WESTPORT — Even though the start of the 2016 spring high school season is still six months away, the Staples High boys lacrosse program has a lot to be proud of already.
Staples has 11 current members of the team give verbal commitments to their respective college schools, an unbelievable number that shows just how far the program has come since Paul McNulty took over as head coach in 2009.
“In 2010 we had seven, so that was pretty good, too,” McNulty said of the group that featured Kip Orban. “This is the most Staples has ever had. They worked hard at it by going to prospect days and showcases. They wanted to play in college and they worked at it to get seen by coaches.”
The 11 standouts who will be continuing their lacrosse careers after high school are seniors Ben Schwaeber and Ross Goldberg (Colorado College), Sam Ahlgrim (Marist), Josh Willis (Union), Michael Reale (Richmond), Connor Chamberlin (Monmouth) and Matt Johnson (Massachusetts Maritime Academy) and juniors Ethan Burger (Vermont) and Tanner Wood (Syracuse) and sophomores Dobson Cooper (Vermont) and Evan Zinn (Johns Hopkins).
McNulty said the college coaches only referred to him for a character check and the players had to meet the academic standards of their respective schools in order to commit.
“I think it motivates them more,” he said of the players who have committed. “You’re a committed college player so you have to go out and perform now. Prove it, go out there and work hard to get even better than the first time they looked at you.”
The coach went on to say the seniors most likely will apply for early admission to their schools.
Schwaeber and Goldberg have four more years together as teammates and they couldn’t be more happy with that fact.
“We were on the same summer team so the Colorado College coach saw us in the same game and Ross committed first,” said Schwaeber, the faceoff specialist for the Wreckers. “Then I went to visit and he told me how great it was and I committed afterward. It’s going to be great (being teammates with Goldberg). To continue to play four more years with him is amazing.”
Goldberg, an attacker, said Colorado College is a formidable Division III Independent program and he’s excited to go out West with Schwaeber and be a part of the Tigers’ winning tradition.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Goldberg said. “He committed after me so we were talking throughout the whole process. We decided individually that it was something we both wanted but we’re both happy we’re going together.”
Willis, a long-stick middie/defense, will be joining two former Wreckers, Cole Gendels and Lance Lonergan Jr., at Division-III Union and there’s been a pipeline of players from Westport going to play for the Dutchmen.
“It’s a great school and I loved everything about it when I went up to visit,” Willis said. “I went up there for an overnight and saw Lance and Cole and they were doing well. I played with them freshman year and it was awesome. They were great teachers.”
McNulty said Union head coach Paul Wehrum has always been impressed with former Wreckers.
“It seems we have someone go to Union every year,” he said. “He (Wehrum) wrote me in a letter that he likes the Staples kids because they work hard and they’re not just playing for themselves, they’re playing for the team.”
Johnson, a midfielder, said he want to be a leader in the marine transportation industry later in life and the MMA is the premiere program for anyone who wants to become a commercial captain. In addition, MMA is an up-and-coming Division-III program so Johnson felt he has won in both aspects of the school.
“Coach (Rory) Deegan, who recruited me, promised me a lot so I’m really excited,” Johnson said. “It’s awesome (seeing all the players commit). Coach Mac, he’s one who hammers in the fact that we’re looking to build a program here, not just a team. So we’re looking for a program that’s going to sustain a winning record over the years and it’s great to see guys like Tanner Wood and Dobson Cooper committing to schools so young.”
Ahlgrim, a defender, is excited to join Marist after the Red Foxes enjoyed a memorable 2015 campaign. They won their second straight MAAC championship and defeated Bryant in the preliminary round of the Division-I NCAA Tournament to advance to the first round, where they lost at national power Syracuse.
“It’s such a good program — the team is great with a long history but the academics are also there, too,” he said. “There’s so many great majors there that interest me. I believe I can help the team (coming in as a freshman).”
Reale, who is an attacker and has been a playmaker for the Wreckers over the past few years, said the University of Richmond, which is going into its third season at the Division-I level, was the right fit for him, academically and athletically.
“I loved it there,” he said. “I fell in love with the campus, the coaching staff and when I was there, it felt like home.”
As for all the commits, Reale said it’s a credit to the coaching staff and the progress the players have made over the years.
“I think the program has really grown at Staples and it’s going to continue to grow,” he said. “We went to the state championship my freshman and sophomore years so hopefully we can get back there.”
Chamberlin was having a fantastic season as an attacker for the Wreckers in 2015 (48 goals, 10 assists) until he suffered a shoulder injury against Darien in the FCIAC playoffs. Amazingly, he played through it but missed the team’s run to the Class L state quarterfinals, where the Wreckers lost a 12-11 heartbreaker to No. 2 seed Glastonbury.
Chamberlin said he should be back even stronger in 2016. As for committing to Monmouth University, a Division-I program going into its third season, he said the coaches expressed a strong interest in him first and that went a long way with him.
“I really liked the atmosphere of the school,” he said. “When I went there, I met all the kids and I just thought I fit in well there. At Monmouth I’ll do the same thing there that I do here: score goals.”
Chamberlin certainly has a knack for doing that.
To a man, the seniors were excited about the upcoming season and were grateful to their coaches for putting them in positions to succeed.
McNulty said they put in the work to excel and are now reaping the rewards.
“They were committed to being good players, to work at it, and that obviously helps the whole program,” he said.
Goldberg seemed to sum up everyone’s feeling about the ‘Electric 11.’
“I’m really excited for all these guys,” he said. “They all put in a lot of hard work and now they’re getting the fruits of their labor. It’s exciting to see everybody end up at a place where they’re going to be happy and have a good chance to be successful. I’m looking forward to the spring, too, to have one last run with all these guys.”
Information on Photo:
Hour photo / Erik Trautmann Staples High School Lacrosse players; Front row, Tanner Wood, Ethan Burger, Dobson Cooper, Evan Zinn and Ben Scwaeber. Second row, Michael Reale, Connor Chamberlain, Matt Johnson, also coach Paul McNulty, Josh Willis, Ross Goldberg and Sam Ahlgrim, will all play in college. The most ever for Staples.