By Eric Black
When Sweetlax Lacrosse co-owners Joe Huber and Kevin Martin started Sweetlax Florida three years ago, they waded into nearly-uncharted territory. The teams they’d seen from the state that played up north in the years prior still looked to be in their developmental stages, and there were no top-tier clubs.
But Martin, who moved down to Florida six years ago, saw there was a need for an elite travel team. He’d been working with lacrosse clinics and saw a lot of kids had talent and needed the exposure. Sweetlax Florida would provide them with that.
“So, we came down here and started Sweetlax. And the first tryout, we had five kids at it,” Martin said, laughing.
Since then, the Sweetlax Florida program has emerged as one of the top programs in the state after he and other employees began making phone calls, going to high school games, and identifying kids who may be interested. This summer, there are 400 players in the program on over 20 teams, with age groups in the fall that will range from 2020-2028.
One of the hallmarks of the Sweetlax Florida program is its four Regional Development Programs (RDPs) across the state. Former Loyola star Paul Hummer recently took the reigns of the Leatherbacks RDP, located in South Florida. There’s also the Wahoos North and South teams, their Gulf Coast regional programs, and the Tallahassee Redfish for the northern part of the state.
At the RDPs, coaches work with players to create consistency in drills, player development, and team development. That means no matter what age you are in the program, all of the terminologies are the same.
“These regional development programs enable us to give our players and other talented young boys the opportunity to train and play with us throughout the course of the week,” said Kevin Dugan, Sweetlax Florida Director and head of the RDPs. “That is really helping us prepare a lot of our players for when they're playing in these NLF events and the other big events that they're competing in across the country.”
In his role, Dugan travels around the state throughout the week to visit the RDPs and run trainings and practices. With the consistency he and the program are trying to build, the teams are more able to come together and get on the same page quicker. This vision for team and player development is already coming to fruition, and Sweetlax Florida’s 2020 team is one of the major beneficiaries.
At the 2019 Adrenaline Platinum Cup in early June, the Sweetlax Florida '20s went 3-0 in their Pool, outscoring opponents 33-12 in the process. While past Sweetlax teams had success on the club level, Martin said that the 2020 group is the first that’s been able to take the next step and beat elite teams up north.
“We started beating some of the teams, and we’re like ‘whoa, this group is good,’” Martin said. “...This was our team that really officially turned the corner.”
Martin pointed out the squad’s midfield line as one of the primary reasons it’s a force to be reckoned with on the club circuit. Players like Carter Parlette and Eric Dobson, who will both be heading off to play at Notre Dame next fall, have become a “wild 1-2 punch” for Sweetlax, Dugan said. While Parlette is a great two-way middie, Dobson is a dominant, 6’5” lefty and they love playing with each other.
They’re joined by Dylan Hess, a Georgetown commit who Martin compared to Ryan Conrad. One of the special things Martin noted about the team is where they all call home. Parlette is from Orlando, Dobson is from a small school in the Jacksonville area and Hess hails from a larger school right outside the city. Meanwhile, defenseman Kaden Brothers and midfielder Marcelo Arteaga, both committed to Johns Hopkins, are from Vero Beach and Miami, respectively.
“The culture of that team is very much a positive one built around friendships and relationships,” Dugan said. They've grown up together and they've kind of put Sweetlax on the map and they've helped Florida lacrosse sort of on the map.”
Martin, who handles most of the recruiting duties for Sweetlax Florida, believes that the explanation of the recruiting process is something that the 2020 players and their families really appreciated. He dedicates his personal time to walk them through everything, and at this point, there are only four players on the team that are uncommitted, two of which are new to the program.
That’s just one of the ways Sweetlax Florida is investing in the growth and development of Florida lacrosse. Full-time coaches are being brought in to help with the RDPs and camps in an effort to really focus on the coaching, player, and team development pieces of the program, Dugan explained. At the end of the day, Sweetlax Florida wants to make sure it not only has the best players in the state, but they’re being coached and developed correctly so that they’re in the best possible position to be successful.
“We’re across the board looking at helping the state of Florida, from developing the top players in the state (and) having that attention to the grassroots component of it,” Dugan said. “We’re investing in coaching and staffing, which will enable us to better serve the Florida lacrosse community and better serve our players to their full potential.”
By Eric Black
Midway through the spring, 2023 Madlax DC Dogs head coach Matt Rienzo had a conversation with Colin “Mac” Christmas' father. The former Georgetown star wanted to move Christmas from a regular midfielder to a long-stick midfielder. His size and skillset, Rienzo explained, made him a perfect candidate to make the transition. But Christmas was hesitant to make the switch just yet.
A few weeks later, the DC Dogs found themselves down three defensemen due to injury. Christmas, with a long stick in his hands, went on to score three goals against Edge in their third game of the North American Lacrosse Summer Invitational. He finished the weekend with 7 goals and left his head coach shaking his head in awe.
“I coached Kyle Sweeney and Brodie Merrill at Georgetown,” Rienzo said. “Two of the best long-stick middies to ever play in my opinion, and (Christmas) has similar qualities. He’s exceptional.”
Christmas is one of the leaders on the 2023 DC Dogs, US Club Lacrosse’s No. 1 team in the class. Despite playing in just one tournament so far, the Dogs made sure it was a memorable one, going 6-0 in the NAL and finishing the run with a dominant 8-2 win over the No. 2 Annapolis Hawks. Coached by Rienzo, a Georgetown Hall-of-Famer who’s lined up next to by offensive coordinator Charlie Horning and Bob Dunn, the DC Dogs are one of the most impressive teams in the nation regardless of division.
Goalie Declan Monahan also stepped up during the Dogs’ undefeated slate. Thanks largely in part to his play, they averaged just 3.5 goals against per game, including three different contests in which they gave up just 2. Part of that defensive dominance can be attributed to their stellar ball-control, which is solidified by Jackie Weller's play at the face-off X. Rienzo believes Weller is one of the best face-off guys in the country in the age group and won over 75 percent of the face-offs during the tournament.
Colin “Barbecue” Burns is the quarterback of the team’s attack group, which reached double-digit goals in four out of their six games. He mostly plays behind the cage and is flanked by Caulley Deringer, a lefty wing player who has been a great addition to the team and Drew Stahley, a solid complementary player. But the Dogs’ strength lays in its midfield. It runs six deep, allowing for two different lines of high-caliber players on both sides of the ball.
“With our athleticism and depth, we'll find we wear teams out in the fourth quarter,” Rienzo said. “When we get in these tournaments where you're playing three games in a day, you get to that sixth game of the tournament and other teams are tired, we should hopefully still be able to be a little bit fresh because of how many people we play.”
While most teams with a high number of talented players may have trouble spreading the wealth around without getting selfish, that isn’t the case with the DC Dogs. Madlax’s CASE camp is a big reason for that. CASE, which stands for Character, Attitude, Success, and Effort, is taught to everyone in the program during the first week of the summer instead of playing in a tournament. Madlax founder Cabell Maddux has received his share of criticism for the decision, but he’s found it’s consistently paid dividends for his players on and off the field.
Now in its ninth year of existence, CASE has made teams’ play more fluid and recruiting way easier, Maddux said. While in the past some players believed that playing for Madlax meant they automatically were going to get recruited, that thought process is no longer allowed in Maddux’s program. If a player isn’t a good person off the field or isn’t doing the right thing, they’re cut from the team.
“There's plenty of good players, we had to start developing kids besides players,” Maddux said. “We know we're always gonna have enough athletes around here to develop the athlete, (but) let's develop the person too.”
In addition to the CASE camp, Madlax employs positional experts to coach players’ specific skill sets. For 30 to 45 minutes during each practice in the fall and early spring, Madlax players are split up into groups and coached by experts on face offs, goalies, shooting, dodging, and defense, among other areas.
The camps and coaching have also helped to prevent players from burning out. Past Madlax teams potentially played as many as 60 games a year, but are now down to about 30. For the 2023 Madlax DC Dogs, one of the best teams in the program, Maddux said, the new format is paying off.
“We won our first tournament because we were fresh. Some teams have already played in three or four tournaments,” Maddux said. “Those are the two things that differentiate us. One is our character piece, two is our emphasis on positional work, especially in the fall and winter.”
By Eric Black
MORRIS PLAINS, NJ — An air horn sounded, stopping all 80 players on all four fields in their tracks. The balls in play fell from their sticks or were shuffled to referees. Fist bumps and high fives were exchanged, and the players began to jog off in separate directions. It was time for the next set of games.
“Get in there and showcase yourself!” One parent chirped at his son, who had just finished the 20-minute game as an attackman. “You gotta be in shape.”
They were at the boys New Jersey Under Armour All-American tryouts at the Central Park of Morris County on Tuesday, the second and final day of the event. The tryouts are held every year to determine who will represent the state (one of 12 regions nationally) in the annual Under Armour All-American Lacrosse Classic Underclass Tournament. There, two divisions (“Command”, filled with rising freshmen and sophomores, and “Highlight”, made up of juniors and seniors) in each region for each gender will compete against one another for bragging rights and the regional title.
A total of 331 kids took part in the tryouts, called the “best recruiting event a kid can go to” in one of the videos on its website, and were broken up into 22 teams: six in the Command Division and 16 in the Highlight Division. The final selections, expected to be announced on Thursday, will feature just 23 players (two goalies and any combination of attack, midfield, and defense), on each team.
“As a past player, club coach and someone working in the lacrosse industry it’s truly amazing how many college coaches we “check-in” across the country for this event,” Ryan Corrigan, Director of Sales for Corrigan Sports, said. “If you’re looking to get recruited, the Under Armour Tryouts are a great way to be seen.”
Corrigan Sports has served as the operator for the tryouts since their inception, organizing the entirety of each massive event. That includes contacting and acquiring the 100+ coaches to serve as evaluators for each one, finding the venues large enough to hold them, and hiring officials, among other tasks. In doing so, Corrigan Sports’ main goal is to maintain objectivity among the evaluators and ensure that each event results in the best and most deserving players being selected.
While some players will be selected to one of the two 23-person teams, most of the boys won’t get that call. That doesn’t mean their two-day experience will have been useless, however. The games, scheduled to be 20-30 minutes long with a running clock, are set up to be fast-paced in order to showcase players’ skills. So even if a player isn’t selected to represent his region, he’ll still have had the chance to show dozens of college coaches (at the DI, DII, and DIII levels) what he has to offer.
“It would be really cool to represent New Jersey,” said one player trying out for the Highlight team. “But even if I don’t get picked, this was still a really cool experience.”
In addition to getting exposure at the tryouts themselves, some players will also have the opportunity to participate in newly-announced Under Armour All-American Call Back Academy. To be held on Nov. 8 and 9, the Call Back Academy will feature on-field instructional sessions, showcase games, and educational seminars.
The invite-only event, which is limited to 600 boys and girls, will be filled with the “best against the best”, as only players who were invited to their regional Call Back game and those that make the final team will be invited. In addition to the games and seminars, players will have the opportunity to speak with NCAA Compliance Specialists, Health and Nutrition Specialists, high-level college coaches.
For now, all eyes are on the results of the tryouts for the Underclass Tournament, which will be held later this month.
“Our tagline has always been “Rep Your Region,” Corrigan said. “The sense of pride that all of us carry for our hometown comes out through this tournament.”