xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Catonsville’s dynamic lacrosse defensive duo finally at home and in the right positions

Catonsville High juniors Brian Ruppel, left, and James Azbill will finally be playing full-time in their natural positions this spring. Ruppel has committed to play lacrosse at the University of Maryland and Azbill will play at Towson University.
Catonsville High juniors Brian Ruppel, left, and James Azbill will finally be playing full-time in their natural positions this spring. Ruppel has committed to play lacrosse at the University of Maryland and Azbill will play at Towson University. (Photo by Craig Clary)

Catonsville High juniors Brian Ruppel and James Azbill are multisport athletes and longtime friends, but their first love is on the lacrosse field and the pair have excelled so far that last fall they each made commitments to play at Division I college lacrosse programs.

Ruppel will attend Maryland in the fall of 2022 and Azbill will play at Towson. Ruppel was recruited as a goalie and Azbill as a long-stick defenseman.

Advertisement

Ironically, both of the juniors have never played those positions exclusively at Catonsville High.

As a freshman, Ruppel was the Comets’ second-leading scorer (25 goals, 6 assists) when he played midfield.

Advertisement
Advertisement

He did get in goal for a brief stint against Sparrows Point and in the final minute of the Comets’ 4-3 loss to Howard in the regional semifinals.

As a freshman, Azbill played long-stick midfield, short-stick midfield and close defense on a squad that was loaded with experienced defensemen that was expected to have a big season in 2020.

But, COVID-19 struck and the spring lacrosse season was canceled, so that dream team defense never reunited.

Fast forward to 2021 and when the Comets host Perry Hall on May 11 at 4 p.m. for their first game, Ruppel and Azbill will be the leaders of a young defense — and they will finally play in their natural positions.

Advertisement

“Ruppel is back at goalie and Azbill is playing pretty much exclusively with his long pole. We’re not asking him to pick up a shorty for us,” Catonsville coach KR Schultz said.

Catonsville junior goalie Brian Ruppel is eager to be back in goal for the Comets this season.
Catonsville junior goalie Brian Ruppel is eager to be back in goal for the Comets this season. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

As freshmen, the pair just wanted to do anything to get on the field and contribute.

“Whatever I could do to help out the team, so whatever he asked me I just did my best,” Azbill said. “The same with Brian, he played a short pole.”

Ruppel, who also plays basketball and soccer at Catonsville, accepted the role, but knows he’s back where he belongs.

“I don’t miss it (midfield), I love being back in the goal and I’m just trying to help wherever I can, even the offensive guys,” Ruppel said. “We’re just helping guys out the best that we can to kind of bring the team together.”

The pair hopes they can develop a young defense that graduated senior long poles Gunnar Cheuvront (Loyola Maryland), John Sanick, Wyatt Gentner and Evan Rogers from the talented 2020 team that never played a game.

Not playing with that group as sophomores was tough on Ruppel and Azbill.

“I definitely did feel for them, especially some upperclassmen like Gunnar,” Azbill said. “He really helped me getting into high school, so it was tough not being able to get that year with them.”

That’s what makes playing together this season special for the Catonsville juniors.

“We’ve played together since we were like really, really young,” Ruppel said. “I remember playing Pee Wee ball with my dad as the coach and us on the same team.”

They really enjoyed the summer Prime Time Lacrosse Camp, which was directed by former Catonsville coach Jeff Mohler.

“We have a little picture when we were at Prime Time of us really, really small and it’s framed in both of our houses,” Ruppel said. “It’s a really cool picture, just looking back on that, we kind of grew up playing together our entire lives and we’re back here at Catonsville on the same field we played Prime Time on, kind of doing the same thing together and it’s really cool.”

They played on the same Catonsville travel teams, Maryland Roughriders club team and select Under Armour teams together.

Towson High lacrosse coach Rick Brocato, who returned this year to coach at his alma mater after 17 years at St. Paul’s, got a chance to coach Ruppel over the summer.

“I coached the Ruppel boy this summer on a really talented 2022 team that won a championship at the Nike All-Star game so he is terrific,” said Brocato, who won 241 games and an MIAA title at St. Paul’s.

Both players were also teammates on Under Armour All-America Lacrosse for rising freshmen and several other all-star teams.

Catonsville junior defenseman James Azbill is content to have a long stick in his hands exclusively for the Comets this season.
Catonsville junior defenseman James Azbill is content to have a long stick in his hands exclusively for the Comets this season. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Schultz knew speed was one of Azbil’s assets, but saw him get stronger after playing football his sophomore year.

“Coach (Jaren) Maybin and that staff really helped him to continue to build his physicality and he fell in love with the weight room,” Shultz said.

When the 2020 season was halted, the duo continued to work out in hopes the season would resume.

“I feel like we both just pushed each other the whole time through like quarantine and all that,” Azbill said. “We never stopped working, we played club through the summer, so we never really missed a beat.”

Eventually, more Comets joined the workouts.

“When the season got postponed the first time, we were all out here, like 10 guys just shooting on the field and getting reps in and trying to stay ready because at that time we didn’t know, we thought we would be back in a week,” Ruppel said.

When the season never resumed, Ruppel made the most of it. He played in the Junior Open for 2022 graduates in Tennessee in early July where there were 144 players selected to play.

“That’s what kind of put me on the map, I guess,” he said. “It all got filmed and sent to coaches, so I think that was the first big step for me and then just kind of going into summer with my club team and continuing that, I think really helped.”

Inside Lacrosse selected him as one of 22 five-star prospects for the class of 2022.

He also attended a goalie camp and faced shots from college players, including Maryland senior standout Logan Wisnauskas, who has 27 goals and 22 assists for the unbeaten Terps (10-0).

“You talk to Logan Wisnauskas and he will tell you that Brian is one of the hardest goalies he’s ever had to shoot on,” said Andrew Gvosden, who ran the Goaliesmith camp at Coppermine with his brother Mike. “That’s high praise coming from a guy who can score at will.”

Schultz has seen that tenacity carry over to practice this spring.

“He’s super competitive and that helps us in practice,” Schultz said. “We have a good core of guys who are competitive. I think guys want to score on Brian and I think that is awesome because I think he gets their best shot and he’s looked great.”

Ruppel just wants to be making saves in competitive games on the Catonsville turf field, which the team calls ‘The C’.

“We need this year, we’ve got to play the best we can play and make up for that year we lost,” Ruppel said. “There is nothing like playing on ‘The C’. We grew up watching these games and we grew up dreaming of these moments.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement