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Mercersburg Academy (PA) Lacrosse Blog: Use Tennis Balls!

Editor’s Note:  Mercersburg Academyis an indepedent private school in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania.  This year the lacrosse team at at the school will be documenting their pre-season and season on LAS.  The school has brought in a young and dedicated group of coaches, and these guys all hope to bring the program back to its former glory.  Follow Mercersburg all year as they make their push!

Mercersburg Academy
Mercersburg Academy


Fall Ball session #1

Today began the off-season work for the Mercersburg Academy lacrosse program.  We approach these sessions with the mindset of maximizing the players’ time by: improving skills, playing various (competitive) games, and team bonding. We don’t want to saturate the kids too early in the season, and we want to be welcoming to novice players.  However, we also want to get as much work in as possible.

Mercersburg Academy Lacrosse lax
Mercersburg Academy Lacrosse lax in 2011.

There are a number of specific aspects to the sessions here at Mercersburg that we believe will help achieve our goals – and we try to cover them all within the 45 minutes we’re allotted. The first class period at Mercersburg begins at a very reasonable 8:50am, so the boys
arrive at the gym at 7:00am and we want to get as much work done as we can with enough time left to eat breakfast and shower/change before class.

The Mercersburg Academy Campus Beauty Projet
That’s a pretty picture!

The most noticeable aspect to our sessions is that we use tennis balls exclusively.  We use them for wall-ball, small-sided “TC LAX” games (trashcan lacrosse), and any other competitions we have during the morning sessions. Tennis balls are lighter than lacrosse balls, and the decreased weight in the stick challenges both new and experienced players to ensure that they are in complete control of the ball. This
applies to cradling and dodging, since the player must be overly conscious of stick orientation. Otherwise, the ball will simply fall out of the player’s stick.

-The Mercersburg Academy Lacrosse glove Brine King custom
Brine Kings? Yes, please.

I find that novice players (and some experienced players) are hesitant to throw the ball hard for fear of making a mistake and over-throwing in the wrong direction. In order to make solid passes (aka: one that doesn’t get picked off) with a tennis ball, you MUST throw the ball hard to increase its speed in the air. Using tennis balls for wall-ball helps develop good passing habits since you have to throw the ball much
harder than you would a lacrosse ball in order for it to rebound appropriately.

Finally, the advantage of using tennis balls for indoor fall ball sessions is especially evident when it comes to groundballs. Picking up a tennis ball on a basketball or smooth indoor surface is much more difficult than picking up a lacrosse ball on grass. Therefore, players must really focus on the GB, accelerate through the ball, and keep their feet moving. Otherwise the ball will simply roll away from the player. Likewise, bouncing loose balls are harder to pick up when it’s a tennis ball and therefore the boys have to concentrate and will improve their hand/eye

-The Mercersburg Academy Lacrosse glove Brine King custom
Tennis ball gb?

Each session we start with 10-15 minutes of general warm-up (wall-ball). We have enough tennis balls such that players have their own ball and use a section of wall by themselves. Although playing catch with a friend is more fun, it’s not nearly as efficient. Ten solid minutes of individual wall-ball is much better than 15 minutes of playing catch with a partner. Periodically throughout the off-season we will
dedicate an entire morning session (probably once a month) specifically to form and technique. We don’t overdo the teaching this early in the year because we want the boys to have fun by playing.

The last 25-30 minutes of the morning session is TC LAX. We literally tip over two industrial trashcans and play 3 vs. 3 or 4 vs. 4. The only rules are: stick checks only (kids must wear gloves) and you must shoot overhand. Kids are tempted to drop their stick and shoot sidearm or underhand since the target is low to the ground, but good accuracy (in addition to the necessities of throwing a tennis ball listed above)
force the kids to work on good overhand shooting form.

This morning we had 10 kids, so we started out with 3 vs. 3. Once a goal was scored we had the next 3 kids from the sideline jump in, “dig it out” of the can, and replace the team that got scored on. One player was left on the sideline based on today’s numbers, and he joined the first two players off the court from the team that was scored on. They made up the next team of 3. In other words, subbing works like hockey – next guys up. If you have even groupings it works on team building and competition (aka: same 3 kids play together all morning); odd numbers help to generate unusual combinations of players that might reveal something about player chemistry that you might not notice otherwise.

The result of today’s session was an introduction to tennis balls, 30 minutes of up-and-back play with one short break in the middle, focused attention to loose balls and ball control (since it’s hard to control the lighter balls), and getting a good sweat going.

Mission: Accomplished.

We finished the morning with an accuracy contest (still using tennis balls). The kids had to hit the hanging volleyball trainer from about 25 feet away. The ball was about 8 feet off the ground and we concluded the session once the ball was hit 5 times.  Three of the five “hits” were made by a starting defenseman. Great skills for a long pole!

Next week we’ll repeat the formula and see how things progress throughout the fall.  Once we get back to school in January, we’ll increase the sessions to twice a week and incorporate some more drills in preparation for the season.


Want a little more info on Mercersburg Academy Lacrosse?  Well, we’ve got you covered.

They are striving to institute a college-style approach to coaching at the Academy, and with the experience that all three of their coaches have, that shouldn’t be a problem.  The school is located about 90 minutes from DC and Baltimore, so the draw is great.  They play good competition, enjoy offering top notch academics, and have a beautiful campus.  All that and they’re already sending kids to schools like LeMoyne, Bowdoin and Kenyon.  If that doesn’t do it for you, try the fact that Jimmy Stewart went there back there in the day!

Mercersburg Academy

Head Coach: Mark Schindler graduated from St. Paul’s School (MD) in 2000 where he played varsity lacrosse as well as varsity soccer and ice hockey. Mark was awarded the Louis D. Clark Loyalty Cup, honoring the student-athlete whose constant enthusiasm and positive attitude inspired his teammates to perform at their highest level. Mark matriculated to Wesleyan University (CT) where as a freshman he was a part of a lacrosse team that went 17-3 and was NESCAC regular-season co-champions. After Wesleyan, Mark began his coaching career back at St. Paul’s as an assistant coach before taking the varsity head coaching job at Hampton Roads Academy (VA).

In 5 years at HRA, Mark brought an 0-13 team in 2007 to an 11-4 team in 2011 that lost in the DII state semifinals in overtime. Mark was named the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools (TCIS) Coach of the Year in 2010. In addition to coaching at SP and HRA, Mark has coached the 757 Shredderz club team out of VA Beach and at numerous camps and clinics.

Assistant Coaches: Mike Conklin is a graduate of West Genesee HS in Syracuse, New York. West Genesee is one of the most successful high school programs in the country, having won 15 NY State championships and 27 Section III championships. Mike was a starting attackman and co-captain on the Wildcat team that won the State championship in 2002. After graduating from high school, Mike was a four-year starter at Hobart and
William Smith Colleges where he also served as captain in his senior season. Mike remains the 6th leading goal-scorer in Hobart’s Division I history.

Brian Read is another Baltimore lacrosse guy, having played for perennial powerhouse Boy’s Latin School.  The MIAA is arguably the most competitive high school lacrosse conferences in the country, and Brian was a captain of the 2002 MIAA “A Conference” championship team. After graduating from Boy’s Latin Brian continued his career at Dickinson College where he played midfield and attack. Brian was a four-
year starter and captain in his senior year. He was selected as an All-American in 2006, selected to the All-Centennial Conference Team 3 times, and remains 2nd for all-time points, 3rd in goals, and 4th in assists in Dickinson school history. Brian played one summer for the Washington Bayhawks practice team and has coached for Next Level in Bethesda, MD.

Mercersburg Academy
Not a bad set up! Not one bit!

Mercersburg lacrosse competes in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) versus Blair Academy, The Hill School, Hun School, Lawrenceville School, and Peddie School.

In addition to the MAPL, Mercersburg lacrosse competes in the local IPSL and against other regional independent schools in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia.

The lacrosse coaching staff offers weekly workout sessions and “TC LAX” (trashcan lacrosse) games during the fall and winter off-seasons.

Most lacrosse players participate in other athletic programs at Mercersburg in the fall and winter as well.