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.”
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