As the game of lacrosse spreads, so do the recruiting borders. More and more college coaches are going into Canada looking for the great equalizers on the offensive side of the ball.
Delaware has two top Canadian offensive stars, and UMBC has one. Of the eight teams that will play in the Division I quarterfinals this weekend, at least five have Canadian gunslingers, with the top one being Duke's Zach Greer, who has pumped in 56 goals and has 22 assists for the top-seeded Blue Devils.
The trend won't stop anytime soon.
"The younger coaches are beating the bushes looking for these players," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "They are no longer willing to concede goals to the likes of Virginia, Hopkins, Maryland and Syracuse."
It's all part of the parity that has hit the sport. While there have been upsets through the years, the blue-chip high school offensive players are still signing with the traditional powers. For instance, Boys' Latin attackman Chris Boland is a freshman at Johns Hopkins, and Loyola High attackman Steele Stanwick, only a junior, has already committed to Virginia.
To challenge the upper echelon, schools like Delaware and Albany had to go north. Two of Delaware's top scorers are senior midfielder Jordan Hall (23 goals, 10 assists) and freshman attackman Curtis Dickson (18-7). Dickson had four goals in the Blue Hens' upset of Virginia last weekend.
Cornell has senior attackman David Mitchell, who is second on the team in scoring with 39 goals and nine assists. Two of Albany's top scorers are Canadians Merrick Thomson (54, 13), a senior attackman, and sophomore attackman Corey Small (23, 6), while UMBC counters with Cayle Ratcliffe (41, 7), a freshman attackman from British Columbia.
"We talk about parity and growth in this game, and it has improved because of the athleticism," Starsia said. "The athleticism is most visible on the defensive end, and you can see it some in the midfield. But what has happened is that the coaches from the nontraditional schools are no longer content with getting the second-tier skilled U.S. Eastern players, and have gone out to find other skilled players."
Canada is the place.
The Canadians play the indoor, box lacrosse game where the goals are only 4 feet by 4 feet and the goalies use an enormous amount of padding. With the goals so small and the space so limited, the Canadians are adept at shooting and pass with remarkable precision. The style of the game in Canada is so physical that the field game here is like a virtual non-contact sport by comparison.
"They have great shooting skills because they are used to shooting in tight spaces," said Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw. "Most of them are one-handed, but that one hand is very good. They are good passers because they are used to making passes with people hanging all over them. They are good with the fakes because of the small goals. They have to have deception to make the goalie move, and they can hit the mid-range shots because they snap the ball so quickly with their wrists."
If that's the case, why did it take so long for the Canadians to hit the U.S. market? Canadians have always played the college game, but Gary and Paul Gait took it to a new level when they won three national championships during the four years they were at Syracuse in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Orange coach Roy Simmons Jr. brought in other Canadians, but everyone else was slow to catch on.
First, U.S. coaches still weren't sure whether the Canadians could make the transition from the box to the field game. Also, the Canadians weren't organized in putting together a central location or a team where it would be cost-efficient for colleges to make the trip up north to recruit.
U.S. college coaches weren't contacted as much by the Canadian players as they are now, and it was cheaper for a Canadian player to attend college at home than in America.
"First of all, there is a culture difference," said Duke coach John Danowski. "I don't know the percentage of Canadian kids that grow up and go to college, but here it is almost expected that you will go after high school. I don't know if they have the same expectations. In the Canadian game, they have the shot clock, the sideboards. We get film of their kids fighting on the field. Imagine that.
"Compared to the Canadian dollar, it's going to cost about $10,000 more to go to a college in the U.S. than to stay in Canada," Danowski said. "We get 12.6 scholarships, which is like 3.5 per year. You almost have to over-reward a Canadian to get him here, and then their skill level is so raw because they have to adapt to the pace of the field game. You're definitely taking a chance."
The rewards, though, can be high. Delaware and UMBC will play at the Naval Academy on Sunday, and whoever wins will advance to the final four for the first time in their school's history. The final four play May 26 at M&T; Bank Stadium.
Greer is one of the main reasons Duke is playing in one quarterfinal and Dickson is one of the main reasons Virginia isn't.
"I think you could see a lot more Canadians in the future," said UMBC coach Donnie Zimmerman. "In this sport, no one cares if you're an American, Australian or Japanese, it's if you can play. The Canadians love to play, and they are very good team players. They are scrappy, and have all the qualities you look for in good players."
Ratcliffe said: "Back home, if you get frustrated, you can take off your gloves because you're allowed to fight. Here, you have to check yourself. The skill level here is so much higher, but this is a great opportunity for us to play, and get free schooling. Back home, a lot of my friends think highly of the American game."