Round 1, 19th Pick, Kaleb Benedict Armory (UCBLL)
It was another historic night for the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS), as a record ten players with ties to the NCBS were selected in the 2023 National Lacrosse League (NLL) Entry Draft on Sept. 16.
Like last year, the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (UCBLL) led the way with four players selected. In fact, three of the top four NCBS picks were from the UCBLL, starting with Kaleb Benedict, who was chosen in the first round (19th overall) by the Georgia Swarm. That was followed by the selection of Luke Pilcher (second round) and Jake Piseno (third round).
Benedict was 19 when he played in the UCBLL in 2021 and was part of a high-powered offense that included current Rochester Knighthawks forward Hunter Lemieux. Benedict scored 22 goals and added 16 assists in seven games. At the 2021 NCBS National Championship, he finished third on the team with 11 points (5+6) as the Armory finished second. He was a young star in a league composed of mainly American-born collegiate field players.
"It was fun," he said. "It was a different competitive level playing with college kids."
Former NLL defenseman Ron Cogan coached Benedict and was well aware of his potential.
"Kaleb was instrumental in our success in 2021," said Cogan. "In a year that saw so much talent land on one team, Kaleb really showed what he was all about. His IQ was through the roof already, and his teammates knew that; he truly made the players around him that much better."
"To possess an outside shot like Kaleb but still have the ability to go inside with the best of them is what separates the good and great players," he added. "I was very fortunate to be able to coach Kaleb, and I couldn't be prouder of him, to be honest. He has worked very hard to get to this point, and I wish him nothing but the best moving forward."
Benedict, who hails from Onondaga Nation, took his game to Junior "A" lacrosse and had a breakout summer with the Orangeville Northmen in 2023, collecting 40 goals and 55 assists in 26 games. The Northmen advanced all the way to the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League Finals. The next time he is on the floor, he will have a chance to play with the Thompson brothers: Jeremy, Lyle and Miles.
"They are my cousins, so that's why it's an unbelievable feeling," said Benedict. "I can't wait to get started."
|Fighting Bison (CCBLL)
|Gold Miners (CCBLL)
Round 2, 24th Pick, Luke Pilcher Armory (UCBLL)
One of his 2021 Armory teammates, Luke Pilcher, was selected in the second round (24th overall) by the Las Vegas Desert Dogs. Pilcher played parts of two seasons in the UCBLL (2021-22) with the Armory and was named First Team All-NCBS in 2021.
The Oakville, Ontario, native was also named the Armory's Duane "Dewey" Jacobs Most Valuable Player. A veteran of box lacrosse, the forward was a force that season with the league's top team. In eight games, he led the league in goals (25), assists (28) and points (53).
Pilcher, who won back-to-back Division III national titles at RIT, broke into the UCBLL in 2021 when COVID-19 had shut down most other leagues. It was an opportunity to keep playing box and help a new league flourish in its inaugural season.
"It was great. It was the first year (of the UCBLL), and you had a mix of box and field players," said Pilcher. "Everybody had so much fun learning new things from indoor and outdoor players. It was a great opportunity for new growth within America."
Round 3, 31st Pick, Jake Taylor Fighting Bison (CCBLL)
Jake Taylor was selected by the Georgia Swarm in the third round with the 31st overall pick. Taylor helped the Fighting Irish win the 2023 NCAA Division I National Championship. The Notre Dame product was the first of three players taken from the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL).
Taylor has extensive college box experience, having spent five seasons (2017-22) with the Fighting Bison. In 2019, he played in the inaugural NCBS National Championship, and in the opening game of the best-of-three series, he scored six goals. He collected 25 goals and 36 points that season. In 2022, Taylor posted 19 goals in his final season in the CCBLL.
Taylor, who first played box with Denver Elite, was fortunate to have a number of impactful coaches, including current NLL stars Jeremy Noble and Wes Berg. He also credited USBOXLA co-founder and Denver men's lacrosse coach Matt Brown, along with former NLL standouts Jamie Shewchuk and John Gallant, with helping him learn and thrive in the box game.
That experience and his success in the CCBLL earned him a shot at reaching his childhood dream.
"Ever since I started playing box, I wanted to play (in the NLL)," said Taylor. "I was a Mammoth fan growing up. I have always wanted to be a part of that league. It was a dream of mine as a kid. It's pretty cool that it's coming to fruition."
Round 3, 35th Pick,Jake Piseno Hawkeyes (UCBLL)
Jake Piseno was the fourth player drafted and third from the UCBLL, going to the Rochester Knighthawks in the third round with the 35th overall selection. He joined the Hawkeyes at the end of the regular season after earning All-World and Best Defender honors at the World Lacrosse Championship in San Diego this June.
The Haudenosaunee standout helped the Hawkeyes repeat as Mearns Cup champions. He also made an impression at the NCBS event, earning First Team All-Star honors for the second-place Hawkeyes. The University at Albany senior credited his stint with the Rochester team for improving his draft stock and getting the call he has been waiting for since he started playing lacrosse.
"I was on the edge of my seat come pick 27," he said. "I knew just from talking to people and coaches that the late second round was where I was projected. After seeing my best friend and current teammate Graydon Hogg get picked up by Rochester, it was an unreal feeling getting the call from (Knighthawks GM) Dan Carey and knowing I have the opportunity to continue playing with him."
"My family and friends were all around me for the call," he added. "It was a surreal moment because this is what I've been wanting my whole life, and to hear my name called was a blessing. I can't wait to work harder than ever to hopefully step on the floor next season."
Round 3, 42nd Pick, Mustang Sally Gold Miners (CCBLL) Photo: Larry French, Loyola Athletics
The next NCBS player taken was Mustang Sally, who was selected seven picks later by the Las Vegas Desert Dogs. A product of Denver City Lax, he has come a long way since he started playing lacrosse in fourth grade for the non-profit. He decided to give the sport a chance at the urging of the Denver City Lax program director, who saw him running around at his sister's basketball game.
"My older brothers had played … so we were familiar with it,” said Sally. “In my eyes, it was a hybrid between football, in terms of physicality, and basketball, in terms of being fast-paced and up-and-down. It was something that I wanted to give a try."
The rest is history. The Park Hill, Colo., native went on to excel at Denver East High School and with Denver Elite. Sally then made the jump to college lacrosse and played two seasons at the University of Richmond before transferring to Loyola.
While playing college lacrosse, he also tested the waters of box lacrosse in the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League. For three seasons, he honed his skills in the CCBLL. The former Gold Miners defenseman was a First Team All-NCBS selection at the 2021 NCBS National Championship. Next summer, the Loyola short-stick midfielder will return to the box game as he has the opportunity to earn a spot on the Desert Dogs roster.
"It is incredible," he said about the CCBLL giving players a path to the pros. "It's exciting more than anything else, especially for everybody in Colorado and some of these less-than-traditional hotbeds. They are actually seeing people going pro and having opportunities."
Round 4, 61st Pick, Colin Sharkey Revolution (CTCBLL)
The fourth round featured three players who played in the recent NCBS National Championship: Colin Sharkey, Richie Connell and Kellen Pulera.
Sharkey, who starred at the University of Vermont for four years, was chosen 61st overall by Panther City Lacrosse Club. He became the second member of his family taken in an NLL Entry Draft as his brother Ryan was selected by the Buffalo Bandits in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft.
Colin played box lacrosse for the Revolution in 2023 and was recognized as a First Team All-Star in the CT Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CTCBLL). At the 2023 NCBS tournament, Sharkey competed for the Constitutional Cup champion Generals and joined Ryan (Hawkeyes) on the All-NCBS Second Team.
The Yonkers, NY, native will spend the 2023-24 collegiate season at the University of Maryland. Colin’s new teammates helped him celebrate his latest achievement.
"Finding out I was drafted to Panther City was an unreal feeling," he said. "It's an honor to be selected by this club, and I appreciate the support they've shown in me as a person and a player. Although I wasn't home with my family for this moment, my teammates at Maryland made it a super memorable day, and I'm thankful to have had them with me to celebrate."
Round 4, 66th Pick, Ritchie Connell (CCBLL)
The Georgia Swarm picked Ritchie Connell with the 66th overall pick in the draft. The University of Denver product was a goal-scoring threat for the Red Hawks at the NCBS National Championship. During the regular season, he played for the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League champion Stoneflies.
He started playing box lacrosse in eighth grade for Denver Elite and returned to the indoor game in his senior year of high school playing for Team USBOXLA and Denver Elite. The veteran of the CCBLL earned the 2022 CCBLL MVP award, averaging nearly four goals per game. After completing his fifth year at Denver, he will join Georgia at its 2024 Training Camp. Connell was one of three Denver Pioneers selected, joining Mustang Sally and AJ Mercurio.
"It was a dream come true," said Connell about being drafted. "I have been dreaming of playing in the NLL since I have been playing lacrosse and playing box. Getting the opportunity was so special. I know a couple of my teammates got the opportunity to get drafted as well. We are so excited about the opportunity; hopefully, it pans out in the right way at camp."
Round 4, 68th Pick, Kellen Pulera (UCBLL)
The Buffalo Bandits got a gritty goal scorer in fourth-round pick Kellen Pulera. He played two seasons of Junior "B" lacrosse before joining the UCBLL in the summer of 2022. In his career, he has 79 points in two seasons.
This summer, he posted 18 goals and 14 assists for 32 points for the second-place Rapids. He also appeared in the NCBS tourney with the UCBLL champion Hawkeyes, collecting six goals and three assists in five games. After an impressive showing at Nationals, Pulera became the fourth UCBLL player selected by the Bandits in two seasons.
"It was definitely a good feeling when your hometown team drafts you," said the Buffalo, NY, native. "I had season tickets growing up. It's a dream come true. It meant everything playing in the UCBLL. It helped me develop skills and a feel for the game."
Round 5, 81st Pick, AJ Mercurio Dragons (CACBLL)
AJ Mercurio was drafted in the fifth round (81st overall) by the Colorado Mammoth after spending four seasons in the California Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CACBLL) with the Dragons. Mercurio, who plays at the University of Denver, was recognized for his defense at the NCBS National Championship. He helped the Dragons come within one goal of reaching the Finals in their first NCBS appearance.
Mercurio admitted that playing in the National Championship put him on the radar of NLL general managers and elevated his draft stock.
"If it wasn't for collegiate box, I don't think there would have been an opportunity," he said. "I was an under-the-radar guy. I played at Denver, and no one really knew if I had any box experience. I am from Reno, Nev., where box and lacrosse are very low on the spectrum when you put it in the big picture of the East Coast and Canada. It (the NCBS) definitely brought up my draft stock."
Like many of his NCBS counterparts, he will return to school for a fifth year before getting his shot at making an NLL roster. But that has not diminished his excitement for his first training camp.
"If you asked me in two weeks, I might be focused on the college season," said Mercurio. "But since it is still fresh, that's all I have been thinking about."
Round 6, 95th Pick, Oscar Hertz Royals (UCBLL)
The final selection of NCBS players also came from the California Collegiate Box Lacrosse League. The San Diego Seals chose homegrown player Oscar Hertz in the sixth round (95th overall). The La Jolla, Calif., native played three seasons with the Royals and was a three-time NCBS champion. This summer, he served as the team's captain as San Diego won its third straight National Championship.
“It couldn’t have gone much better,” said the Brown University product about ending his college box career with a threepeat. “I am so lucky to have had coaches and teammates like that. They were willing to bear down and come back in games that were close. It’s going to be a time of my life in lacrosse that I will cherish forever. Those three years were special. I can’t recommend it enough for anybody else.”
Hertz raised the championship trophy in Utica, NY, this summer for the team that the NLL's San Diego Seals operate. He has formed a special bond with some of the Seals' players who coach the Royals. San Diego's President also coached Hertz during his senior year of high school. So, to get drafted by the Seals was an incredible moment.
"It was a long time coming that I ended up playing with them," he said. "It was something that had been on my mind for a long time. I had some expectations, but I knew nothing was 100 percent. It was great to see my name pop up."
Hertz tried to relax by reading a book while intermittently scrolling the NLL Draft results to see his name. Just before the Seals' sixth-round selection, he received a text from a familiar phone number that got him to jump out of bed and pick up his lacrosse stick. His dream had come true.
"I got a text from Steve Govett that said I was the next pick," said Hertz. "That's when I felt this spark of adrenaline. It was that kind of moment where I realized, 'Okay, it happened. This is going in the direction I wanted it to go.' I just got super excited, got off my butt, and started playing wall ball."