Learning on the fly Boys lacrosse: Shane Lettau didn't take up the sport until the eighth grade, but now he's a freshman starter for one of the top Division III college programs in the country.

May 05, 1998|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Shane Lettau decided in eighth grade he was finished with baseball. It proved to be the best decision he ever made.

Lettau began playing lacrosse and quickly picked up the game. He became a three-year varsity player at North Carroll, being named the team's Most Valuable Player last spring as a senior.

This spring, Lettau had moved on to Ohio Wesleyan University, where he has been starting as a defensive midfielder for the Battling Bishops, the nation's top-ranked Division III team heading into the postseason next week.

Lettau was "the man" at North Carroll last year, scoring 21 goals with five assists and making The Sun's All-County team for the second straight season. In addition, he won 70 percent of his team's faceoffs and scooped up 50 groundballs for the 2-10 Panthers.

After being recruited by several colleges, Lettau decided upon Ohio Wesleyan, simply hoping for some playing time this season as a freshman. But Lettau began getting the impression last fall that he might be high on coach Lelan Rogers' list.

The Battling Bishops played in a fall tournament at Hobart, where Lettau was a bit nervous and tentative. But Rogers kept encouraging Lettau, instead of criticizing him, and his playing time grew in a program that has been to the NCAA Division III finals four times in the past eight years.

Lettau has started all 14 games for his 13-1 team. Ohio Wesleyan has won 13 straight after losing its opener to Butler, and Rogers said that Lettau has been a big plus. Lettau has no goals, but does have five assists while playing defensive midfield.

"He's one of our best freshmen here, there's no question," said Rogers. "Starting as a freshman, that's unheard of around here."

Lettau said he's still adjusting to the college game, which is a far cry from high school ball.

"It's really overwhelmed me," he said. "It's a big difference to go from a program like North Carroll, where guys are [fine-tuning] their skills, to a program like this, where you're playing with collegiate All-Americans every day. I'm like an ant among giants."

But Lettau has played at this level before. He went to Australia two years ago as part of the U.S. under-17 team. For 18 days, Lettau played very good lacrosse and began realizing that "the better the guys you play against, the better you get."

Lettau's success hasn't surprised John Piper, North Carroll's assistant coach this year and head coach last year. Piper said Lettau is a smart player who can handle any situation on the field.

"He loves the game, and he knows what to do," said Piper. "There was constant improvement in his game when he was here. I think that each year his game stepped up."

Lettau's late start in the game forced him to improve quickly.

His father, Joe, said Shane had little trouble in bouncing the ball off the floor, the wall, the headboard to his bed, the back porch and other places. Shane also began shooting at a net in his back yard. He enjoyed the game so much that even after varsity football practice, he'd come home and shoot and work on his skills.

"He just totally fell in love with the game," said the elder Lettau.

That love has panned out into a burgeoning college career with a Division III powerhouse.

Rogers, who said he can't wait to see how Lettau improves as a sophomore, junior and senior, thinks Lettau can be a solid player and a force on his team.

For now, though, Lettau will continue to do what he's done since picking up the game a few years ago. He still walks around with this stick and bounces the ball. But now his family doesn't have to worry any more.

"Now I throw it off the walls in the dorm, and everyone still yells at me," he said, with a laugh.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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