In just five short years, Fusion Lacrosse has established itself as one of the premier box lacrosse organizations in the United States. What was once a business operating two teams out of the backyard of a suburban Philadelphia apartment complex, has grown to a full-time office in West Chester, Pa. and an elite roster of seven teams.
Lacrosse veterans Steven Holmes and Kevin Crowley launched Fusion in the summer of 2013 as a field and box program. It was a bold move in a competitive market with established tournaments and prestigious programs. Because they were doing something unique, they were forced to create their own blueprint to establish Philadelphia’s newest lacrosse program.
“We had a vision, but there wasn’t a playbook to go by,” said Holmes. “Some people tried box lacrosse in the area, but it didn’t work out for a lot of reasons. We were rolling the dice a little bit, but we had a vision and went for it.”
Fusion, which is a field and box program, was built by two men that have achieved a tremendous amount of success during their playing careers. Holmes, who played at the University of Virginia (UVA), played professionally for the Major League Lacrosse New York Lizards. He also was a defenseman for the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings and San Jose Stealth.
Crowley, who hails from New Westminster, B.C., still plays professionally for the National Lacrosse League’s New England Black Wolves and the Major League Lacrosse Charlotte Hounds. The 30-year-old has the distinction of being the first player chosen first overall in both professional leagues. The two-time NLL All-Pro has been one of the league’s most consistent scorers, racking up 257 goals and 276 assists in 118 games. Internationally, Crowley has played with the Canadian National Team three times: 2008, 2010 and 2014. If that wasn’t enough, he was a four-year standout at Stony Brook University and a two-time All American. In Seawolves’ history, he still stands as the school’s all-time points with 232.
Their work ethic on the field has translated well into their coaching careers. Holmes, who began coaching in 2006, has experienced tremendous success. His resume includes a 2011 national championship while coaching at his alma mater, UVA; and a 24-0 season as the defensive coordinator of the 2014 Malvern Prep Friars. Just one season ago, as the head coach of Unionville High School, he led the team to its first home playoff appearance since 2007.
Crowley has also shared his talents and knowledge and joined the coaching ranks. As an offensive star in both field and box lacrosse, he developed the offensive skills curriculum at Fusion. Kevin has put their plan into practice by spending countless hours directing camps and clinics, which includes Fusion West in British Columbia. In 2018, Crowley ventured into collegiate lacrosse by working as an assistant coach with Division I St. Joseph’s University. Meanwhile, he also serves as an offensive coordinator with the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr.
“I have played professionally for a long time, but I have been coaching as well,” said Holmes. “So, I am as much of a coach as I am a player. From playing and watching the Canadians play in professional leagues and Kevin, I saw a different skill set that I thought was needed and would be a huge benefit to local players. From a coaching perspective, I just thought kids would be better field players if they had a heavy dose of box lacrosse as well.”
Fusion has flourished under the prevailing philosophy of year-round skill development, delivering world-class box lacrosse instruction, and focusing on team play and ball movement. According to Crowley, Fusion’s coaches are what set them apart from the rest of the clubs.
“We had that box background that not a lot of people had in the market,” said Crowley. “That was the one thing that separated us from a pretty saturated market here in Philly
Among the teams in the Fusion family, Penn*Lax All Stars has emerged as Pennsylvania’s premier elite box lacrosse travel team. The staff boasts a select group of coaches, beginning with Holmes and Crowley. Also on board are former NLL players Tom Slate and Ryan Traynor. Former Philadelphia Wings coach Adam Mueller, and Todd MacFarlane and Matthew McCormick round out the members of the Penn*Lax All Stars lacrosse coaching staff. Since founding the club five years ago, Fusion has grown to 270 Fusion players and 125 Penn*Lax players.
“I think we are as proficient at coaching outdoors as we are at coaching indoors because we were good coaches, period,” said Holmes. “We have established coaches in both our Fusion and Penn*Lax programs that are equally well versed in coaching indoors and outdoors, and we are only getting better and more creative at translating the two.”
“The tipping point was last year with Penn*Lax,” he added. “It’s a club-neutral thing. It’s a barometer on how interested people are statewide in box lacrosse. The amount of talent and numbers we got from all over the state, and from New Jersey and Maryland, shows you that box has arrived. If you want to be a great lacrosse player, you want to get exposed to box.”
Fusion and Penn*Lax All Stars have expanded their reach through their affiliation with the US Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA), which is the country’s largest and most recognized box-specific governing body operating today. From Day One, Holmes and Crowley – who were familiar with other local box programs – knew that they needed a solid foundation to build their program. So, they turned to USBOXLA for valuable support and resources.
“We were USBOXLA members right away. I have a high amount of respect for (co-founders) Shaydon Santos and Matt Brown,” said Holmes. “They have a reputation of doing it the right way, taking the right steps and not rushing it. That started with bringing together some other great programs, and they had a couple under their belt, as well. We wanted to be in that circle. It was small to start, but the way they have grown, responsibly, they are making the game safe and making it consistent. Any USBOXLA event you go to you know that it’s going to be consistent from one to another.”
One of the essential things that USBOXLA offers is referee training, which adds safety and credibility to any program.
“That’s invaluable,” said Crowley. “A standardized book of rules. Box lacrosse with its physicality is a sport that needs to be regulated. USBOXLA offers the same rule book across the board, and that’s what separates it from these other groups. That’s why I love USBOXLA.”
Fusion Lacrosse spent their inaugural year introducing the sport to the market and focusing on small training groups. Holmes said there were countless hours spent educating players and parents, along with a lot of marketing, as well. In Year Two, Fusion got more ambitious and founded the Northeast Regional Box Lacrosse Tournament. With USBOXLA insurance for participating players and trained referees, Fusion kicked off its staple box tourney with 16 teams over three age groups.
We wanted people’s first experience with a box event to be a great one, and we were able to do that,” said Holmes. “USBOXLA has done a great job assembling high-quality, like-minded programs with experienced directors throughout the northeast and the country. Once we realized that we had these clubs, with the numbers and the training, we felt comfortable bringing them all together.
This year, Fusion Lacrosse will host their fifth annual USBOXLA Regional Qualifier in Hatfield, Pa., the weekend of Dec. 28-30. Teams from novice to varsity levels will compete for the right to play in the 2019 USBOXLA Nationals in Huntington Beach and Irvine, Calif. The number of teams has grown to 42 clubs since its inception and includes elite programs like Fusion, Penn*Lax All-Stars, Team 91, Superstar, NXT, O2 Lacrosse, Team 11, Team 295 and Tri-State.
“It’s exciting to get to this point. We know we are making a difference because of the positive reaction we are receiving from everybody who is exposed to what we are teaching,” said Holmes. “Now we can start enjoying it and having fun with it.”
It’s incredible how far they have come in such a short amount of time. It was a plan that was hashed out in the unlikeliest of places. Crowley still looks back fondly on their early beginnings.
“We started in Steve’s backyard,” he said. “That was our pseudo-office. Now we have an office right in West Chester, right in the city. It’s a lot nicer, and we are strictly focused on work when we go in there.”
With attention on player development and safety, Fusion has grown alongside USBOXLA. Box lacrosse has given kids a chance to learn to play another, faster version of lacrosse. For Crowley, it’s what drives him each day to book the next camp and the next tournament.
“You have to embrace the intensity of it,” he said. “It’s a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge. It’s like a new challenge to learn a different sport. I think kids are embracing and it will only make them better.”