Photo: Las Vegas Desert Dogs
Las Vegas Desert Dogs forward Jack Hannah has taken the National Lacrosse League (NLL) by storm this season, following in the footsteps of National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) pioneer Trevor Baptiste. It marks the second time in five years that an NCBS graduate is among the top rookies in the NLL.
"It's always special seeing an American come into the NLL and have success, especially someone who played in the NCBS like me," said Baptiste, his former University of Denver teammate. "But I think Jack is just getting started, and his best ball is yet to come."
In 2018, the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA) founded the NCBS to allow American collegiate players to improve their lacrosse skillset through box lacrosse and increase their chances of playing in the NLL. Players also have the opportunity to compete for a national championship.
Playing in the NCBS led Baptiste to instant stardom, as he was third-best in the NLL with 179 loose balls, and his 362 faceoffs wins set an NLL rookie record in 2019. The Philadelphia Wings' transition man was rewarded for his efforts by being named to the NLL All-Rookie Team.
This season, Hannah is destined to join Baptiste with NLL All-Rookie Team status, but he is also a serious contender for Rookie of the Year. The 23-year-old currently leads all rookies with 29 goals and is second to only Panther City's Jonathan Donville in assists (27) and points (56).
Donville and Hannah headline a rookie class that also includes goalie Brett Dobson (Georgia), Mathieu Gautier (Panther City), Austin Hasen (Rochester), John Piatelli (Albany), Jon Phillips (Las Vegas) and Dylan Robinson (Buffalo).
"He should 100 percent be in the (Rookie of the Year) conversation because of what he can do (on the turf) and the success he has had," said Las Vegas team captain Rob Hellyer.
In Las Vegas' latest win, Hannah posted a four-goal and two-assist effort in a 12-7 win over the Rochester Knighthawks to earn the league's Gatorade Rookie of the Week for the third time this season.
Hannah was impressive on March 25 against Rochester, as he displayed a deadly accurate shot and creativity en route to a six-point night. He roofed a pair of goals to open the game. He then added assists in the second and third quarters while also scoring goals in the final two frames. His final marker was the prettiest as he scored on a behind-the-back shot early in the fourth quarter.
Hannah's play has drawn comparisons to another great American offensive player, Tom Schreiber, whom Hellyer played with in Toronto for five seasons. That is lofty praise, as Schreiber has established himself as one of the top Americans in the box game. In 2017, he earned NLL Rookie of the Year honors, recording his first of two 94-point seasons. Schreiber, known as Captain America, recently became only the second American-born player to eclipse 100 points in a season.
"I don't know if I have ever seen anything like him. He is pretty special out there," said Hellyer about Hannah. "I thought the same thing when I first started playing with Tom Schreiber. They bring that field game to the box game. They bring skillsets. The way they can switch hands and are very dynamic. I think Jack is like that, but even more so, just what he can do and create his own shot."
Unlike Schreiber, Hannah brought some box experience to the NLL. He burst onto the box scene in 2017 as a member of Team USBOXLA's U18 squad. During the tour of British Columbia, he posted amazing numbers with 25 points in just five games. He powered the Americans to four wins in five games against Junior A teams from Burnaby, Coquitlam and Langley. It was a tune-up before embarking on his college field career at Denver.
"Before I went to Denver, I did the USBOXLA U18 Tour to BC," said Hannah. "That was just a phenomenal experience for me. I learned how box lacrosse is treated in Canada, what the game means to those guys, how they play it, and what box actually is outside of the United States. It was a great experience being around guys who play box and watching how well they were able to finish the ball and catch it inside. Doing things like that came so naturally to them. I was like, 'I feel like that's something I can develop through box.'"
His performance did not go unnoticed by coach Shaydon Santos, who was also the president and co-founder of the US Box Lacrosse Association. He shared his enthusiasm with USBOXLA co-founder Matt Brown, who was the associate head coach at the University of Denver at the time.
"After seeing him play, I told Matt that he was one of the best athletes I had ever seen," said Santos. "He had quickness, size, and tremendous moves. He stuck with the box and fell in love with the game."
The BC tour set in motion his passion for the box game and, with the urging of his Denver coaches, motivated him to play in the inaugural season of the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL) in 2018.
"Yeah, well, first off, a lot of that came from the influence of coach Matt Brown and Coach (Bill) Tierney and a lack of success my freshman year," said Hannah. "I was trying to find a way of becoming a better lacrosse player because I had a lot of growth that needed to be done for me to be able to keep stepping on the field at Denver. I love the box game. And I thought if I could play more lacrosse during the summer, I might as well because I'm having a good time doing it."
Playing box did solidify his spot on the Denver Pioneers. After playing in only three games as a freshman and recording no points, he finished second on the team with 34 points his sophomore year. He would play in 56 career games at Denver, posting 155 points (103+52). He reached 100 points eighth fastest in program history, achieving the milestone in 37 career games, making him the second-fastest midfielder to the century mark.
The Milford, Ohio, native was named a First Team All-American in 2021, finishing with 47 points (37+10) in 17 games. Hannah was also an Inside Lacrosse First Team All-American selection in 2020, collecting 27 points (17+10) in six games. His success was a lesson in perseverance.
"Jack is one of the most driven players we have ever had in our program at DU. From day one, he wanted to have an impact; his work ethic and his creativity to grow as a player shaped that," said Denver associate head coach Matt Brown. "A huge part of that development was playing in the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League in the summer months. The opportunity to try new skills and work on his game in a competitive environment without question made Jack the elite college lacrosse player he was and also gave him true box experience that has helped make an impact now at the pro level."
His play in the OCBLL attracted the most attention to the athletically gifted forward for the Rivermen. In 2019, Hannah excelled at the box game, rewriting the record books in the OCBLL as he finished the season with 59 goals and 25 assists for 84 points. He was also named league MVP that season and led his team to an Ohio Cup title.
On the national stage, Hannah showcased his skills at the NCBS National Championship. In two games, the forward collected 13 points against the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League champion Fighting Bison to capture the inaugural NCBS championship.
He led the Rivermen to another Ohio Cup title in 2021 as he was named to the NCBS First Team at the national championships. At the NCBS National Championships, Hannah notched 24 points (13+11) in four games.
Just one month later, he achieved his dream of hearing his name called at the NLL Entry Draft, going in the second round (31st overall) to the expansion Panther City Lacrosse Club. However, he would have to wait a year to make his NLL debut as he competed in a fifth season at the University of Denver. When it was time to transition to the NLL, it would be with another club as the newest team, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs, chose Hannah with the eighth pick in the expansion draft.
"Honestly, there's nothing not to like about his game," said Las Vegas general manager and head coach Shawn Williams. "The biggest thing for us is his excitement for box and his willingness to learn and try different things. He's not afraid to go in the dirty areas, which sometimes is a hard thing going from field to box, but he's fearless. He loves the rough stuff, and he loves box. So, we're definitely happy that we have him."
Hannah impressed his teammates at training camp, especially fellow American Charlie Bertrand, who broke into the NLL the previous season. After getting acclimated to the NLL game, Hannah found his grove offensively.
"He came in, and right away, he was making an impact on the team," said Bertrand. "He was getting any shot off that he wanted but not really finding the back of the net as much back in November. But I would say it only took him a couple of regular-season games (to settle in). He picked it up and ran with it. He is a guy our team looks to generate offense and get a goal when we need one."
Hannah made his NLL debut on Dec. 9 in the road against Panther City. He chipped in back-to-back goals in the second quarter to bring his team within one, but it was not enough as the Desert Dogs fell 13-11. Despite the setback, it was a dream come true for Hannah to finally play in his first professional game.
"I was nervous, but once you get hit for the first time and take that first cross-check, you're in the game. You don't have the option to think too much," he said. "Afterwards, it was a great feeling. I was really happy I was able to be a little successful and get a couple of points on the board for the team and get a pretty good debut as an expansion team."
Photo: University of Denver
In his first seven games, Hannah collected 16 goals and 12 assists for 28 points and helped the Desert Dogs earn their first two wins as a franchise. On Jan. 20, he was instrumental in Las Vegas' come-from-behind 15-14 win over the Vancouver Warriors. Trailing 12-4 at the half, Vegas stormed back with 11 goals in the second half, including eight in the final frame to knock off Vancouver. Hannah scored three of his four goals in the second half to finish the game with a then career-high seven points (4+3).
However, Hannah saved his best game for the showdown in Denver against the defending champion Colorado Mammoth. On Feb. 4, the rookie posted a career-best six goals and two assists for eight points. He had a hand in 61 percent of his team's offense, contributing to eight of the team's 13 goals in a 13-8 road win. He iced the game in the fourth with two consecutive goals.
"At the end of the game, not going to lie, I didn't really realize how many goals I had. I was just playing, and it was cool," said Hannah. "Obviously, all the guys gave me a bunch of love."
Hannah has become a household name in NLL circles following dominating performances in his first season. His success may have exceeded some's expectations, but not Baptiste's. He has rooted for his former DU teammate from afar. He also had the chance to go head-to-head against Hannah and the Desert Dogs on Jan. 6 in Las Vegas. The Wings downed Las Vegas 14-9 as Hannah chipped in one goal and two assists.
"Seeing Jack Hannah having all the success this season has been exciting to watch, yet not surprising," said Baptiste. "Since he came to the University of Denver his freshman year, he has continued to get better and better in all aspects of the game. I've had the pleasure of seeing him progress as a player over the years on and off the floor. He's a true competitor and puts the work in day in and out."
Hannah has enjoyed the ride and couldn't have asked for a better coach/general manager than Shawn Williams. He also feels right at home in Las Vegas as he and his teammates introduce the sport of box lacrosse to a new market. The Desert Dogs play in the heart of Vegas' sports district at Mandalay Bay's Michelob Ultra Arena, which is across the highway from the Raiders' NFL home and down the strip from the NHL home of the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
"It's an incredible town. There's a lot of energy, and people seem to like box lacrosse there," he said. "We still have a long way to go to win games for all those fans and make sure that they're having a good time every home game. I am so happy I was able to land there."
As for possibly winning the NLL Rookie of the Year award, he prefers wins to individual accolades or statistics. Luckily for the Desert Dogs, Hannah is posting incredible numbers and helping the Desert Dogs stay competitive in the team's first year in Sin City.
"Being in the conversation is awesome to hear, but I'm focused on winning games with the Desert Dogs," he said. "I want to develop into the best lacrosse player I can be."
About the NCBS
The National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) was established by the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA) in 2018. First formed in 2017, the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL) predates the formation of the NCBS, joining the series when it was officially launched a year later. In 2018, the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL) was established with teams based in Columbus and Cleveland. In 2019, the OCBLL's Rivermen won the inaugural NCBS National Championship beating the CCBLL's Fighting Bison at the 2019 USBOXLA Nationals. In 2021, the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (UCBLL), Connecticut Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CTCBLL), and California Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CACBLL) played their inaugural seasons. The 2021 NCBS National Champions were the CACBLL Royals. In 2022, the NCBS added the Mid Atlantic Collegiate Box League League (MACBLL).