Monumental news cracked last week, affecting international lacrosse players and the college lacrosse scene for years to come. Per-Anders Olters has made lacrosse history by becoming the first German to officially commit to a NCAA Division 1 program, taking his talents to the University of Vermont. The big announcement came on National Signing Day as hundreds of lacrosse players all over the world inked their Letters of Intent.
Signing their names to paper commits these student athletes to various universities in pursuit of competing at the next level. On top of the “homegrown” talent from the United States, Canada, and First Nations that typically embody the NCAA, there’s a growing wave of “imports” making their way to American universities. Per (pronounced “pear”) has become the first from Germany to open the doors for European lacrosse players to compete at the highest level of college lacrosse.
Per wasn’t the only athlete from Europe to commit to an American school, but he was the first to make the jump into the big time. Having a chance to follow his game the past few years, and playing on the floor with him in Prague, I’ve been blown away by what I’ve seen out of this kid. Per is never the biggest guy on the floor, but his silky smooth stick-handling, patience on and off ball, and field vision is unparalleled for a kid his age. No wonder he’s had to compete with grown men just to find suitable competitor.
“We first learned about Per through his box film. His hands and finishing ability were immediately noticeable with his box highlights and we felt he would be a perfect fit for our Canadian influenced offense… Per’s ability is universal and we would have recruited regardless, but diversity is important to our program moving forward. Having a German on our roster is an opportunity for our players and staff to learn and grow.” – Chris Feifs, UVM Head Coach
After the official news broke, I reached out to the 18-year-old German phenom to find out where his passion comes from and how did a kid from Germany get through the process to NCAA D1 lacrosse…
Q+A: Per-Anders Olters, German National Team / Vermont Catamounts
MD: Congrats on everything, Per! Let’s start at the beginning, when did you start playing lacrosse and how did you find the game?
PO: I started playing lacrosse at a young age. When I was 4, while visiting my grandparents in Rhode Island, I went to a summer sports camp. Lacrosse was one of the sports they offered. It wasn’t full pads or anything, just kids with fiddle sticks throwing the ball around and playing small scrimmages.
It was a lot of fun and I wanted to play it, but my current living situation made that impossible. I didn’t start playing organized lacrosse until I was 10. I only attended two weeklong summer camps until that point.
It seems like you stuck with it until you could actually play organized games. Were there many programs available to you growing up and how was the competition?
In my life, I have spent three years in total living in the US, in all those years I was very young. The rest of my childhood was spent in Albania, Montenegro, and now Germany. In Albania and Montenegro, I had no chance to play lacrosse. When I moved to Germany, I had my first opportunity to play with a team.
I was living in Marburg, and there was a men’s program. I was lucky enough to get there at the same moment they wanted to start a youth program. When I started with the Marburg Saints, we didn’t have enough players to field a team. I learned most things by watching lacrosse tutorials and film on YouTube.
We kept growing and at some point were able to play other teams. The closest one was over an hour drive away and the furthest was around five. Competition slowly got better and better the more years I played. Eventually, I would move to Frankfurt and played a season of youth there. I started my men’s career at 16, playing in the national league.
Men’s lacrosse was far better competition because we played youth lacrosse on a half field. Playing men’s allowed me to play on a full field against better, more physically developed players and learn from them.
So then you got really good, and started the process of playing in the United States. Staying in Germany, you could receive a free or cheap education. What made coming to the US to play lacrosse so appealing for you?
My parents were never too thrilled with the idea of me coming over to the US to play, until it became more and more of a reality. But, it was a dream of mine for years to play Division 1 lacrosse. I wanted to experience playing lacrosse in the US, I wanted to play at the highest level I could. The sheer size of lacrosse in the US is just so appealing – and I wanted to be a part of it.
Lacrosse in the States is very different compared to Germany. It is a very niche sport that is growing, but still has a long way to go to compete with other sports like soccer, and field hockey, for players. All sports programs are run through clubs, not schools, so some guys have a long way to travel to get to practice.
In the men’s leagues, players are usually university students or guys who have jobs. Due to work and other reasons, teams here cannot practice and play together more than 2 or 3 times a week. I wanted the chance to play lacrosse where the sport is fully developed.
Without other German lacrosse players to show you the way, how did you go about the recruiting process and getting seen by college coaches?
I learned a lot about the recruiting process from North Americans that came over to play the AHM (Aleš Hřebeský Memorial), teammates of mine such as Brian Witmer and Vincent Gravino explained a lot to me.
I threw together a highlight video of some of the box games I played in Prague. Then I wrote an email explaining who I was with my story and attached my video. I sent it off to multiple programs I was interested in.
I was lucky enough to get answers. Really, I just tried to put myself out there as much as I could, because living in Europe, exposure is harder.
Aside from Brian and Vince, were there any others, in North America or Europe, that really helped you along the way and to reach your goal of NCAA lacrosse?
There were many people that helped me reach my ultimate goal. The U19 National team helped me a lot. The coaching staff was great and helped me progress further as a player.
I probably would not have progressed as much as I did without my teammates and the former coach at my local club. He came out to the field with me on an almost daily basis to work on shooting, dodging, etc.
That all brought you to your current role with the German National Team in preparation for the 2018 World Games. How long have you been with the National Program and how has your experience playing on the international level helped you prepare for D1 lacrosse?
I’m currently on the 50 man squad for the German National team for the 2018 World Games. I have been with the National program since the U19 German National Team tryout process, leading up to the 2016 U19 World Games in British Columbia.
This was the first time I was able to play at an international level. Playing against countries like Israel, Ireland, and England were a real eye opener. It was great to play against people from outside of Europe.
This summer, I played in the first European Box Lacrosse Championships in Turku, Finland. In addition to the European Championships, box lacrosse generally has increased my level of play by a lot. Playing with, and against, grown men has helped me because there are clear differences in stature. Before long, I was able to successfully play against men much larger than me.
The German Men’s Field National Team also allowed me to play against multiple NCAA schools this fall. We toured New England and it was a great experience. On top of competing in Gillette Stadium, we played against D1, D2, and D3 schools, which further helped my game. The National program has given me priceless opportunities that have helped me prepare for D1 lacrosse.
Through all of that, we’ve watched you grow into a strong competitor in box and field. Which style do you prefer and have the skills you developed in box helped your field game at all?
Yes, it has! Although I wouldn’t say that I prefer one over the other, they are two different games. I couldn’t say I’d stop playing one for the other.
However, the skills that I have developed in box have reflected onto my field game significantly. Without box lacrosse, I wouldn’t be close to where I am now as a player.
You might be the first to carve this path, but are there any other kids coming through the German system that can easily follow you?
I hope so, honestly. Being the first one to do it, I wanted to show kids that it’s possible. It’s not at all easy, but maybe in the coming years there will be more Germans following me to North America. I’d love to see that.
It isn’t a straight path, there are many twists and turns, and takes a lot of time and effort to get to there, but it’s not impossible.
You’re always on the go, chasing the game. Where can we see you in action before making way to Vermont for college?
I will take part in most of the box lacrosse tournaments in Prague (Mayor’s Cup, AHM), those are always great tournaments. I can only try my best and hope that I will be able to play in the playoffs of the German league again and hopefully make it to Final 4 weekend.
Same thing goes for the 2018 World Championships. I can only try my hardest and hope I make the final roster for that tournament.
Thanks a lot, Per. We’re going to keep close watch as you continue to chase your dreams!