Learning on the fly

Joppatowne's coach basically created a team from scratch, drawing players from other sports and teaching them the game -- it worked

Lacrosse

May 06, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special To The Sun

Joppatowne senior attackman Nick Reese had never even picked up a lacrosse stick until his friend Dane Grudzien convinced him to after ninth grade.

The two worked on the basics of the sport throughout the summer, but Reese still was learning when he tried out for the team as a sophomore two years ago.

He gleaned information on the run, as teammates would constantly tell him about things like substitutions and how to avoid penalties during practices and games.

"I had no idea at first," Reese said. "I didn't know [things like] the crease, how to transfer people in and out of the box. I didn't like it that much, and it was terrible. ... I used to get frustrated because I kept dropping the ball, but Coach [Ryan] Arist kept telling me to try harder."

Reese heeded the coach's words and eventually grew into one of the team's top players. His story has become emblematic of the Joppatowne program.

Seven of the Mariners' 10 starters didn't play lacrosse before high school. But the inexperienced Mariners have grown into a winning team under second-year coach Arist. Joppatowne already has set a school record for victories this season (11) after winning 10 last year, and the Mariners just clinched the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Southern Division title.

After scoring two goals as a sophomore, Reese went to a lacrosse camp over the summer scored 17 goals last year.

Reese put in more offseason time this past year and continued to improve. He has 23 goals and 14 assists this season.

Grudzien was one of the few Mariners who had experience. He played recreation lacrosse in Overlea for four seasons, which is still less than many kids.

But he has quickly grown into the team's most potent offensive threat. Playing on attack, Grudzien leads Joppatowne with 29 goals and 28 assists for 57 points, and the junior is so good that Arist, a former player at C. Milton Wright and Harford Community College, often suits up in practice to give him someone to go against.

Grudzien said Arist and the team's assistant coaches did a good job of teaching the game to the inexperienced players.

"We helped each other out a lot, and there was cooperation," Grudzien said. "Last year, I wanted to play in the [state semifinals] so badly. That was just the motivation I had driving everything else. I wanted to get to the final four and prove to other teams that we're good."

Although the Mariners fell short of that goal, losing in the Class 2A-1A South regional final to Havre de Grace, they did turn around the program after going a combined 1-27 in 2004 and 2005.

Joppatowne started 4-0 last year en route to a 10-6 final record. Along the way, the Mariners knocked off unbeaten Sparrows Point in a road playoff game.

Arist had taken over in 2006 after coaching the junior varsity and pulled in athletes from other sports. Many did not know the game. So Artist spent - and still spends - much of his time teaching the nuances of the sport.

Joppatowne's daily practices usually run about three hours, time for Arist to do on-field and film work. He's pushed the Mariners to play in the fall and work hard before spring practice so they're in shape at the start. All 10 starters also went to summer camps.

Arist installed a ball-control offense similar to what Johns Hopkins runs. The Mariners simply don't have the depth to play a run-and-gun style.

The Mariners finished the regular season 11-1 this year, with the only loss coming to C. Milton Wright. Their 11-8 win over Edgewood nine days ago clinched the Southern Division title.

"It's a daily struggle just to get the concepts because even the game is so new to them," Arist said. "As much as we've got to spend time with drills, we also are teaching this is what lacrosse is about. Every year it's reteaching the same stuff, and it's progressing."

Edgewood coach Jim Lamb understands Arist's situation because he deals with a similar one. Eighteen of the 21 players on this year's Rams team hadn't played lacrosse before high school, which is why the quick Joppatowne turnaround impressed him.

"I knew the moment Ryan took over the program that they were going to turn it around," Lamb said. "There was no doubt in my mind."

The players have reached a comfort level, and while they're still learning the game, they have faith in their coach and his system, and they believe Joppatowne has a shot at a state title.

"It's pretty cool because now they're looking at a team that can go to [the final four] at UMBC," Reese said. "I think we can go all the way."

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