Destination: Hotbed

By Nelson Coffin

It's safe to say there is no place in collegiate lacrosse like Baltimore. Two of the nation's perennial top-ten Division I bullies, Loyola College and Johns Hopkins, are only separated by a couple of blocks in the northern environs of Charm City. Coach Tony Seaman's Towson Tigers reside just a few miles above the county line in the suburbs while UMBC sits a hair west of town and can be reached easily with a 25-minute trip around the beltway. Navy and Maryland are within a 45-minute jaunt, traffic permitting. Heck, even Georgetown in the Nation's Capital - where the game is growing like gangbusters at the youth and high school levels - is no more than an hour away.

That makes seven D-I programs within an hour of each other. Coupled with the exalted status of B'more prep and youth ranks, it's easy to see why other college programs would want to have a showcase in Baltimore every now and then. It's the big-time stage coaches and players covet, perhaps comparable to a play opening out of town before it hits the bright lights of Broadway.

Ohio State v. Quinnipiac at U.M.B.C.

Ohio State's Joe Breschi, a product of Baltimore's Loyola Blakefield High School before starring at the University of North Carolina, feels the tug of his hometown too hard to resist for several reasons. His Buckeyes rocked Quinnipiac, 17-5, at UMBC recently in the season-opener for the nation's 19th-ranked preseason squad. "We have a lot of kids from Maryland on the team," said Breschi. "It's a great opportunity for them to come home and play."

Ohio State's Joe Breschi

The Buckeyes count 11 Marylanders on their roster, including seven from Calvert Hall. Goalie Tony Russo is one of the Calvert Hall guys who ended up being a recruiting coup for Breschi. The junior netminder had the second-best save percentage in Division I in 2002 and recorded 13 saves in a recent 9-8 loss to North Carolina in Columbus. Showing that programs outside the East Coast corridor can be viable options for some youngsters, Ohio State could only gain by playing in Baltimore.

"From a recruiting standpoint, it's one of the most important places to play," said Breschi, who has already lured two top players from his former high school, midfielder Drew Sraver and defender Tim Pataki, to join the Buckeye Nation.

Franklin & Marshall Coach Bill Gorrow

The same reasoning prompted Division III Franklin & Marshall to meet Denison at Loyola College in early March. With the Diplomats' home field buried in snow and Loyola's Curley field artificial turf clean and green, the scheduling of the game in Baltimore turned out to be a wise move. The other benefits were obvious beyond defeating Mother Nature. "It gives both Denison and us a recruiting presence in Baltimore," said F&M Coach Bill Gorrow, a Cicero-North Syracuse High alum.

Three of the Diplomats' best are Baltimoreans. Preseason All-America middie Jon Singer (Boys' Latin), attackman Beau Smith and defender David Taler (both Gilman) are part of the reason why F&M beat Denison, 12-7, that day. "Last year we played W&L at Loyola High," said Gorrow, who coached seven seasons at Georgetown and nine at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland before going to F&M. "We'd like to get at least one game there every year." Gorrow hardly limits his talent search to Baltimore. "We recruit from all over," said Gorrow. "But my predecessor, Dave Webster, was a product of Baltimore private schools. This year we have nine guys from Maryland on the team, seven are from Baltimore."

Hobart v. Butler at Homewood Field

Gorrow would like to establish ties to other lacrosse hotbeds, like Long Island. "Long Island just isn't a mecca for D-III lacrosse," said Gorrow. The emergence of Stony Brook, however, has given Long Island a better Division-I reputation to go with the respect accorded Hofstra. Last year the Seawolves were America East champs, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament while the 11-3 Pride was not included in the 12 team postseason field which expands to 16 this year. And with many teams stocked with Long Islanders, schools now have twice the opportunity to visit the Island now that Stony Brook is a viable destination. Third-ranked Maryland's date on the Island, March 15th at Stony Brook is a perfect example, increasing the Terps' visibility up north while also giving nine Long Island natives a chance to play in front of their hometown crowd.

Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, more teams with no ties to the city have ended up meeting other out-of-towners on the field. "We've already had a bunch of teams playing here this year," said Loyola College Sports Information Director David Rosenfeld. The Ohio Wesleyan-Stevens Tech and Delaware-Mt. St. Mary's match-ups were two Rosenfeld could remember from recent weeks. Last spring Whittier came from California to meet Eastern Connecticut State at Curley Field. "A lot of times teams are on spring break," said Rosenfeld. "And then they just kind of meet in the middle."

Nelson Coffin

And even without a men's champion in over ten years the town that is becoming less geographically central to the westward expanding sport remains the orbital center. With the championships of all three men's divisions decided in Ravens Stadium on Memorial Day weekend and the Under-19 Championships this summer, Baltimore becomes more and more comfortable and known to teams and fans from all over. This swell of great lacrosse events will likely yield a few new fans of Charm City and its eccentricities, like steamed crabs and lacrosse - a few more folks who'll think of Bal'mer as a home away from home.

Baltimore Style: Steamed Blue Crabs with Old Bay

Photos by John Strohsacker and E-Lax Staff

March 15, 2003