Ed. note: NLFRankings.com editor-in-chief Ryan Kilian suddenly passed away right before the NLF National Championships. He was a major driving force behind NLFRankings.com’s emergence this spring and summer and will be dearly missed. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. If you can, please consider donating to help the family.
Defending the Bull’s Eye
Jackie Weller‘s been around long enough to know that playing for the MadLax DC Dogs 2023 team brings increased attention, both in a fortuitous way and also a way that makes his team the one everyone wants to beat.
“I love having a target on our back. It’s so much fun wherever we go. We hear teams, ‘oh, we play them next and we’re going to beat them,'” Weller said. “I love it.”
Being the center of attention on most teams’ schedules means that they’re getting everyone’s best effort. At the NLF National Championships at UMass, it really didn’t matter. In a tournament packed with treacherous schedules and one-goal games, the Dogs were flat-out dominant en route to a championship. They won every game by at least four goals, outscored pool play opponents by more than five goals per game, and looked every bit the part of the best team in the country.
“It’s incredible,” said Weller, an excellent faceoff midfielder out of St. John’s (D.C.) and the NLF’s No. 56 ’23. “When we play like this, it definitely feels like we’re unbeatable.”
The Dogs are good enough as is, headlined by a deep lineup with a terrifying trio at attack in NLF No. 18 Colin Burns (Georgetown Prep, Md.), No. 9 Nate Kabiri (Georgetown Prep) and No. 27 Caulley Deringer (Episcopal, Va.) and a prototype at LSM in No. 8 Mac Christmas (Georgetown Prep). Let them play make it, take it, and you’re going to have a really bad time.
Make It, Take It
That’s where Weller comes in. The recent St. John’s transfer, who spent the past year at IMG Academy, was outstanding throughout the tournament. He’ll be the first to acknowledge that he doesn’t have the fastest hands on the ’23 faceoff circuit, but there aren’t many, if any, who combine his athleticism with a deep bag of counters. That often leaves guys guessing as to what he’s going to do, and if you guess, you’re done. Weller also had a number of goals and assists throughout the weekend, pushing fast break opportunities hard off the wins. He’s also all too happy to chase down ground balls and muck it up, using that athleticism to outrace opponents to 50-50 balls.
“Once I get into a rhythm, I start feeling it and we get the possessions,” Weller said. “The one challenge I face is when guys have quicker hands than I do, but I just use my athleticism and counters. It isn’t just about who wins the clamp. It’s about what happens after.”
Balanced, Explosive Offense
Weller was a massive reason as to why the Dogs averaged 11.3 goals per game, including double-digit goals in their final five games of the tournament. It sure helps when you’ve got the offensive firepower that MadLax coach Matt Rienzo has at his disposal, too. Debating on what your personal style is, take your pick as to who’s your favorite attackman, and there’s a lot in the midfield, too.
All three attackmen scored multiple goals in the title game, an 11-7 win over Shore2Shore. As a unit, they’re nearly impossible to guard, because everyone brings something different to the table. Kabiri is the most likely to leave a defender cross-checking air with his agility and ability to make guys miss. Deringer is an understated passer, but it’s the lefty’s finishing ability that will make him a hot commodity in a few weeks. Burns is the cerebral quarterback of the offense, always poised at X with the ability to beat defenses as a feeder and a two-handed scorer.
“It’s so much fun. We can all take our guys to the rack, and if one of us draws the 1 or 2, the other person goes to the rack and feasts,” Burns said. “Any one of us can pop off. We just let the game come to us and try to be unselfish.”
Pick Your Poison
Burns started as a sophomore for NLFRankings.com’s No. 10 team, and didn’t look like a sophomore in the process. He racked up a balanced 29-goal, 27-assist stat line, lending credence to the fact that he’s willing and able to torture defenses in a number of ways. A 6-1, 180-pounder, Burns scored both righty and lefty in the title game. Combine that with his vision and unselfishness, and you’ve got a guy who’s going to be fielding a lot of phone calls on Sept. 1.
“My dad’s always harped on me to be able to do everything, whether it’s being able to shoot lefty from outside, throw skip passes, be physical, whatever,” Burns said. “You try to have everything because you never know what defense is going to come across. It’s really good to have everything in your bag, and I pride myself on being able to do that.”
The Dogs were no strangers to taking home hardware from events, but this one felt a little bit different, considering it’s THE event of the summer. They made it look like child’s play.
“It’s huge,” Burns said. “This was something in the back of our minds. It felt good. It felt better than any other tournament.”
2023 NLF National Championship Standouts
Cole Aasheim, defense, St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) / Long Island Express
The lefty put the finishing touches on a dominant summer for the Express. St. Anthony’s is always loaded, but it’s going to be tough to keep Aasheim out of the starting lineup next year. A leader on the back end, he loves to get physical and takes on every team’s No. 1 attackman, and he came out of those matchups looking good. A fast, athletic defenseman, Aasheim also has a great stick.
Banks is absolute nails. Pass out of this matchup. He gets down low and has a strong lower body that allows him to stand his ground and physically overwhelm opponents. He laid out at least one Prime Time player with a clean, textbook hit and made sure to give a few others an extra shot. Banks has an exceptional stick and had a number of one-handed cradles that drew attention. He picks up everything in sight and has the positional versatility to play LSM or be a shutdown close defenseman. It’s unlikely that he lasts long past Sept. 1.
Beacham just makes everything look so easy. The talent and skill level is off the charts with him, and he was excellent in a game against Prime Time where he had a handful of gorgeous passes. His best one might have been a beautiful skip pass to set up a Gavin Dallas stepdown. Beacham’s got a very high IQ and is more or less ambidextrous, and he’s a force off of the redodge.
Jack Bill, midfield, Delaware Valley (N.J.) / Leading Edge
Bill came through with 21 goals and 33 points as a sophomore, but it’s his all-around game that will make him a hot commodity next month. He’s an excellent two-way midfielder who left an impact all over the field for a Leading Edge team that just missed out on playoffs with a pair of one-goal losses.
“His game in the middle of the field really helped us,” Leading Edge director Chris Roy said.
A 6-2, 200-pounder, Bill stood out the most for his defensive play. He doesn’t need to sub when the ball heads to his end of the field, to say the least. Also the starting quarterback for Del Val’s football team who threw for 1,027 yards, 12 touchdowns and only three picks in seven games, he’s got the requisite toughness to go along with his athleticism. Offensively, he did a nice job off the wing, repeatedly drawing slides and opening things up for his teammates.
Matthew Bockelmann, LSM/defense, Rumson-Fair Haven (N.J.) / Leading Edge
The younger brother of Yale ’22 commit Christian Bockelmann, Matthew Bockelmann steps onto the field with bad intentions and a surly disposition and neither of them leaves until the end of the game. The Shore Conference Defensive Specialist of the Year as a sophomore for his play at LSM that helped Leading Edge founder Marc Moreau‘s team to a 20-1 mark, Bockelmann played a ton of close defense for LE in Amherst. He plays with a major edge and is always aggressive in his matchups, constantly pressing out and badgering attackmen. He’s got the stick to clean up ground balls off the carpet in one fell swoop, too.
Aidan Bodonyi, defense, Western Reserve (Ohio) / Resolute
Between Bodonyi and Ty Banks (see above), Dylan Sheridan and Western Reserve have of the best pair of defenders in the ’23 class. Bodonyi was instrumental in helping Resolute reach the semifinals. A big, strong and rangy defenseman who also excels on faceoff wings, he’s an aggressive on-ball defender who’s clean off the ground. Coming off a big year for WRA, Bodonyi covers a lot of ground, and he looks very comfortable when the ball’s in his stick.
Carroll’s the guy you want patrolling the middle of the field, be it on the ride or on defense. The latest in a long line of dynamic Laxachusetts poles, he has a penchant for taking the ball away. Never shy about going for a highlight-reel check, yet without playing out of control, Carroll gets on guys’ gloves and never relents. He gets up and down the field well, too, and has an outstanding stick when collecting ground balls.
It’s very hard to miss Christmas towering over everyone else on the field. At 6-4, 205 pounds, he very much looks the part of what you’d want your ideal LSM to look like. For such a big man, he moves impeccably well, particularly in transition in the middle of the field. His stickwork with a pole is better than most players’ with a short stick. Christmas is as good an offensive threat as there is at LSM. On average, he’s good for at least one point per game and he bagged a handful of goals. He also showed improved 1v1 defense, and if he can refine that aspect of his game – it’s a priority of his – watch out. Either way, he’s atop many top schools’ boards at LSM.
Cayden Christopher, midfield, Pickerington North (Ohio) / Resolute Black
A tall lefty, Christopher jumps off the page with his athleticism and strength. He’s going to be the best athlete in almost every game he plays, and he’s one of the strongest players for a Pickerington North football team that annually ranks among Ohio’s best. He’s terrific in open space when he’s igniting Resolute’s transition play. He had a couple of eye-popping goals as the offensive initiator, and he more than held his own defensively.
— NLF (@natlaxfed) July 16, 2021
All eyes go to Deere when he has the ball in his stick because every play has the potential to be a highlight-reel play. Deere has a big, power-packed frame and silky-smooth hands inside, which make him a terror around the crease. Just watch the video above. That’s really good defense from a Brotherly Love defenseman, and the ball still ends up in the back of the net. His extensive box and hockey backgrounds mean that he’s got an elite handle and he’s a magician around the cage. He’s got a deep bag of offensive tricks and is primed to use them at any point.
Prime Time and the West Coast Starz squared off for the Pool 2 title and a playoff berth, and while the Starz came out with the W, it wasn’t due to a lack of effort from Delgado. The No. 3 prospect in the class, he beat defenders down the alley with speed and power and nearly willed Prime Time to a win with a four-goal outburst. Delgado is a menace between the lines and he plays angry all the time. You can try to get in his way on the clear, although we certainly wouldn’t recommend it and neither would any doctor worth his or her salt. Delgado doesn’t dance around much when he’s heading upfield. It’s one cut and go, which makes him even tougher to slow down.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a ’23 attackman who’s had a better summer than Duffy, a trend that he continued at UMass. A cerebral QB type at X, he’s got the ability to change the game at the drop of a hat. He pocketed a hat trick in the first half against a very good Denver Elite team, including a nifty short-side snipe while coming around from X. Duffy is very comfortable with the ball in his stick and can beat you as both a scorer and a feeder. He’s not afraid to turn the corner and take a hit to make a play, and Duffy consistently rides hard, too.
Kyle Foster, defense, Boys’ Latin (Md.) / Crabs
It doesn’t make any sense that Foster can move as well as he does, considering the fact that he’s nearly 6-5. Excellent off the ground and as quick laterally as he is in a full sprint upfield, Foster is a cut above most defensemen in the class athletically. A starter for MIAA champion Boys’ Latin this year, Foster’s length and wingspan make him a nightmare for attackmen to take on. He might have the highest upside of any defenseman in the class.
Cal Girard, faceoff midfield, Manhasset (N.Y.) / Shore2Shore
Girard was a difference maker at the faceoff X for Shore2Shore, using his very quick hands to win the clamp almost every time. Furthermore, he’s far from a FOGO, as he showed the ability to push the pace off the win, scoring a couple of goals and setting up a few more off the win. He had a pair of assists in the semifinals. Girard handles the ball well in traffic and runs away well from pressure.
George Glomb, faceoff midfield, Penn Charter (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
An athletic faceoff guy who also wrestles – always a good sport to compete in in the offseason if you’re a faceoff middie – Glomb was a consistent force for Big 4 HHH throughout the weekend. He won a ton of faceoffs to himself and was able to get transition going. When the clamp gave way to a 50-50 ball, Glomb got right into the thick of things and was able to secure a bunch of tough ground balls for his team.
— NLF (@natlaxfed) July 16, 2021
Hoffman plays at a speed that nobody else can reach. He just looks like he’s constantly in fast forward. In a tournament where the injury bug hit Team 91 hard in the midfield, Hoffman was a constant presence all over the field, sometimes bumping to attack to rest a bit. He is impossible to corral in the open field. He’s simply too quick, too fast, too agile and too explosive. Hoffman’s got a ton of sandpaper to his game – he certainly wasn’t afraid to lower his shoulder against anyone and had a couple of nice hits to dislodge the ball – and he can take over a game, which he showed in a tournament-opening win over an excellent Denver Elite team where he scored the goal above as part of a highlight-filled game. He’s the most complete midfielder in the class – his defense is a point of personal pride – and will be a priority for everyone.
Charlie Kingsbury, midfield, Manheim Township (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
Kingsbury is a two-way midfielder who hustled hard to make his presence felt all over the field for Philly’s finest. Checking at 6-0, 185 pounds, he’s got the size and toughness that will endear him to a ton of college coaches, and he was a dynamic shooter for HHH all weekend long. He can sting corners as an alley dodger but also use his shooting ability to pull defenses all the way out.
Carson Krammer, midfield, Torrey Pines (Calif.) / West Coast Starz
High school middies aren’t supposed to look like this. Scratch that, college middies don’t even usually look like this. Krammer is a prototype for the position, checking in around 6-5, 225 pounds, and clearly no stranger to the weight room. The scary part? He’s also an elite athlete. He showed off a bunch of end-to-end clears and once he decides he’s going to the rack, you’re basically left to hope he misses the cage because you’re not slowing him down. He was dialed in against Prime Time, a game in which he had an impressive burner on a top-side sweep.
Jack Marlow, midfield, Cambridge (Ga.) / Thunder
Every team wants and needs a player like Jack Marlow. The starting middle linebacker on a 7A football team in Georgia – that’s LEGIT legit football – Marlow plays exactly like one as a short-stick defensive midfielder. He had a play where he dropped a dodging middie into the ground, collected the ground ball and zoomed past everyone to dump it off to Thunder’s explosive attack line. Marlow hits like a bulldozer – something he showed when he dropped a shoulder into an unsuspecting middie reaching for a ground ball – and he also made a handful of nice passes, showing off impressive vision throughout.
Marsh passes the eye test for what a No. 1 defenseman should look like. At 6-3, 200 pounds, he’s exactly what everyone’s looking for physically, and his frame allows him to cover a ton of ground. He checks with emphasis and a desire to cause pain, flashing the meanness that everyone loves from top-flight defensemen. Marsh did a nice job of collecting ground balls and spearheaded a Crabs’ defense that only yielded 12 goals in pool play.
Melchionni is no stranger to this space, but when you continually produce the way he has, it’s hard not to talk about you. Spot the ball and chances are good that you’ll find Melchionni hovering around it. He’s an on-ball pest that can throw checks and handle the ball with either hand, and he has a knack for making sure that his checks land where he wants them to land. Melchionni’s motor never quits and he made a ton of splash plays all over the field for Leading Edge. He’s as good a takeaway artist as there is in this class and he runs very well in transition.
Anderson Moore, goalie, Briarwood Christian (Ala.) / Thunder
Moore, who’s had a lights-out summer, was a big reason why Thunder reached the semifinals, the first time one of its high school teams had done so at the NLF national championships. He showed really good footwork throughout, swiftly moving around the cage and kicking shots out with regularity. The Alabama native was very poised in his clears, constantly dropping it right into midfielders’ sticks and leading them upfield. He had a handful of impressive saves in-tight, showing the patience, agility and calmness to take away what should have been sure-fire goals.
Brian Mullen, midfield, Avon Old Farms (Conn.) / Shore2Shore
Having to defend Mullen seems like a miserable experience. He’s got the big frame to get into the teeth of the defense, and once he’s there, he’s got a knack for finishing inside with a ton of traffic around him. The big lefty also has the shooting range to stretch a defense out as he showed on an EMO blast, so pick your poison. He had one of Shore2Shore’s OT winners when he split to his lefty and snapped home a five-hole shot. His game is more brute strength and power than make you miss in a phone booth finesse, but he’s a skilled midfielder who can take over a game in a second.
Jack Petersen, midfield, Manhasset (N.Y.) / Shore2Shore
Petersen saw some time at midfield for the Nassau County C champions, putting forth eight goals and five assists, and it’s clear that he’s headed for a breakout campaign next spring. At UMass, he was a driving force for a Shore2Shore team that won three one-goal games and two two-goal games en route to the final. Petersen is a very athletic middie who makes an impact all over the field. He’s the lightning to Brian Mullen’s (see above) Thunder, using his speed and quickness to get himself open and score a wealth of goals.
Sam Ricci, faceoff, Victor (N.Y.) / SweetLax Upstate
Ricci was a force for SweetLax Upstate, which went undefeated in pool play before running into the MadLax DC Dogs buzzsaw in the quarterfinals. The Victor product owned the faceoff X, using really quick hands to win a ton of clamps and an explosive first step to get out and chase ground balls or push transition. Ricci was unafraid of going into high-traffic areas and came away with a couple of impressive ground balls in a crowd. His wrestling background is evident, too, as he consistently stays low and maintains leverage to secure the ball.
Rooney, who will move back to the ’24 class after transferring to Lawrenceville, would have been one of the most sought-after ’23 middies in September if he stayed in the class. He’s got a great frame and gets up and down the field with ease. Rooney’s dominant between the lines and brings a certain package of aggressiveness and sandpaper to the midfield. He dodges hard and has good speed, and he’s a threat to burn defenses with his shot on the run, both as a lefty and a righty. Expect him to be one of the top recruits in the country next September.
Ethan Salvia, midfield/attack, Shady Side (Pa.) / Crabs
Salvia earned WPCLA AAA Player of the Year honors in a season where he put up 49 goals and 38 assists for Shady Side, and once you watch him play, it’s not hard to see the skillset that kept Western Pa. defenses on their heels all spring long. He dodges with his head up and finds open guys from all over, whether it’s coming out of the box or inverting from X. Salvia’s positional versatility allows him to be a mismatch for a lot of defenses. His shiftiness and two-handed shooting ability also helped him stand out.
Donny Scott, defense, Hill Academy (Ont.) / Thunder
There’s not a ton of separation between the elite close defensemen in the class and the rest of the pecking order. Scott is definitely in the mix as one of the better ’23 defenders, thanks in large part to a tall frame that allows him to engulf a ton of ground when he moves. He made a number of great plays off the ground, including one where he snatched up a ground ball, motored down field and zipped a pass to the back pipe for a dunk. You always want your No. 1 defenseman to play with some snarl, and Scott has that in spades. He also did a good job of getting low against smaller attackmen, rendering them unable to take him to the rack.
CJ Schwarz, faceoff midfield, West Islip (N.Y.) / Long Island Express
Schwarz was the Express’ lone faceoff man all summer long, and he still held up his end of the bargain throughout. He’s come a long way physically in the past year, putting on plenty of good size, and it’s helped him both physically and mentally as he’s pushed back against some of the bigger faceoff men that used to give him fits. Schwarz did a nice job of not only winning it to himself, but meandering through traffic to collect ground balls in traffic. He also has a good stick and could be a legitimate first-line midfielder for West Islip next spring.
Spallina had an excellent year for Mount Sinai, forming an outstanding duo at the stripe with ’22 Austin Oppenheim (Team 91 LI Smash / Albany) and putting up 18 points to go with it. Of course, it helps that the Mustangs have the infallible, “see that Joey Spallina guy over there? Pass it to him,” play in their fast break arsenal. Jake Spallina acquitted himself well at the NLF national championships, though, as a faceoff man who loves to play in the slop and who can stay on as a midfielder. Spallina scraps and turns everything into a ground ball, and he’s very good at chasing down those loose balls and fighting for everything he gets. He probably plays the most midfield of any faceoff man in the class, holding up extremely well as a tough, physical, tenacious D-middie, and his offensive game is evolving. He showed some refined alley dodging, off of which he scored a couple of goals, and he also understands off-ball concepts well.
Elijah Stobaugh, midfield, Salisbury (Conn.) / SweetLax Florida
A big, strong lefty who does an excellent job of getting underneath his man and drawing a slide, Stobaugh stood out despite clearly favoring a broken leg suffered during football season. He’s tough as nails and is outstanding defensively – he took wings and played a lot of man-down for Salisbury this spring – while also still being a major offensive threat. Physically, he looks the part of a major college lacrosse midfielder and he gets to the middle of the field with ease. How dominant will he be when playing with two good legs?
Fletcher Sullivan, midfield, Regis Jesuit (Colo.) / Denver Elite
This kid is a machine. His motor never quits, and there isn’t a situation that Denver Elite doesn’t trust him in. He was the offensive engine, dodging hard off the wings and unloading a hard shot. Sullivan had a beauty of a goal against Team 91, snapping home a high-to-high rocket off of a righty sweep. He plays hard, aggressive defense, crushes the transition game, takes faceoff wings and even got into the mix at the X with a couple of faceoffs. Sullivan’s a gem of a shot-clock era midfielder.
It’s been discussed at length that when Targete decides he wants to take over a game, there isn’t much you can do about it. He did that in style in a one-goal win over SweetLax Florida that came down to the wire, snapping home four goals in a win to kick off the tournament. When he opted for his preferred righty sweep, he dodged angrily and with a purpose, two traits that make him so tough to slow down. At 6-3, he’s a physical mismatch for just about anybody, and when he got his hands free, the ball usually ended up in the back of the net.
Marek Tzagournis, attack, Dublin Jerome (Ohio) / Resolute
Putting up more than 150 points as a sophomore anywhere is legit. Do that with most of those coming off of assists, and you’re probably a decent setup man. Tzagournis is an intelligent, high-IQ player who looks to feed his teammates first, second and third, but he also showed good finishing ability. A righty X attackman, he also showed an affinity for the wing, and he did a good job of working off-ball to get open.
— NLF (@natlaxfed) July 16, 2021
Owen Umansky, faceoff, St. John’s Prep (Mass.) / Laxachusetts
Umansky was excellent at the NLF Elite 120, and he followed it up with a dynamic performance throughout the weekend. He got the party started in style with the game-winning goal (see above) off of a pretty give-and-go with NLF No. 30 Ryan Nagle (Duxbury) off the fast break. A thick, powerfully-built faceoff guy, Umansky plays big, too, using his strength and power to overpower opponents. He’s also got quick hands, which, combined with everything else, make him a tough matchup. Umansky certainly isn’t afraid to muck it up, either, and competes hard for ground balls.
Koby White ’24, midfield, Lake Mary (Fla.) / SweetLax Florida
Part of what makes this SweetLax Florida ’23 team so competitive is their midfielders’ abilities to get up and down the field with ease. White is one of those guys, a tall, athletic middie who seems like he’s gliding when he runs. He’s got a pretty good handle and can sling it, too, and he plays tough, scrappy defense. He blasted an eye-popping high-to-high crank to tie the game late in the tournament opener against Laxachusetts.
Rowan Clay, LSM/defense, Culver (Ind.) / Cherries – NLF No. 38 ’23
Connor Foley, goalie, Thayer (Mass.) / Laxachusetts – NLF No. 17 ’23
Michael Ippoliti, goalie, St. Dominic (N.Y.) / Shore2Shore
Andrew Greenspan, faceoff midfield, Brunswick (Conn.) / Prime Time – NLF No. 16 ’23
Patrick Jameison, goalie, Conestoga (Pa.) / Brotherly Love
Quintan Kilrain, defense, Lawrenceville (N.J.) / Crabs – NLF No. 23 ’23
John McCurry, attack, Wall (N.J.) / Leading Edge
Jack Mellon, faceoff midfield, West Genesee / SweetLax Upstate
Declan Monahan, goalie, Gonzaga (D.C.) / MadLax DC Dogs – NLF No. 57 ’23
George Northup, goalie, Lawrenceville (N.J.) / West Coast Starz
Hill Plunkett, attack, Roswell (Ga.) / Thunder / Army – NLF No. 47 ’23
Jack Speidell, attack, St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) / Team 91 Long Island Bandits
Luke Topley, defense, Germantown Academy (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
Brady Wambach, faceoff midfield, Salisbury (Conn.) / SweetLax Florida
Goose Wilson, goalie, Cannon (N.C.) / Team 91 Charlotte