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Coast to Coast: Lacrosse Recruiting Growth Over the Past 20 Years

The college lacrosse recruiting process has evolved extensively over the past two decades. While traditional hotbeds still reign supreme, we can see that colleges are starting to recruit in new regions. This newfound expansion is paving the way for lacrosse to break out of the East Coast stereotype that it holds today.

Bubba Fairman is the ultimate team-first guy. He was a four-year starter on offense for the Terps. At the start of this season, he voluntarily transitioned to short stick d-middie. Fairman helped lead Maryland to an undefeated season and an NCAA National Championship.

Bubba grew up playing lacrosse in Sandy, Utah. Not exactly Baltimore or New York.

He is a great example of how lacrosse has grown and expanded its recruiting process over the last twenty years. A narrative highlighted by a conversation on Twitter this week between Dan Aburn and John Paul.

Bubba’s story and the conversation on Twitter sparked me to dig deeper to see how much the game has grown and expanded in the last twenty years. 

First, I gathered rosters from the last twenty national champions (actually 18 since UVA didn’t post their 2006 or 2011 roster). I then interviewed two former coaches, John Paul and Dylan Sheridan. Both men played and coached outside of lacrosse’s traditional hotbeds.

John Paul is the former head coach at the University of Michigan. Paul helped transition the Wolverines from one of the top MCLA programs to becoming a Division 1 program in 2012. In addition, he coached the Atlas Lacrosse Club in their inaugural season in the PLL

Dylan Sheridan is currently the head coach of Western Reserve Academy in Ohio. He is the former head coach at Cleveland State

The data and interviews illustrate how a young man from Utah can grow up to help lead the Terps to a National Championship. 

2002-2022 National Championship Players by State/Providence

A total of 34 states and providences have been represented in the lacrosse recruiting process over the last twenty years. The vast majority of the players have come from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The numbers are starting to grow and expand outside of these traditional hotbeds. Here is a closer look at the numbers:

  • New York has provided the most talent, with 248 players coming from the Empire State
  • Maryland is a close second, producing 138 players.
  • Virginia (South) and California (West) have produced the most players (35) outside of the traditional hotbeds
  • Ontario has produced the most Canadian talent, with 18 players coming from across the border.

From 2002-2006, the vast majority of players came from the Mid-Atlantic portion of the country. Going over those early rosters, it seemed like all the players came from either New York or Maryland.

2002-2006 National Championship Players by Region

The Midwest was the biggest producer of talent outside these areas. Schools like Upper Arlington in Ohio and Seaholm, Cranbrook, and Brother Rice in Michigan supplied most of the Midwestern talent. 

The 2007 National Champion Jays exemplified the push of those early 2000’s lacrosse teams to focus their recruiting on New York and Maryland. The Jays had 20 players from Maryland, led by Paul Rabil, Jake Byrne, and Jesse Schwartzman, along with 14 players from New York. 

John Hopkins University 2007 National Championship Roster by Region

Even those early 2000’s teams mostly came from the Mid-Atlantic, the seeds of growth were being planted. Coach Paul talked about how many players left the East Coast after their playing days were over and headed West.  

“In the 90s and early 2000s, so many recent graduates who had played high-level college lacrosse were moving west to the mountains and beaches. They were a big part of building out what you see now. Guys like Jono Zissi, Mike Acee, Chris Rotelli, and Ryan Powell…the list goes on and on.”

– John Paul, Former Head Coach at the University of Michigan.

While the Mid-Atlantic still makes up about 52% of all players, the South, West, and Canada have seen tremendous growth. 

2016-2022 National Championship Players by Region

Both Coaches discussed some of the challenges players from “emerging markets” have when first coming to a Division 1 program. Paul discussed how the concentration of talent provides an edge to those players coming from the traditional hotbeds. 

“The biggest challenge for players from non-hotbeds is developing the lacrosse IQ necessary to play at the D1 level. MIAA kids in Baltimore are playing against other high-level kids in every game. They are going against future D1 players at practice every day. They are being coached by a full staff of outstanding coaches. The sport is a priority at their school and in their community.”
John Paul, Former Head Coach at the University of Michigan.

Sheridan echoed those sentiments. In addition, he mentioned how players from outside the traditional hotbeds need to push to find opportunities to showcase their talent. 

“The biggest challenge for kids that aspire to play D1 from non-traditional areas is finding opportunities for consistent high-level instruction, training, and competition. Getting in front of coaches has become easier and easier. There are more opportunities and platforms than ever before. Those kids have to be self-starters. Credit to those kids that do make it and their families because they are truly investing a ton of time, effort, and resources into it.”
– Dylan Sheridan, Head Coach at the Western Reserve Academy

Before becoming the head coach at Cleveland State, Coach Sheridan spent time on Denver’s staff as the defensive and recruiting coordinator. Of all of the rosters I analyzed from the last twenty years, no program was more diverse than the 2015 Pioneers. 

The 2015 Denver Pioneers were an outlier. Led by Hall of Fame Coach Bill Tierney, the Pioneers became the first team west of North Carolina to win the D1 Men’s Championship. The Pios also had the fewest players in the last twenty years from traditional lacrosse hotbeds like New York or Maryland. 

University of Denver 2015 National Championship Roster by Region

The 2015 Pios had an eclectic group made up of players from across the United States and Canada. They were led on offense by Wes Berg (British Columbia) and Erik Adamson (California) and in goal by Ryan LaPlante (Colorado). 

Although Denver has not made it back to Memorial Day since 2015, the Pios along with Bubba Fairman  provide a glimpse of what the game can look like with rosters made of players from coast-to-coast.