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Athan Iannucci paying it forward

By Craig Rybczynski, 05/13/19, 9:45PM PDT


The state of Washington is once again abuzz with the great sport of box lacrosse. Once the epicenter for the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA), former National Lacrosse League MVP Athan Iannucci is bringing elite level programming back to the region with the founding of Evergreen Elite Lacrosse.

"There was a large void in the Pacific Northwest elite box lacrosse scene since the departure of the Jr. Stealth and head instructor Lewis Ratcliff.  The Jr. Stealth was instrumental in the development of USBOXLA," said USBOXLA Co-Founder Shaydon Santos. "We are excited that Athan Iannucci, someone with an impeccable lacrosse pedigree, will continue to develop Washington's best players through elite level box lacrosse programming.  While there are a handful of great USBOXLA rec leagues in Washington, Iannucci will provide a deeper dive into player development and will no doubt be an anchor program in 'A' level tournament play."

During the first week of April, Iannucci launched his new club, Evergreen Elite Lacrosse. In a letter to parents and potential players, he laid out his plan to continue the momentum the Junior Stealth and Lewis Ratcliff had in the area.

"Evergreen Elite Lacrosse was designed to repay all that I was given by providing the next generation of players with world-class instruction for the rapidly expanding sport of lacrosse," he said. "I'm asking you to consider the opportunity to be amongst the first of its participants. We want your son to learn from the best and glean lessons from the indoor game to carry over to field."

Washington's Jr Stealth were the 3rd member of USBOXLA. Check this video out of our fun all the way back in 2010 in one of the very first youth box lacrosse games in the USA outside of upstate NY.

The goal for his inaugural season is to take teams to the 2019 USBOXLA Nationals in Huntington Beach Calif., from Friday, August 2 through Sunday, August 4. Iannucci is recruiting kids at all age levels, ranging from Novice (2009-10 birth years) to high school. Iannucci, a 30-year lacrosse veteran, announced his newest venture after some time of self-reflection.

"I am in a position where there's not really anyone else in the Washington area who can provide the level of coaching that I can in terms of both box and field," he said. “I enjoy spending time with aspiring athletes, coaching them and watching them grow and develop. It's extremely rewarding for me."

The program's home arena in Snohomish, Wash., is located just 18 miles away from the former home of the National Lacrosse League's Washington Stealth. Iannucci spent two of his eight seasons in Washington, which included a trip to the 2013 NLL Finals. He also made stops in Philadelphia and Colorado. In his NLL career, the prolific scorer posted 214 goals and 175 assists in 93 regular-season games.

Kids at Evergreen Elite Lacrosse will learn the finer points of the game from the former eighth overall pick and 2007 All-Rookie team member. Iannucci's impressive resume is highlighted by his second season with the Philadelphia Wings. In 2008, he registered one of the best offensive seasons in league history as he broke Gary Gait's National Lacrosse League record of 61 goals. Iannucci finished with 71 goals and 29 assists en route to NLL Most Valuable Player and First Team All-Pro honors.

In the outdoor game, Iannucci excelled during his three seasons at Hofstra University (2004 to 2006). In his final season, he finished tied with teammate Chris Unterstein as the nation's leading scorer with 80 points (62+18) in 19 games. After wrapping up his college career, he was selected first overall in the 2007 Major League Lacrosse Draft. The attackman played for the Chicago Machine in 2007 and the Toronto Nationals in 2009.

Iannucci, who has played in the NLL and MLL, knows the benefits playing box lacrosse can have on a player's outdoor game. The proof was his career-best 62-goal season, which remains among the Top 20 greatest goal-scoring outputs in Division I history and is the highest recorded season total to date at his alma mater.

"In its truest form, box players play both offense and defense, forcing all-around skill development for every player, rather than more specialized positions as taught in field," he said. "Players must think very fast in a confined space, all while trying to score on a much smaller net with a much larger goalie, and with a 30-second time limit for each possession. This is why Canadian box players are known to be both gritty and skilled. You don't have to look far to find Canadian box players on full scholarships flourishing in the NCAA. I was one of those players."

Known as a cerebral player during his playing days, the former standout has made a seamless transition to the coaching ranks. The 36-year-old now channels his energy into coaching the game he first learned to play in New Westminster, BC. A husband and father of four children under the age of 4, Iannucci has become a lacrosse ambassador in Mountlake Terrace, Wash. Each day he commutes 40 minutes to the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, Wash., to coach the Eastside Catholic High School boys' lacrosse team.

"I am coaching high school kids now, appreciating just how important it is to have a younger class of people coming up who are all excited to play the game and have the skills and lacrosse IQ to be successful at it," he said. "I've had so much good coaching over the years, and I know what good coaching did for me as a player. I feel like this is my time to give back. I have four kids of my own now, and I guess I have a new appreciation and enjoyment for the whole process…the cyclical nature of not only athletics but for life in general."

Iannucci has had his share of coaching mentors, including his high school basketball coach Doug Binns. It was at Gleneagle Secondary School in Coquitlam, BC, where Iannucci learned from an outside the box thinker, who taught the game by integrating a set of numbered drills.

"I have never had another coach be that clever, organized, well-thought-out in advance where he could teach kids a set of drills one through 10 by number and then combine and string them together in such a way so that it creates an offense and kids immediately pick it up," he said. "That has stuck with me for a long time over the years. Looking back now, I respect that even more. He was dealing with high school kids too, and we were on point that year. We knew where we needed to be and how we needed to get there. Somehow he was able to do what other coaches, including myself at times, have struggled with…the seamless transference of knowledge from coach to the entire team in such a way where every single player is locked in."

In college, Iannucci played for lacrosse legend John Danowski, who now coaches at Duke University and for Team USA. It was at Hofstra University where the freshman first suited up for the future Hall of Fame coach. In 2003, Iannucci was fresh off another amazing summer, as he finished second in the British Columbia Lacrosse Association (BCLA) Junior "A" circuit with 95 points (48+47) for New Westminster. The high-profile forward, who came to campus with a lot of confidence, realized he had a lot to learn about the field game. Fortunately for Iannucci, he had one of the game's best teachers in Danowski.

"I came in there my first year off a season where I was the leading goal scorer in the Canadian summer box leagues, so I thought I was pretty proficient at lacrosse," laughed Iannucci. "I went to university [however], and quickly learned I didn't know a thing about field lacrosse. I was the worst player on the team offensively, maybe in the whole country, it felt like sometimes. The first year on the team was rough; everything was opposite it seemed. Stick to the outside, using my left hand; the list went on. I scored maybe 16 goals."

But Danowski fit his crafty Canadian into his system, and Iannucci went from 16 goals to 27 and then 62. In his final season, he led Division I lacrosse in goals and goal-per-game as the Pride shocked the lacrosse world by winning 17 games in a row.

"Under his guidance, I was able to achieve NCAA Division I All-American honors and still hold the single-season scoring record for the Pride," he said. “That was all a credit to his lacrosse IQ and coaching. He was very good at breaking the game apart and drilling different aspects of it.

"It was more of the personal, mental and moral coaching that gave us that leg up on everybody. We weren't a team that was supposed to be No. 2 in the nation that year. We didn't have the guys for it, but we all played together and were far greater than the sum of our individual parts. He figured out a way to get the best out of us. I have tons of love respect for Coach Danowski."

Photo: Larry Palumbo

Iannucci's decision to go the college route was heavily influenced by the man whose very name symbolizes the National Lacrosse's League's Coach of the Year Award, Les Bartley. At the NLL Player Combine, the late NLL Hall of Fame coach told Iannucci to go to school and get an education before going pro. He followed the advice of one of the game's greatest lacrosse minds, and as Bartley predicted, the NLL was not only there after he graduated, but was getting better by the year.

In his second year in the pros, Iannucci played for another coaching great, Dave Huntley. From the late former Canadian National team coach, the young forward learned how the power of a coach having faith in a player could raise their game.

"He was pretty instrumental and was a powerful part of my life," said Iannucci. "Before that season started, 'Hunts' said that he had a good feeling about me. He told me, 'I want you to take the most shots of any player in the entire league, and, you know what, I think you are going to get the most goals of any player too. Just don't settle; always take the best shot you can.'

"He spent hours of personal time talking with me that season. He put ultimate confidence in me and made me feel invested in. I don't know how many players ever get a coach who does that to the level Hunts did for me that year."

Iannucci has pooled the best principles he has learned from his mentors and his years of playing experience to create a unique box lacrosse program. Evergreen Elite Lacrosse emphasizes teamwork, communication, and accountability. Learning is accelerated and enhanced by offering athletes opportunities to succeed and fail in a safe and motivating environment. Iannucci, who still plays, has found it extremely valuable to put on a helmet and pads and get into the drill or scenario to teach players in a hands-on way that most coaches can't or don't.

"There are just some things you can't draw on a whiteboard or learn from YouTube," he said.

Another thing you can't replicate is Iannucci's passion for the game and his experiences at the highest level of the sport. For his previous success, he credits his coaches. He hopes to have that same impact on the kids in his program.

"If those four coaches weren't in my life, I don't know that I would have turned out to be the player or the person that I am," he said. "The opportunity to influence kids, and shape and guide their futures, in the same positive way I have experienced, would give me a lot of joy. Being able to achieve peak levels of success didn't just happen. It happened as a result of a culmination of a whole bunch of things. I attribute a ton of those successes directly to my coaches. I am now compelled by the lacrosse gods to return the favor."