You would be hard pressed to find a more vocal supporter of box lacrosse than Nick Myers. A New Englander by birth, the 39-year-old has put his passion into practice for nearly two decades. When some coaches were showing moderate interest in the box game, Myers was jumping in with both feet.
“I was always a big basketball player. Box has such a basketball feel to it in terms of the up and down, the transition style, and the endurance,” he said. “I am a huge believer in it. Players get so many more touches and confidence by playing in a small area instead of on a big field.”
Last summer, the longtime Ohio State coach had the opportunity to help bring the box game to central Ohio as a founding member of the leadership team behind the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL). It was an easy decision for Myers, who joined Cleveland State Head Coach Dylan Sheridan and Resolute Lacrosse Founder and USBOXLA Coach Greg Bice.
At the time, Myers called the OCBLL a “game changer for summer lacrosse in the Ohio Community.”
“This league will make Columbus a summer destination spot for those who want to play high-end box lacrosse and gain valuable work experience in one of the fastest growing cities in the USA,” he said.
The birth of the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) occurred in 2017 through a unique collaboration between the University of Denver, Warrior Lacrosse, the Colorado Mammoth and the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA).
In 2018, the NCBS took a significant step forward with the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League expanding by two additional clubs (Blizzard and Red Hawks). USBOXLA also created the four-team Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL), through a collaboration between Ohio State and Cleveland State.
Myers was one of the advocates for the expansion of the country’s first college-aged box lacrosse league from Denver to Ohio. His support, however, went beyond comments in a press release. He encouraged his players to spend the summer in Columbus to compete in USBOXLA’s newest box lacrosse league.
“It’s awesome,” said Myers. “We probably had at least three, if not four players on every one of those teams last year. I think we’re going to have another eight to 12 guys in the league stay here this summer and play. You wish you had something like that growing up in New England. It’s not Junior ‘A’ ball yet. Do I think it can be in time? Absolutely. It’s certainly getting better and better. The guys really got into it.”
The Buckeyes’ players were instrumental in the success of the league in its inaugural season. In fact, Ohio State’s 2018-19 roster features a dozen players who competed in the OCBLL. Jack Jasinski finished second in the league in scoring, while Nick Musci was tied for fifth in points. Logan Maccani and Colby Barker were also members of the Ohio Cup champion Rivermen.
I’ve got Jack Jasinski, who is one of our leading scorers right now, and he played in the league last year,” said Myers. “Logan Maccani, the captain for me, played in the league last year. We’ve got a lot of alumni on our team from the first year of the league, and they benefited from playing all summer.
This year, he has seen his players flourish since they took their games indoors in the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League. The Buckeyes opened the season with an impressive 7-0 record, which included an 11-10 overtime win over Notre Dame on March 23.
“I definitely felt my ability to finish inside tight spaces improved from box, as well as my shooting,” said Jasinski. “You’re shooting at a much smaller target and in a much smaller window of time. I think that’s helped me be able to see the field goal a lot better.”
“I loved playing box,” he added. “It’s really a different type of physicality that you get in a box game than in a field game. Just being in tight spaces makes everything a little harder, and you get to get up and down the floor which I enjoyed. I would definitely have been playing box when I was younger if I had the chance.”
Jasinski has continued his torrid scoring pace, leading OSU with 26 points. He has already tied his career high with 17 goals, and he only needs three points to pass last year’s career best of 28. Playing in the OCBLL was a natural progression for Jasinski and his OSU teammates, who have incorporated box lacrosse drills and games into their workouts.
Since the 2017 season, Ohio State has made weekly 15-minute commutes to the Resolute Athletic Complex. The facility, which includes three box rinks, is run by Columbus-based Resolute Lacrosse. The program was one of the first to team up with USBOXLA and has established itself as a leader in lacrosse training and athlete development. Founded in 2009 by Ohio State lacrosse alumni and Major League Lacrosse all-stars Greg Bice and Anthony Kelly, Resolute Lacrosse “hosts position clinics, training sessions, individual lessons, coaching clinics, elite teams & camps.”
“We went over once or twice during the week in the fall and once in the preseason,” said Myers. “We just played box, and the guys loved it. It was a great workout, and the guys got better. For me, it was something that was definitely going to be part of our culture moving forward.”
The 2017 team was loaded with Canadian talent, including Tre Leclaire, Jeff Henrik and future National Lacrosse League standouts Jake Withers, Austin Shanks, Eric Fannell and Johnny Pearson. The players from north of the border introduced many of their American teammates to the intricacies of the box game.
“My senior year we were the first school to play a regular box game weekly, every Tuesday, and I think it helped our team become slicker on offense, which is a style we like to play at OSU,” said Shanks, who plays for the NLL’s Rochester Knighthawks. “It made our team tougher as box is a much more skilled and physical game than field lacrosse. It gave us an edge over other teams. That year we made it to the NCAA Championship Game, so I believe it helped us tremendously as individuals and a team as a whole.”
Ohio State players Eric Fannell, Austin Shanks and Jake Withers pictured during the 2017 NLL Entry Draft. These players were the first trio selected in the NLL Entry Draft from the same college.
That season was the best in school history as the Buckeyes advanced to the program’s first-ever Final Four. Ohio State then knocked off Towson to play for its first-ever Division I men’s lacrosse national title. Myers’ team also set a program record by winning 16 games and producing six All-Americans.
“It was cool for those [Canadian] guys,” said Myers. “When we were over in the box, they were coaching the guys. They were sharing the game and teaching people how they do things, and vice versa in field. It was a perfect team builder in a lot of ways.”
More importantly, it gave players extra touches and emphasized the two-man game and finishing in tight spaces.
“Box helps my field game because it has made me more of a threat all around the field from shooting from bad angles, shooting twister shots that freeze goalies and catching in tight quarters,” said Shanks. “It’s much easier to finish inside on a field net then it is in a box. It also gives you a toughness edge by looking for contact and engaging defenders. Box can tremendously help anyone’s field game on either side of the floor.”
The influx of Canadian players in 2017 was not an anomaly, but rather the norm. Kids from cities like Peterborough, Ontario; Victoria, BC; Coquitlam, BC; and Vancouver have been playing in Columbus since the early 2000s. It’s a culture that Myers was a part of during his two tenures at Ohio State. Myers began his coaching career as the volunteer coach for the Buckeyes for two seasons (2002, 2003) and then returned in 2006 after a short two-year stint at Butler University. In 2009, the Kennebunk, Maine, native took over the head coaching reigns and maintained the pipeline to Canadian talent.
“I started coaching at Ohio State in 2001, and we have prided ourselves over the last 20 years in recruiting Canada as well as anybody,” said Myers. “I think that’s where it started for me. Growing up in New England, I didn’t have a lot of box experience. When I got out here, I had the chance to learn from some amazing coaches and amazing recruiters.”
“I think it’s relationships like anything,” he added. “We worked hard with folks up in Vancouver, Victoria, Vancouver Island, and all the suburbs. We’ve had alumni from almost every major suburb in western Canada.
“You look at a Joel Dalgarno from PoCo [Port Coquitlam, BC], and a Bloomy [Jason Bloom] and [Stephen] McKinlay from Coquitlam. Obviously, Logan Schuss and now Tre from that Ladner-Delta area. We have guys like Jesse King from out in Victoria and Mike Pires, and I am leaving guys off. Johnny Pearson, another one in that class, who was from out west, and is doing big things now. To have that kind of representation shows that we’ve worked hard, not only in one suburb but in all these hotbeds.”
This June, Myers will make an eight-day trip to Vancouver for the 15th straight summer to scout some of the top lacrosse players in the world. It was in nearby Burnaby that Myers first developed an appreciation and love for the box game. It was while observing Curt Malawsky’s Junior “A” Lakers’ practice where he received a crash course on box lacrosse.
“I can remember going to Coach [Curt] Malawsky in Burnaby, and he had an amazing team, and just being out there and going to one of their practices,” said Myers. “Next thing I know, I have a legal pad with six or seven pages worth of notes on it. And I am coming back here and thinking to myself, there is so much here, in my opinion, that we can use. I wondered how can we use this to blend the field game even more, besides just recruiting these players to come down. That’s how the wheels got turning. For me, I fell in love with it. As time progresses you start to evaluate it more and more.”
If Nick Myers had it his way, every kid would start by playing box lacrosse. He also practices what he preaches as he coaches a Novice box team that includes his sons Mason and Zach. Every Sunday, Myers teaches the kindergarten to second graders the basics of box lacrosse.
“I think in box it’s much easier to keep kids excited and in the mix regardless of how big, how fast, how tall, how small or how good their stick skills are. If you like running up and down, getting into the mix and bumping people, then you’re in. You build on that. That to me is the biggest takeaway in not letting kids get frustrated with the sport early on.”
Myers is a big believer in US Lacrosse’s Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, which provides a curriculum to a parent who doesn’t know the game. It teaches and breaks it down in small parts. That formula is the embodiment of box lacrosse.
“To me, that’s what box does. It takes away any long stick and puts everything in a small-sided game. It creates more touches and simplifies the game. These are all things for a youth lacrosse player that are critical to their development. Whether you’re an 8-year-old or an 18-year-old, there are so many positives that come from playing the game. As you get older, there’s more of a degree of toughness, endurance, and speed to the game. There are so many layers. You are more of a position-less lacrosse player. I love that about box.”
In August, Myers will help grow the game even more in Ohio as he takes his team to the prestigious USBOXLA Nationals. The event features 120 teams and over 1,800 players at The Rinks in both Huntington Beach and Irvine, Calif., from Aug. 2-4. Box lacrosse’s ultimate showcase also includes the pre-tournament USBOXLA Academy clinic and Team USBOXLA versus the Canadian ALL-STARS showstopper games.
“I am putting together a team right now of Novice kids who I am going to take out to the tournament in California this summer,” he said. “I’m excited about that. I think the key is getting young kids in that second, third, fourth, that Novice level, to fall in love with box. And not look at it as it’s just indoor or something I do in the off-season.
"I think it’s kids growing up loving box lacrosse and playing as much of it as they can. They can get introduced to the field game when they grow older. That’s certainly not the case right now, but I think if it does get to that point, it would be a game changer.”