High School Sports

Pro lacrosse stars visit Columbus for youth clinic and see vast potential in Florida

Not all sports stars were shut down this past weekend.

Four professional lacrosse players — including Team USA member Rob Pannell — were at Columbus High on Saturday, giving back to the next generation.

Columbus coach Cody Morrissey organized a lacrosse clinic — he believes it’s the first such tutorial set up in Miami for the sport — and 34 boys, ages 10 to 18, showed up Saturday morning for a two-hour session.

Sebastian Castillo, a 14-year-old Columbus freshman who has been playing lacrosse for one year, said he enjoyed the clinic.

“Some of these guys are my idols — I’ve been watching them since I started,” Castillo said. “Getting to be one-on-one with them and learning their skills and techniques and how to be a better lacrosse player – very influential.”

Castillo said he had previously tried football, baseball and wrestling.

“But lacrosse (which is a contact sport) stuck to me because it’s a mixture of everything,” he said. “It’s a game of skill.”

Columbus senior Patrick Valerius, who has been playing for much longer — about a decade — said the clinic was useful.

“The footwork on dodges, techniques on how to shoot and getting free in space were my biggest takeaways,” said Valerius, who scored 37 goals last season and made second-team All-Dade. “It gives me motivation to see what I need to do if I want to get to their level.”

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Pannell, who starred at Cornell University, was the Ivy League’s first three-time winner of the conference’s Player of the Year award. He was also the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Player in 2011 and 2013, and he left Cornell as the fourth-leading scorer in the history of NCAA Division I lacrosse.

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Besides Pannell, the other instructors at the clinic were Joe LoCascio, a former University of Maryland standout; Andrew Hodgson, a former Towson player and the owner of the Texas Oilers LAX club; and Bryce Wasserman, a Monmouth graduate who plays Major League Lacrosse for the Boston Cannons.

Pannell, LoCascio and Hodgson are part of the second-year Premier Lacrosse League that is scheduled to tour the country from May until September, including playoffs.

The idea for Saturday’s clinic began when Wasserman moved to South Florida in August to attend law school at the University of Miami.

“I saw that there was a ton of lacrosse down here, and that got me super pumped,” said Wasserman, who became a pro despite not picking up a lacrosse stick until age 12. “I’m from Texas, which is also a non-traditional lacrosse area.

“I wanted to bring some of the best lacrosse players on earth — Rob is the captain of Team USA, and Joe is a PLL All-Star — to these kids so they can get exposed to the next level of the sport, and it was a ton of fun.”

Added Pannell: “I’ve been talking to Bryce about this for nearly a year. I do clinics all over, but Miami is an area I hadn’t hit yet.”

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Pannell said the Miami clinic was worth the wait.

“The kids here are hungry to get better, and I saw that first hand [on Saturday],” Pannell said. “The biggest things I look for are enthusiasm, focus and attention, and every kid was locked in, which you don’t get that everywhere. It was refreshing.”

LoCascio said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the players at Saturday’s clinic.

“I didn’t expect them to have the level of skill they have,” he said.

Hodgson said he worked a lot with the goalies on Saturday, telling them: “You want to be balanced so you’re able to explode. Stepping to the ball is what you should be doing.”

ORIGINS OF GAME

Lacrosse, a sport that dates back to 1100 and a similar game that was played by indigenous people of North America, made its Olympic debut in 1904.

In the first half of the 1900s, lacrosse was regional in the U.S., primarily in Mid-Atlantic states such as New York and Maryland. It’s only been sanctioned as a championship sport for Florida high schools since 2008, which is why clinics like the one on Saturday are so important.

“The kids down here are a different breed of athlete,” said Wasserman, referring to the speed that is a part of life in South Florida sports. “The guys in Baltimore and on Long Island [N.Y.] who play lacrosse are skilled, but they are not as athletic.

“If lacrosse can tap into the athletes we have in Florida, they could turn into some of the best players in the country.”

Morrissey said he will hold a second lacrosse clinic on April 25-26, also at Columbus, and it will be open for boys in grades six through 12.

That clinic is scheduled to feature Myles Jones, Jarrod Neumann and Tate Boyce.

Jones, who led Duke to two national titles as a 6-5, 240-pound two-time All-American, was the first pick in the 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft and the MVP of the 2017 MLL All-Star Game.

Boyce, who now plays for the Boston Cannons in MLL, was a two-time All-American at Providence, winning Big East Goalie of the Year honors twice.

Neumann is a former All-American for Providence and the 2017 Big East Defensive Player of the Year. He won the PLL “fastest shot” competition with a 115-mph clocking.

Anyone interested in the clinic can email: cmorrissey@columbushs.com.

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