Yastrzemsky knows the drill: He's fitting in fine at West Point

October 02, 1994|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Sun Staff Writer

This is one of those rare stories about a young man from small-town USA who goes to West Point and makes it big in the classroom and on the lacrosse field.

His name is Ross Yastrzemsky and his game is overcoming long odds by working hard, believing in himself -- and being lucky.

"There is always a lot of luck involved in anything," he said. "I got lucky because Army took a chance on me. Usually top Division I schools go to private schools like Boys' Latin for lacrosse players."

Yastrzemsky said he never sold himself short, believing all along he had as good a chance as any of the highly regarded freshmen to play lacrosse at Army.

Small-town USA for Yastrzemsky is Sykesville and his high school, Liberty, was considered small-time in lacrosse.

He is a sophomore at the U.S. Military Academy, has a 3.0 grade-point average and is being groomed to start next spring on Army's always-strong Division I team.

Yes, there are some bloodlines (distant cousin) to former Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski, whom Ross has never met.

But lacrosse, not baseball, is Ross Yastrzemsky's passion. He was good enough as a freshman to make the varsity and be chosen Plebe Player of the Year.

As a reserve attackman seeing limited playing time, he scored one goal and had five assists. But bigger and better things lie ahead next spring.

"We had a lot of upperclassmen last season and Ross didn't get to play that much," said Army head coach Jack Emmer. "But we've told him we're a little thin in the midfield this year, and we're going to use him there as well as on attack."

Emmer said Yastrzemsky is a quick learner, a student of the game and already has emerged as a leader on the team because of his work ethic.

"He epitomized working hard his freshman year," said Emmer. "And took advantage of his chances to play. He's still learning about thegame at this level. We have confidence in him and he has confidence in us."

Yastrzemsky said the major adjustment he has had to make from high school lacrosse at Liberty to the Division I level is speed and quickness.

"Everybody's a lot quicker and the games are much faster," he said. "But I'm looking forward to playing midfield and attack next spring."

Emmer has particularly been impressed with Yastrzemsky's work in the weight room, as he has picked up 25 pounds to check in at 165 over his 6-foot frame. "It's all solid muscle and it hasn't hurt his quickness at all," said Emmer.

Army lacrosse strength coach Bobby Ohl said Yastrzemsky became an instant leader in the weight room.

"Ross got the other guys doing power cleans [jerking the weights up to their chest]," said Ohl. "His enthusiasm for lifting is catching."

Ohl, a senior last year, and Yastrzemsky became close friends and Ohl helped ease the pain of the usual military harassment at West Point.

"I walked Ross to breakfast and stuff so he wouldn't get yelled at," said Ohl.

"That helped a lot," said Yastrzemsky, who discovered early how to handle the yelling from the upperclassmen. "Plebe summer was a pain, but after that it was pretty easy. You just have to realize it's all a game and have a sense of humor. Guys who don't have a sense of humor and take it personally get hurt."

After graduation, Yastrzemsky plans to serve his six-year obligation as a pilot and is prepared to go "anywhere they send me. I know there are guys in Haiti right now."

The three-sport standout at Liberty (football quarterback and basketball guard in addition to All-County attackman) said he chose West Point because "it was best for me. Everything is free and I get $550 a month for expenses such as a computer and uniforms. I usually have about $140 left a month for spending money."

And he has the opportunity to play big-time collegiate lacrosse, which will bring him to Annapolis next spring for a game against Navy.

"That will be great," he said. "I'm looking forward to that day."

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