We all know how rare it is for a professional team sport athlete to not have participated in NCAA Division 1 Athletics in college. For the guys who are thinking of playing pro, most choose the D1 route. The ones that don’t go D1 and still “make it” certainly exist, and some have become pretty huge household names, like former NCAA DII football player, Danny Woodhead.
However, even if you looked at every NFL or NBA team, I doubt you could find the same mass of star players, who did not go D1, as you can in Major League Lacrosse.
So today, I take a look at the TOP TEN MLL PLAYERS (who did not play D1 lacrosse)!
It should shock no one that most players in Major League Lacrosse still come from NCAA Division 1 colleges and universities. The lacrosse programs at these D1 schools attract the majority of the best players straight out of high school, and they also each offer an extremely lacrosse-focused college experience, meaning the players should, at least hypothetically, improve the most as well.
But not every single MLL star went the D1 route, and with less team practices, more reliance on personal responsibility (and training) and a tough cost-benefit structure, the MLL allows for D3 players (and D2, MCLA, etc) to catch up to the big boys of D1, and become star professional athletes at a pretty impressive rate.
All selections come from NCAA D3 schools unless otherwise noted. All selections were made primarily on what players did this year. I’ll start with number 10, and work our way down to number 1:
10 – Donny Moss – Hamilton (Adelphi – NCAA D2) – Moss plays D-middie for Hamilton, and every time I watch the Nationals play, and Donny Moss is playing, I notice him… in a good way. Moss isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done with a short stick against some of the best in the game. It ain’t sexy, but it’s effective, and gets Donny in the Top 10.
9 – Justin Smith – Charlotte (Salisbury) – The 30 year old D3 graduate is still getting the job done at the highest levels. He only played in 5 games for Charlotte this year, but dropped 9 points on 5g and 4a before being traded to Long Island (thanks SA2424). Smith can do it all and he’s been doing it for a while, and this gets him on the list.
8 – Albert Maione – Long Island (NYIT – NCAA D2) – Maione seems to fill a weird void for Long Island, and you can see him on the field in a myriad of situations. He seems like the guy that will do whatever is asked of him, and do it hard. Maione will also try to dazzle from time to time, and is improving as an MLL player.
7 – Matt Casey – Ohio (Ithaca) – Casey could put the biscuit in the basket when he played at Ithaca, but in the MLL, he’s much more of a D-middie. However, when you look at Ohio’s goals this year, a good deal came from transition, and you know Casey contributed there. Add in that he’s great on D and loves to compete and you’ve got a D3 success story.
6 – Mike Simon – Chesapeake (Stevenson) – You might be asking “why is Simon so high on this list when he’s only played in 3 games?” and it’s fair. Sort of. Basically, Mike “Tree” Simon pulled a Hartzell, shut down Rabil for Chesapeake in the semifinals, and is now regarded by those in the know (me) as an excellent MLL player. If Simon adjusted this quickly in 2012, what will he do in 2013? Rising star in the MLL. Mark my words.
5 – Connor Martin – Ohio (Chapman – MCLA) – The best MCLA player the MLL has ever seen. Hands down. Some say he isn’t that good. Those some are wrong. Every year, Martin gets better and looks more in control. His game understanding continues to improve, and quite simply, he puts points on the board. Martin’s 32 points in 14 games gave him 5 more than Steven Boyle, and 10 more than Billy Bitter, who both played 14 games as well.
4 – Jordan MacIntosh – Rochester (RIT) – After starring in the NLL for Minnesota as a rookie, we just knew MacIntosh would see success… but for others it was a total surprise. Maybe it’s our D3 bias. MacIntosh scored 23 goals for Rochester, added 4 assists and gave them a serious inside-outside game, which the team had lacked. MacIntosh was a game-changer for Rochester, and it puts him in the #4 spot for 2012.
3 – Mike Stone – Boston (Middlebury) – Most offensive MLL middies need to be able to snipe 2-pointers OR beat their man off the dodge at the very least. If you can’t do either of those things, you’re just taking up space. Mike Stone beats his man off the dodge about as well as anyone, and while he isn’t known for his 2s, he can definitely shoot with time and room. Stone is fast, athletic and a total team player. Chip in that he grew up in the suburbs of Boston and now you’ve even got a great backstory. He’s prime time, always has been. Finally others are starting to take note:
2 – Stephen Berger – Charlotte (Washington College) – What else is there to say about Berger at this point? He’s been a stud in the MLL for years and when he got shipped off to Charlotte, he just kept rolling, and in fact, may have even stepped his game up another level. 39 points, a team leader and a league icon… not bad for a guy who was drafted as Mr. Irrelevant (the last draft choice) and listens to a lot of Phish!
Berger is a lax rat, can do ungodly things with his stick, and has never let his smaller stature of D3 past get in his way. When the competition is taking a day off, Berger is getting better.
1 – Kyle Hartzell – Ohio (Salisbury) – Honestly, this was an easy choice… Kyle Hartzell is a beast on the field who can cover a guy like Paul Rabil just as well as he can cover a guy like Ryan Boyle. And once he takes the ball from you, there is a good chance he will score a 2-pointer on your goalie from 21 yards away. He holds the fastest shot record and most goals as a defensive player record. He is a complete game changer, a modern day longstick renaissance man, and he is a D3 product out of Salisbury.
I could do a Top Ten MLL Players list and include everyone, and Hartzell could still end up in the number 1 spot. He’s just that good, and works that hard. He’s a machine when training, goes 100% at all times and plays the game with fiery passion few possess. All that makes him the TOP Non-D1 Lacrosse Player in the MLL… and maybe the top player overall!
Other players considered: Owen “Kit” Smith, Eric Martin (injured, otherwise would have been on the list), Matt Witko, Craig Bunker, Jerry Ragonese, Joe Vitale, Greg Rogowski, Patrick Gaffney, and Jeff Bigas.
Inspired to pick up your level of training now? Pick up a new pair of shorts from the Lacrosse Shop and GET GOING! It’s never too late to make a go of it, and LAS has your back!