacob DiLuca get a key ground ball that led to a goal by Grant Nyland, giving the Comets a 5-2 lead at halftime.
At tryouts, Huppmann showed off his speed.
“He looked so fast in tryouts. He played fast and in the transition game he has a really smooth stick and being a lefty, he was able to get some good looks in transition,” said Schultz, noting he also played solid defense. “In this tournament they could only take 23 guys and it’s a grind and it’s the end of June, so they are looking for guys that can play both ways.”
Azbill made the team as a close defender, but Schulz said, “He can handle the short stick.”
“At the tryout, he had real good feet and he was good at first-time ground balls,” Schultz said. “He was fast in transition and him and Brian have a really good connection in the clearing game. James threw good hard checks and he played with his feet really well and he had a really good tryout.”
Azbill will return next spring to the Comets on defense as a sophomore, along with seniors Wyatt Gentner, Evan Rogers and Gunner Cheuvront, and they will protect Ruppel in goal.
“That’s a safe assumption,” Schultz said.
If everyone returns, the Comets should bring back 21 underclassmen with varsity experience and they only lost eight seniors.
“We were 7-9 with five one-goal losses,” Schultz said. “If we can flip that, it’s a totally different team and we feel a lot better about ourselves.”