The answer from Michael Marshall wasn’t only revealing in the words it contained. Marshall’s tone also affirmed everything and showed that things being different meant a lot to him.
The Leading Edge 2024 defenseman by way of perennial New Jersey public powerhouse Westfield had seen the wrong side of the win column more than he’d have ever liked. It’s a relative thing when you’re Leading Edge, one of the country’s top programs and a founding member of the NLF. Even with that, Marshall and his teammates were done with losing.
“We were a team in the summer that didn’t a lot of tournaments and lost some games,” Marshall said. “It was way too normal for us. … It hurt. Losing sucks a lot, especially with games where we’d lose and we’d come in expecting to win. We’ve had some rough losses, really frustrating, and we weren’t showing anything.”
They showed plenty last weekend at the NLF Summer Kickoff. Leading Edge took home the first high school NLF tournament title in program history, and they did so in style. The top program in New Jersey bounced back from losing to Laxachusetts in overtime with a resounding 8-2 win in the championship game.
A big part of that triumph was the performance of Leading Edge’s defense in front of the goalie duo of Patrick Roelke (Delbarton, N.J.) and NLF No. 20 ’24 Graham Stevens (Pingry, N.J.). It’s a goaltending tandem that’s good enough to stand on its own merits, but it sure helped to have a swarming, aggressive defensive unit spearheaded by the likes of Marshall and John Henry Finkeldie (Delbarton, N.J.).
Marshall was somewhat of a revelation on the back end. While not overly big, the lefty played an aggressive, in-your-face style that lent itself well to setting the tone for the overall defense. The 5-10, 180-pounder showed the footwork and speed to keep up with just about anyone. He slid opportunistically and flashed good stickwork, a nod to his hockey background. Marshall’s a pitbull in coverage who didn’t waste an opportunity to throw a heavy check.
Versatility is Key
He’s making up for some lost time, too. Marshall suffered a back injury at the start of his sophomore campaign, and when he got back, he found his way onto the field for the Blue Devils. Despite that, he knows that his game can reach another level.
“I wasn’t starting at first, stayed consistent, kept working hard. Eventually, my coach thought that I should be a starter and should be playing in the games,” Marshall said. “I started to get in and started to play well, then we took a tough loss to Hunterdon Central in the state semifinals. At first, I was playing close, then they moved me to LSM. I was going to play short-stick D-middie. It was a weird year because we had a lot of injuries.”
Maybe, but that versatility will pay dividends once it’s time for Marshall to get recruited. He’s still new to the sport, having started in eighth grade, but being a cut above athletically and willing to play so many different spots helps set him apart.
“I’m kind of new, but what helped me a lot is being an athlete,” Marshall said. “I’m fast, I’m quick, I’m strong, I’m able to do that stuff, and my stick skills are getting better. Every tournament and practice, I’m practicing and getting better and I’m able to do these types of things because of my athleticism.”
Attack? Midfield? Doesn’t Matter
Versatility was just as important at the other end for a balanced offense. Charlie Sherman (Pingry, N.J.) was one of those guys who stood out, and it’s not hard to see why. Sherman pocketed 25 goals and added 13 assists as a midfielder for Pingry this spring. For Leading Edge, he’s primarily an attackman, but the results are more or less the same: the ball ends up in the back of the net.
Sherman’s quickness and change-of-direction helped him routinely shake defenders free. Wherever he lines up, Sherman’s a problem for defenses, a theme that popped up many times throughout the weekend.
“I had a good year at Pingry, especially playing with guys like (Leading Edge ’22 and New Jersey Player of the Year) Luke Engelke (Duke) and guys like that,” Sherman said. “When I’m dodging from up top, I draw a short-stick and I’m expected to create a shot for myself or one of my teammates. I’m working more on getting my teammates involved.”
Sherman’s a new addition to Leading Edge, having only joined Chris Roy‘s program in the fall. It took an acclimation period, particularly for events like this, where playing the top teams in the country every game is the norm. Tournaments like these is why he wanted to play in the NLF, though.
“I joined this fall and the competition is a lot better,” Sherman said. “Playing three really good teams a day is very beneficial to raising everyone’s ability, especially when you’re playing those teams every day of a tournament.”
NLF Summer Kickoff Class of 2024 Standouts
Sam Brenen-Buseck, goalie, Elmira (N.Y.) / Salty Dawgs
Brenen-Buseck was under siege throughout the weekend, but he made the most of his opportunities for the Salty Dawgs. He’ll be a four-year starter in the cage at Elmira, where he set the school record for most saves in a season as a freshman. Also a wrestler and a soccer player, Brenen-Buseck has the athleticism to get to shots that others can’t. He showed good footwork and mobility, able to hop across the crease to take away shots.
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Finn Dougherty, midfield, La Salle (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
Dougherty’s made some noticeable strides in his game in the past year or so. This weekend, he looked so much more confident as a shooter than he has before. The ball snapped off of his stick, and he had a handful of high-to-high screamers that raised eyebrows. Dougherty used his tall, lanky frame to pack some power into his shot, and he shined in the catch-and-shoot game. He also showed some shiftiness and ability to dance through traffic to score the overtime winner against Laxachusetts in the video above.
Playing both close and LSM. Just had a CT in the last minute of a tie game. Multiple impressive GBs, too. pic.twitter.com/YFp74xDTv7
— Matt Chandik (@MChandik26) June 4, 2022
Fox might have been the most dominant player at the event, regardless of class. He was that good. He split time at LSM at Belmont Hill this spring with ’23 Johns Hopkins commit Charlie Hazard – talk about your first-world problems for the Sextants – but Fox is so good that he can play either position now and at the next level. Fox excelled in coverage throughout, threw precise checks throughout and gobbled up seemingly EVERY ground ball. Tasked with guarding the ball against a dodger out of the corner on the final possession of regulation of a tie game with Big 4 HHH, Fox quickly put the ball on the carpet to get the game to overtime.
His footwork is outstanding, his stickwork might be even better and his patience is terrific for a young defender. Fox rarely overcommits, so when he strikes, he does it with bad intentions. If he plays this way the entire summer, he’ll not only work his way into five-star status. He’ll be a top-15 prospect.
Lucas Fraser, LSM, Hill Academy (Ont.) / Uncommon Fit Canadians
Fraser got involved early and often for an Uncommon Fit team short on subs but long on grit and talent. The Hill Academy product got a lot of love from college coaches for his penchant for making plays in the middle of the field. He finds ways to be annoying and persistent on-ball, and his motor never stopped throughout.
Jack Hamilton, attack/midfield, Perkiomen School (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
The Kansas native flashed a balanced 22-goal, 26-assist stat line in his first season at the Perkiomen School, where he plays for former Vermont assistant Mike Kruger. He has a strong frame with a thick lower body. That power, plus a deceptively-quick first step, allows him to create separation for himself when dodging from all over. The lefty – extremely lefty – plays a Canadian game and does well in working off of picks, both as a scorer and a feeder. Hamilton has great vision, too, but he really shined in making little plays. He got tough ground balls in traffic and rode hard. Hamilton brings an edge to his game that every team needs.
Jackson Henehan, faceoff midfield, Thayer (Mass.) / Laxachusetts
Henehan battled some injuries this spring, but when he played, he was absolutely lights-out for Thayer. The sophomore won 162 of 209 faceoffs (77.51 percent) for the Tigers, including a 12-for-18 day in Thayer’s upset of No. 2 Tabor in the ISL playoffs. Still relatively new to the position after only starting to face off in eighth grade, Henehan showed a wealth of exits and counters. He has advanced stick skills for a faceoff guy and is a threat off the win. Henehan went forward a lot, but also showed that he could win to different spots on the field.
CJ Merageas, attack, St. Sebastian’s (Mass.) / Laxachusetts
Merageas was the perfect complement on a loaded attack line with five-star JP Guinee (Holderness, N.H.) and Evan O’Neil (Tabor, Mass.), among others. As a sophomore, he pocketed 28 goals and dished out 12 assists for St. Sebastian’s. He finished seemingly everything in sight, including a gorgeous mid-to-high transition crank in the championship game. Merageas also had the overtime winner on a low-to-low finish in tight off of a Guinee draw-and-dump. The Seb’s Arrow worked well off-ball and put himself in good spots to catch and shoot, and he also changed planes effectively to keep goalies guessing.
Brody Muly, midfield, Manasquan (N.J.) / Leading Edge
Watch Leading Edge long enough and you’ll notice and appreciate all of the things that Muly brings to the table. He had a breakout year for perennial Shore powerhouse Manasquan as a sophomore, scoring 25 times and setting up 12 more. A 6-2, 185-pounder, Muly showed the ability to shoot – and score, for that matter – with either hand. He had a picturesque lefty alley rip in the championship game win.
Muly’s impact wasn’t limited to just scoring, though. He dodged with his head up and made a number of clever passes. He got involved on ground balls and came away with a good deal of them, never afraid to get physical. While he doesn’t have elite speed, Muly showed that he could pull away from guys in transition.
Wills came in with a big reputation and backed it up yet again. The lefty, who helped La Salle to another Philadelphia Catholic League title while earning first-team All-PCL honors at LSM, was once again tough to get around. He didn’t do anything flashy. Rather, Wills excelled at using his leverage and power to dissuade anyone from getting to the rack. He had some very impressive ground balls in traffic. Wills also did an excellent job in the clearing game. While he’s not blazing fast, he understands where he’s looking to go, gets going upfield with a purpose and made some guys miss with subtle moves.
John Henry Finkeldie, defense, Delbarton (N.J.) / Leading Edge
Daniel Flaim, midfield, Summit (N.J.) / Leading Edge
JP Guinee, attack, Holderness (N.H.) / Laxachusetts – NLF No. 26 ’24
Hayden Hiltz, midfield, Hill Academy (Ont.) / Uncommon Fit Canadians
Hayes Schreiner, goalie, Springside Chestnut Hill (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH
Paul VanBastelaar, midfield, La Salle (Pa.) / Big 4 HHH