Jake Govett Photo Credit: USBOXLA
Ever since the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA) created the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) in 2018, the goal to teach more collegiate lacrosse players box lacrosse and increase the American presence in the National Lacrosse League has yielded a strong crop of players.
Eight players with NCBS ties were drafted to a National Lacrosse League team at the 2022 NLL Entry Draft, the most NCBS players to be selected in a professional draft – so far. That increase correlates with the expanded presence of active NLL pros on the benches for NCBS teams across the country.
Players like Dhane Smith, Dan Coates, Cam Holding, and Wes Berg are developing American talent with their wealth of insights, getting a firsthand look at how these players are flourishing into the future of the NLL.
“The amount of players hearing their names called on Draft night is no coincidence,” said NCBS Commissioner, Charlie Ragusa. “More and more Americans are realizing the importance of box lacrosse to their overall game, but more importantly they are enjoying the style of play and it’s fast pace. It is amazing to see the talent pool growing each year, and the quality of play steadily grow.”
With some of the five players selected in the 2021 draft coming off the NLL Draft List, the NCBS talent is set to make waves at the training camps for eight teams this November. Let’s look at those 13 players selected over the last two years and what they can bring to the table.
Only two players on this list have won the NCBS National Championship, and they’ve done it twice. Leading the way was Jake Govett, only one of two NCBS players to be selected in the first round of an NLL Entry Draft.
Govett – whose father, Jake, is the team president of the San Diego Seals – was the straw that stirred the drink for the Royals the past two seasons and the Red Hawks in the CCBLL. He has a penchant for the highlight reel, with dime behind-the-back goals a staple of his game.
His slick scoring ability – 42 points (28G, 14A) in 15 games the last two NCBS seasons – overshadows his grit and exponential growth over the last four seasons. Govett isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty fighting for a loose ball or trying to cause a turnover before an opponent can take two steps towards midfloor.
Payton Rezanka Photo Credit: Brian McWalters
Most of the players that have been drafted from the NCBS into the NLL are forwards. No NCBS defensemen or transition players were selected in the 2021 Entry Draft. Payton Rezanka led the defensive explosion in the 2022 Entry Draft, same as he led the Royals back end on the way to back-to-back championships.
At 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, the San Diego native plays a mean game outdoors for the Loyola Greyhounds as a SSDM, and he brings that mean streak along with his IQ and athleticism indoors. His stick skills clearly benefited from his time with the Royals, as he started seeing shots drop in 2021, leading to the most shots Rezanka took and most goals scored in a collegiate season.
He’s one of 50 players invited to the Team USA training camp this September, and he’ll be returning to college for his last year of eligibility. Seals fans will have to wait a year to see what Rezanka can do indoors and how he’ll help bolster a youthful back end that loves to run.
When he’s not winning NCAA DIII championships with the Tigers in the spring, Spencer Bell is helping lead the Hawkeyes to a UCBLL title and NCBS championship appearance.
Bell appeared in eight games the last two seasons with the Hawkeyes, posting 14 points (10G, 4A). He’s got a strong low shot and isn’t afraid to whip it from distance, and he doesn’t mind mixing it up with defensemen when setting picks.
At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, the Knighthawks have Bell listed as a forward/transition player, suggesting they want his size to help out the back end and push hard in transition, where his scoring touch can help him see success in those high danger opportunities.
Ryan Sharkey Photo Credit: Tom Wolf
Sharkey kicked off a natural hat trick of Rapids players getting selected by the Bandits. He spent the summer being coached by current Bandits Ethan O’Connor, Dhane Smith, and Josh Byrne, impressing them with his work ethic and coachability.
On the floor, the Yonkers, New York native shows a faster first step than most, catching foes transitioning across midfloor by surprise with his pressure. He can be a terror one-on-one and in loose ball scrums.
Sharkey heads to University of Massachusetts Amherst for his fifth and final collegiate season, so Bandits fans will have to wait a year to see him. But an extra year should develop his game further and improve those qualities he shares with other Bandits defensemen.
The team MVP for the Rapids, Christian Watts led the new UCBLL team in points with 44 (23G, 21A). He’s got speed and size and used both to great effect this summer.
Watts has a dynamite shot that instantly disappears from his stick head and into the goal net before his follow through is even half complete. His vision is also dynamic, his passes crisp.
When you’re impressing the likes of Dhane Smith with your off-ball skills, then you’re doing something right. Watts can make his defender look silly with ease and shoulder into them when necessary. In fact, it’s hard not to see a bit of Smith’s game in Watts given how he uses his size, move his body, and feeding abilities.
The Bandits right side is quite stacked, but getting the chance to learn even more from Smith, Chase Fraser, Kyle Buchanan, and Tehoka Nanticoke is only going to help Watts develop further.
Austin Blumbergs Photo Credit: St. Bonaventure Athletic Department
Blumbergs was the third defensive NCBS player to be selected in the 2022 Entry Draft and capped off the Rapids/Bandits pipeline.
Out of Penn Yan, New York, Blumbergs is another Rapids player with plenty of size, listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. One of six St. Bonaventure Bonnies drafted on Sunday, Blumbergs has a strong two-way game as a middie. His time in the UCBLL made a noticeable impact on his game during his senior year, one he’ll evolve as he returns to St. Bonaventure for a fifth year.
Kask played for the Gold Miners in the CCBLL in 2021, putting up video game numbers with his 44 goals. The lanky right-hander was often the first one off the bench, coupling his speed and height with his deceptive stick skills to freeze goalies and accurately blast the ball past them.
Kask spent the 2022 summer playing for the Langley Thunder in the BCJALL. He posted 40 points (23G, 17A) in 13 regular season games, adding 28 points (11G, 17A) in 11 postseason games later in the season. His off-ball and finishing abilities helped contribute to the Thunder making it to the BCJALL finals.
Another guy who puts up video-game numbers when he plays box, Carter Brand was also a member of the Gold Miners in 2021. He finished the season with 43 goals.
Punishment just seemed to feed him, soldiering through double teams on the crease for unreal goals or using aggressive one-on-one defense to sting goalies from distance. His IQ complemented his quick and deceptive wrists, netting the ball when a defender was a step away from decking him often.
Out of Calgary, Alberta, the lefty played for the Okotoks Raiders Jr. A team, posting 108 points in 30 games. It doesn’t seem like Brand played this summer, so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any rust from his unreal Gold Miners season last year.
Evan Zinn spent two seasons playing for the Revolution as a forward, with his 2021 season being his stronger of the two. However, he played more of a two-way game for the CTCBLL team, similar to how he’s played collegiately at Johns Hopkins University and most recently at the University of Virginia.
The Mammoth seem to intend for Zinn to play out the back door, using his size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) to interrupt forwards and his speed to push in transition. His outside shot might not work as well against NLL pro goalies, but that hip-whip shot of his has plenty of deception to it, and it’s often accompanied by the ping of the pipes as the ball ricochets off it into the net.
Hunter Lemieux set the standard for NCBS players when he was drafted 15th in the 2021 NLL Entry Draft, the highest an NCBS player has ever been drafted. He’s a big bodied lefty with plenty of Jr. A experience in Ontario, where he made himself a mainstay there for a few seasons before playing with the Armory in the UCBLL.
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Lemieux has a pro frame that he uses to great effect off-ball, setting hard picks and seals to help his teammates be effective. That doesn’t mean the lefty won’t rip his own shot, as he averaged two goals per game when he played for Armory on the way to the NCBS Finals in 2021.
He may not be the fastest player out there, but Lemieux has proven time and again that he can lead an offense to great success with his dangerous scoring ability and off-ball selflessness. Small wonder the Wings had him at the top of their draft board and were excited to add him to the team.
A product of Ohio State University, Jackson Reid was drafted by the Halifax Thunderbirds, part of the OSU to TBirds pipeline. He was placed on the team’s Draft List and traded this summer to Panther City LC, where the lefty forward has a better chance of cracking their young roster.
Reid’s on the smaller side, but his craftiness when he has the ball leads to some jaw-dropping goals. He played in four games for Whipsnakes LC in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) this summer, with his one goal against the Atlas landing at No. 2 on SportsCenter Top 10 for that weekend.
His stature is deceptive. Defensemen can seem like they’re overpowering Reid one second before he’s somehow slipped under them to get one-on-one with a goalie, or they let him have his hands free for a half second too long, and he makes them pay for that mistake with a slick feed or score.
With plenty of experience at the Jr. A, collegiate, NCBS, and pro levels, Reid has shown time and again he knows what it takes to get the job done and consistently produce in a lineup.
Jack Hannah BC Tour Team USBOXLA Photo Credit: Sherri Thompson
Jack Hannah was originally drafted by Panther City LC and was placed on their Draft List as he went back to the University of Denver for his final collegiate season. He never suited up in black and purple, as the Las Vegas Desert Dogs selected him in their Expansion Draft ahead of their inaugural season.
It’s a lot of belief to place in the righty, but after seeing his exponential growth season after season in the OCBLL with the Rivermen, it’s easy to see why. Hannah started adapting to box slow, with just 11 points (6G, 5A) in his first eight games in 2018. That blossomed into 52 points (39G, 13A) in seven games in 2019 and 30 points (15G, 15A) in five games in 2021, including an astounding 11 points (5G, 6A) in just one game.
Hannah’s the type of player that challenges himself to be his best at all times, effort that’s noticed at every level he’s played at. He spent this summer playing pro for Waterdogs LC in the PLL, having etched himself as a mainstay in that lineup with his adaptable game.
The Denver grad has never seen a screen he didn’t like to challenge. His mid-range shot can be particularly deadly, but Hannah’s not afraid to crash the crease. The QB for the Rivermen, Hannah’s size gives him a good vantage up high on the right side, and he’s able to find the open man and connect easily.
The ridiculous numbers of Brand and Kask are only surpassed by the even more bewildering 46 goals from Riley Curtis. He played in the CCBLL in 2021 for the Bighorns, leading his team in goals and points.
Curtis is a fan of a good backdoor cut, using his quick first step to peel downhill past his defender. He has an eerie skill of disappearing from a defender’s notice, and his Bighorns teammates were willing to make that pass to him open down low on the crease for him to cash in on.
The Knighthawks placed Curtis on the Draft List, as he returned to the University of Denver for his fifth year there. They moved him off the list and signed him to a two-year contract ahead of the 2022 Entry Draft.
The final NCBS player to be drafted in 2021 was placed on the Bandits Draft List, as he returned to St. John Fisher University for a final year. He went off to cap his collegiate career as the program’s all-time leader in goals and points, then returned to the Hawkeyes in 2022 to lead the entire UCBLL in points with 54 (22G, 32A).
Miller is adaptable and intelligent on the floor. His athleticism and instincts can be a nightmare for opponents, with the Ithaca native able to sting goalies from in front of the cage or behind it with a quick wraparound.
In August, the Bandits took the left-hander off their Draft List and signed him to a two-year deal. They have a strong left side pairing in Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier, accompanied by sophomore Brad McCulley, but Miller’s athleticism and versatility can make noise at training.