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Ranking High School Lacrosse Teams: Why?

There are a couple of polls out there that attempt to rank the Top 20 or Top 25 US high school lacrosse teams, and when you look at it as an extension of the NCAA Top 20 polls, it seems to make some initial sense, but when you look a little deeper, the rationale begins to fall apart pretty quickly. Why do we rank high school lacrosse teams nationally in one ranking system? Heck, why do we even rank them at all?

First of all, there is no national High School champion, and unlike the NCAA polls, the high school polls serve no real purpose in predicting tournament success. There is no real championship at the end, and there is no trophy to be handed out…  beyond the opinion of a few voting members, nothing is actually on the line, except maybe a little manufactured pride for high school kids and their parents.

Add in the fact that there are still very few out-of-state games for the majority of high school teams, and making sense (in this case that means ranking teams) based off a couple interstate games does very little to create a compelling ranking system, and the entire thought process looks pretty dilapidated. A small sample size is an almost inescapable restraint.

Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo

Then when you add in the fact that there is no divisional ranking within the Top 20 or Top 25 polls and the whole thing has to be viewed as a laughing matter. Just look at the NCAA polls right now… Do you have any idea where RIT stands relative to D1 and D2 teams? NO? You don’t? That’s probably because they play in different divisions. But doesn’t that happen in high school lacrosse as well? If Taft will never ever play Upper Arlington how do we compare them? If Ward Melville will never play Cazenovia in the playoffs (they are in different NYSPHSAA classes), should they be subject to the same national poll? Why do teams compete for the same national ranking if they don’t even compete against each other to be #1 in their own state?

The same can be said for Catholic schools, like St. Anthony’s and Chaminade, or a military academy like Culver, located in Indiana. I’m not saying these aren’t all great teams, because they certainly are. I am asking why they are ranked with and against non-comparable high school teams… that doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. When you look at New England prep schools being included, it gets even murkier. Shouldn’t a team with 8 post-graduate players on it be better than almost every other team with no PGs? Why even rank these schools against one another? It’s like ranking Chapman against Air Force or Duke against the NY Lizards… it might be fun, but it makes no sense.

And then you get to the actual rankings, and you can see how impossible this task is RIGHT NOW, in its current form. Why chase an impossibility?

Longmeadown finished last year at 25-0, and they won the Massachusetts D2 title. The Lancers were ranked at #25 in the Final US Lacrosse poll last year. The only interstate team they played was 19-2 Pinkerton, where they won in OT. Pinkerton beat Cape Elizabeth (Maine), lost to Longmeadow (Massachusetts) and lost to Bishop Guertin by 7 in the NH playoffs after beating them by 3 in the regular season. Guertin played Huntington (NY, losing 10-6), St. Joseph Metchuen (NJ, winning 13-9), Christian Brothers (NY, winning 15-7), and Duxbury (MA, losing 12-9). Huntington played no Top 20 teams. SJM played no Top 20 teams. CBA played no Top 20 teams. Duxbury played #4 Garden City (losing 10-1) and lost to #10 Niskayuna 11-3.

At the end of the day, Longmeadow is FIVE games, and four inter-state trips away from playing another Top 20 team. Yet at the end of the year, there they were at #25. It’s not a knock on the Lancers, or their undefeated season, which is always impressive. It just points out how hard it is to rank these schools objectively. Want more proof? Longmeadow is nowhere to be found in the Top 25 poll right now. They also aren’t in the preseason Top 10 for the Northeast and have no players to watch according the US Lacrosse regional report. Longmeadow had six players on The Republican’s All Scholastic Team, and four of those guys return as Seniors this year. It’s not that Longmeadow should be higher, but where did they go? How do you justify removing them, and putting someone else in?

The current approach creates confusion, and makes little to no sense. It is simply trying create a valid ranking from a too-large pool of teams. It’s set up to fail.

So is there a way to do this better?

Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo

I’d like to see schools divided into classes personally, and I’d like to see the lines set based on school size, private vs public vs catholic vs prep, and a couple other simple criteria.

Group 1: Public Schools – This would probably be the biggest group of schools, and it would require divisional breakdowns. Class A would be the biggest schools. If your school plays in your State’s biggest class, you are in this ranking group. If your state only has one class for lacrosse, you are included in this group. Class B would be the second largest public school division in your state. Class C would be all the other smaller public schools. If your state only has two classes of public school, your lower division will compete in Class C for national ranking purposes, while your larger schools would be in Class A.

Group 2: Private Schools (no PGs) – All private schools would be lumped into the second group, as long as they did not have post graduate students playing on their lacrosse teams. This group would include private non-religious day and boarding schools from across the country.

Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo

Group 3: Catholic, Religious, Reform, Etc. – As long as the school does not have PG students, parochial and reform schools would compete against each other in the rankings. Xaverian in MA, Chaminade in NY, Don Bosco in NJ… all of these schools would be ranked against one another. If other religious based schools play lacrosse, they too would be included in this ranking group. Reform high schools for troubled kids would also play in this group, unless they had PG students.

Group 4: Prep/Private Schools with PGs – Basically if you have PGs playing on your lacrosse team, you’re in this final group. Bridgton Academy, Navy Prep, Deerfield, Choate, Exeter, Hyde (CT)… it would be an interesting mix and a lot of divergent approaches to the game would present themselves. There is no reason these teams should be ranked with other high school teams, but they also deserve a ranking of their own, because this is very good lacrosse!

My above scenario definitely creates more work for the people doing the rankings. There is no doubt about that. But why do rankings at all if they’re not useful? Why mash up ALL the teams from across the country and come out with an unreliable poll that tells us very little when we could be producing something interesting, balanced, and fair?

If the current poll is just done for fun, then I don’t really have a problem with it. It tells us what we already know: VERY good lacrosse is being played in New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, DC, and Virginia. There are good teams in California, and a good team in Indiana… but can’t we do better than that?

I get that people LOVE ranking things, and I don’t think I’m going to change anyone’s mind there. But would you rank a lacrosse head against a lacrosse glove? Then why are we ranking high school teams that are nothing like one another? Does that really do anything for us?

An equitable set up, where comparable teams are ranked against one another, is not too much to ask. If anyone is going to rank high school teams, it should be done in this manner. Otherwise you’re just looking at the top teams in the top states and throwing them up in a somewhat arbitrary order. We get it, NY and Maryland have a bunch of great programs that are good at lacrosse… now tell us something we don’t know!

My proposed system would push alike schools to playing one another. Public school teams would play public school teams of their same size, privates would play privates, and PGs would stack up with other prep level teams. We might see less Catholic vs Public out of state games, but seeing as those schools are already so different, would it hurt us at all?

If you’re interested, here is the The preseason Nike/US Lacrosse High School Boys’ Lacrosse National Top 25:

1. Boys’ Latin (Md.)

2. Haverford School (Pa.)

3. Culver Military (Ind.)

4. St. Anthony’s (N.Y.)

5. Georgetown Prep (Md.)

6. St. Paul’s (Md.)

7. Massapequa (N.Y.)

8. McDonogh (Md.)

9. Malvern Prep (Pa.)

10. Smithtown West (N.Y.)

11. Chaminade (N.Y.)

12. Landon (Md.)

13. Conestoga (Pa.)

14. Ward Melville (N.Y.)

15. Smithtown East (N.Y.)

16. Garden City (N.Y.)

17. Darien (Conn.)

18. Delbarton (N.J.)

19. Gonzaga (D.C.)

20. Calvert Hall (Md.)

21. Loyola Blakefield (Md.)

22. La Salle (Pa.)

23. Niskayuna (N.Y.)

24. St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Va.)

25. St. Ignatius Prep (Calif.)