College Box Lacrosse: Where You At?

Ulax NYC box lacrosse Boniello lax
Get creative, people!
Jovan Miller box lacrosse dye job team USa lax
Would have loved to have seen Jovan Miller play box too in college!

I’m loving box lacrosse.  I don’t think it’s better or worse than field, I just think it’s awesome.  And I’d love to see some real deal college teams start to pop up.  I actually can’t believe it doesn’t happen more often!  Sure, there are a lot of barriers to entry, and reasons that college box lax isn’t going to happen in a major way anytime soon, but the idea definitely has potential.  And for teams looking to gain an edge on the field, it just might be that Scott Bakula-esque Quantum Leap so many are looking for.

Looking down the list of top scorers and offensive players in the NCAA, and MLL, you can see the box influence.  Travis Moore, Kevin Crowley, Mark Matthews, Bryan Neufeld, Robert Church and a number of others are all in the top 20 and the skills they developed in box lacrosse are definitely paying dividends on the field.  In the MLL, there are less “pure” box players, but many of the guys in the top 20 also play pro box, and they all say that playing box has greatly helped their field game.  Paul Rabil, Brendan Mundorf, Casey Powell, Joe Walters, Ryan Powell, Stephen Peyser, Ryan Boyle, Kevin Buchanan and a host of others play a lot of boxla, and it’s clear that they have improved as players because of it.  Even defensive guys like Mitch Belisle of Trilogy Lacrosse tout the benefits of box.  It’s the real deal.

So why aren’t college lacrosse coaches and programs pushing for more box lacrosse right on campus?  After all, where there is a will, there is a way.  So when opportunity knocks, you’d better be ready to answer the door.  And it’s knocking.  Ok, enough of the cliches.  Let’s talk college boxla.

First things first, before we get to addressing the constraints, and how we can find solutions, I’m going to talk about why this is a good idea just a little but more.  Box lacrosse is tough, it’s fast-paced, and it requires huge amounts of skill to truly play well.  The skill sets from box lacrosse translate well to field lacrosse, especially on the offensive end, and provide new ways of attacking the cage, running offenses, and even defenses.  We all know that Zones are en vogue right now, and the backside of a boxla defense, aka “the wall”, uses and teaches many of these pass and recover principles and techniques.

The tight spaces mean stick skills must be sharp, and the limited number of players on the floor means that every player out there has to be pretty well-rounded and able.  There is no hiding in box lacrosse.  Defenders are forced to use a short stick, which makes them play better defense with their feet, and it forces them to be more comfortable and skilled with a ball in their stick.  Goalies may present something of an issue, as the debate is still raging as to whether or not field goalies can make the transition, or if it will even help them.  All I know is that Ginny Capichionni may be the best active US box goalie and she played women’s field lacrosse in college, and all the goalies in our box league last winter said it made them better field keepers.  But like I said, the jury is still out there.

Even if the goalie situation is a loss, it’s still safe to say that the majority of players on field teams would benefit from playing box lacrosse, so since it SHOULD happen, let’s look at why it’s not happening, at least not in a major way.

Title IX is the first thing people will bring up.  Colleges and Universities simply can’t add additional sports teams for men without adding women’s teams, and box doesn’t have a counterpart on the female side.  The other issue is that many schools already offer a disproportionate number of athletic roster spots to men, so creating a new men’s sport becomes even less likely.  Add on to all that the current economic situation isn’t exactly rosy, and the outlook becomes even more dire.  But lacrosse has proven time and time again that it doesn’t always follow the standard path, and many of the solutions are already out there.

Other issues surround costs, places to play, coaching, rules, expectations and eligibility issues.  So I’ll try to address each with possible solutions, and get around Title IX budget issues at the same time.

The MCLA, and a number of other smaller college leagues provide the perfect example to follow.  The schools that now have MCLA teams didn’t want to add programs for one reason or another, and yet here they are.  Lacrosse people simply made it happen.  Of course, MCLA teams couldn’t exist at schools where NCAA teams existed, but that didn’t stop the NCLL from getting more popular either.  When Boston high schools couldn’t add programs, MetroLacrosse created a league of its own.  There are a number of leagues like this all over the country at many levels.  When lacrosse people want to play, we make it happen.  If there isn’t an option where we fit in, we create one.

This may seem like a simple answer, and that’s because it is.  But it’s also been proven true time and time again.  So if a group of college players out there decided to create a box team at their school, you can bet they’ll find a way to make it happen.  The costs will be considerable depending on how a team approaches it, but it’s definitely doable, especially if they start small.  In fact, the first go-round could be accomplished by having the regular team form a “box lacrosse club” through the student assembly or recreational sports office.  Play in the gym at first, and keep it open to any student that wants to play.  Your school now has an intramural box lacrosse league.  Costs are relatively low, the school is involved, and there is no travel budget.  Plus people already have equipment.  All you’d really need are goals and goalie equipment.  Do it to it.

Now I understand that playing in a gym or on a tennis court might not be ideal, but don’t let that get you down.  Everything has to start somewhere.  Once there is enough interest, you’d probably want to find an indoor soccer location nearby, or hope that your school takes the ice off its hockey rink for the fall.  Maybe your school has an old hockey rink they don’t use anymore?  Or this is one nearby?  Raise some money to convert it to a box lacrosse facility!  This may seem like a crazy expectation or potentiality, but like I said, when lacrosse players decide to get something done, they can often find a way.  Schools in warmer climes could conceivably build an outdoor box  or multi-use facility, and that could drastically cut costs.  I’ve played box outdoors before and it’s awesome.  Maybe a local rink is getting new boards… buy their old ones!  Find a way to make it happen. Be creative!  In NYC we use an outdoor roller hockey rink and it’s great, so don’t doubt it!

Ulax NYC box lacrosse Boniello lax
Get creative, people!

As far as coaching goes, this is one of the tougher areas.  There aren’t a ton of Yanks with box experience, but again, one only has to look at some pretty successful field lacrosse coaches to see that this shouldn’t matter.  Mike Daly of Tufts was a college BASEBALL player at Tufts.  In 2010, he led the Tufts Jumbos LACROSSE team to an NCAA DIII national championship.  Want another example?  Ok.  Erin Quinn, the legendary coach at Middlebury (now their AD) never played lax in his life.  He learned the game as a coach, and he learned it well.  Well enough to win a bunch of rings!  So all you need is a good coach with enough drive to learn and improve and you should be set.  It’s not like they grow on trees, but if we broaden our search criteria (e.g. ex-baseball/football/hockey players, coaches, refs, etc), you might just find a not-so-hidden gem.  And that brings new people in to the game.  BONUS!

The last major obstacle in my eyes probably surrounds eligibility.  I’m sure there would be some concern that a lax coach couldn’t also coach a box lacrosse team, or that the two sports would be viewed as the same, since they are both lacrosse.  But indoor track is different from outdoor track, and many of those coaches coach BOTH teams.  Athletes in those sports win two varsity letters (and some of the cross country guys win 3) every year, so it’s pretty clear that precedent is set here in lacrosse’s favor.  This can happen.

There are certain teams and schools out there that should be doing this already, and off the top of my head they are: Manhattan College in NYC, ASA Junior College in NYC, Adelphi, CW Post, NY Tech, and Dowling, on Long Island as well as MCLA Briarcliffe.  WHY do I single these teams out?  Because I know that there is a box league nearby that runs before their seasons start!  All they’d have to do is enter a team!

I can’t imagine any of the school coaches would frown on their players organizing their own winter lacrosse team.  And I can even see the schools supporting their students initiative.  Everyone would get to play more lax, and it would be a great way to stay tough before the field season truly began.

In the end, most people will dismiss this as a waste of time or money, but if done right, collegiate box lacrosse could do a lot for any program.  People probably just won’t believe it until some team pulls it off and wins a national championship.  And when that happens, you can come back here and tell me how right I was.


      • Counter-balancing the funding for a box team by funding another women’s sport is a serious investment and one that might present too much a financial strain. Running a serious college lacrosse team requires a six-figure yearly budget that in turn requires a proportional amount of money to be spent on a women’s team. And if you don’t have a coach who is capable of coaching both teams? You can forget about it entirely. The financial strain would be too much.

        The second issue I see is what season a box team would play in. Making it a fall sport doesn’t work because it takes away field fall ball. Sure, you’ll still get some benefit out of having your field players play box, but it isn’t the same kind of direct benefit that track runners get from indoor. Playing box may make you a better individual player (and I don’t necessarily think this is true for all positions) but it will not build team offense and defense concepts in the way fall ball does. Winter doesn’t work much better because it will inevitably conflict with the currently timeline for the start of the spring season.

        Ironically, the one league where this might work would be the NESCAC. Assuming the financial hurdle could be overcome (and that’s a significant if), then box lax could conceivably be a fall sport and use the preexisting hockey rinks. There’s no conflict with fall ball because fall ball is against the rules, and the benefit of playing box together would far outweigh the limited benefit of captain’s practice in the fall.

  1. Actually, box is not as popular in the Seattle area because the high school coaches DO discourage winter league play.  If it weren’t the case, there’d be year-round opportunities here rather than just fall.  There are the occasional pick-up games but there just isn’t that much action, which is odd considering I live 20 minutes from no less than at least 6 indoor soccer facilities (1 to 3 fields each), and I think the number goes up to 10 indoor soccer facilities within 2 hours.

    I also think another problem box faces is that no matter how people promote it, it always comes down to “improving your field game,” which does nothing but say “hey, you’ll be a better field player if you play box.”  Why not play box to be a better box player?  Box shouldn’t be sold as a training method (let’s face it – who sells basketball programs as good cardio? it’s sold as basketball); it should be sold as a full-throttle hard-hitting sport in its own right.

    • Ummm. Your dumb. I love in seattle and I know multiple box leagues and winter/fall leagues. Stars and clash both do indoor and putdoor things, though starz goes through the Jr. Stealth program. Plus Arena sports in sodo and magnuson run a modifed box league. There are also mens leagues too fir the older guys. Get your facts straight. The league also does not discourage out of season play. Its just that coaches cannot be coaching or doing anything with players out of season…….

    • I’m echoing Fatpiggy’s sentiments minus the “Ummm. Your dumb.” part. That’s just rude.

      There are three indoor turf locations in the greater Seattle area (including Eastside- that are lined for box lacrosse, use box goals and supply box pads for high-school level play as well as youth classes and men’s league weekly pickup. Although some coaches do discourage it- there are coaches who recognize it as a legitimate ‘box-season’ and not just as ‘off-season’ training for field. Hockey doesn’t have a massive presence in local high school sports up here, and box fills that space for the guys who play lacrosse but love hockey as well. It’s on the rise here with the presence of the Stealth and it looks like big things will happen for boxla in the NW in the coming years.

  2. It has to be the number of facilities in the nation. Coming from a DI Club team (in the south ontop of that) the availability and sheer number of indoor facilities is VERY limited. We just don’t get cold enough year round to need the indoor space.

    Also, most to all of those facilities require money/reservation arrangements. Which if you’re just trying to get a pickup game hinders things quite a bit. Everyone wants to play, and for free if at all possible.

    Field…you just throw up a Rage Cage and you’re mostly good to go.

  3. Love the ideas!! Northern Edge is running actual box lacrosse for HS kids this winter (not “field inside” where 6 x 6 cages are placed on a box floor….stupid!). The skill development is already progressing for the kids who want to learn. We’re lucky enough to have three coaches with box experience; two of them having played in the MSL or NLL. 

    There are quite a few differences between playing goal in field and box. The biggest thing is convincing that field goalie that has been taught to step to the ball and catch it every time to, instead, let the ball hit him. Personally, I’ve found it easier to teach younger goalies, or, kids who play out in field but want to give goalie a shot in box. 

    I will propose another idea to those players who want to learn from the best and sample REAL BOXLA while in college. It may be a stretch for some, but, contact Jr. B teams in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. They may have some room for an ambitious American player with some talent. 

    During my time at Lindenwood, we sent players to Canada to develop their skills in the box. Every one of them came home a better player. And, in some cases, bringing Canadians with them to St. Charles to be part of the Lions. It was a great arrangement. Not just taking, but giving as well. Field d-mids benefit the most. Their footwork and physicality improves by leaps and bounds. 

    Good luck to all looking into Box Lacrosse. It’s fast, tough, and an absolute BLAST!!. 

  4. As an MCLA player I have got to say that I would definitely love something like this. I do love fall ball and we’re still going until December (started in August), but maybe a split of on the field and playing box would be great. Even if it were just practicing when the weather is poor/cold, which often hinders of from using the club fields, it’d be great to pick up the stick and go at it. A local tournament amongst division teams would be fun and not too much work to put together.
    The biggest problem I see is that it is funded by the players primarily, and unless local rinks are just feeling generous I don’t think everyone would want to pony up more to play at a cost versus the free club fields.

  5. good god I’ve been yelling that philly has the schools and the arenas for this. Drexel, St. Joes, and Upenn have or have had coaches with pro box experience like taylor wray, chris bares and brian voelker. udel’s program is rich with box players going back to junior. i have 4 teams right there that could have a helluva tournament.
    villanova is an unknown how they would feel as they have little history of box players or coaches.
    Princeton is not too far from philly and having bill tierny and chris bates as coaches might convince them.
    the class of 23 rink would be an excellent showcase.