For young lacrosse players looking to combine their passion for the sport with their post-secondary education, choosing where to go to school has long been a conundrum.
They hear the siren song of scholarships to colleges in the United States and often overlook the opportunities closer to home. Several players who have experienced both the NCAA and CUFLA versions of the game, though, have found that the grass is definitely not always greener on the other side of the fence.
McGill grad Brandon MacLean discovered pretty quickly when he decided that he wanted to go into civil engineering that things just weren't going to work out the way he had planned. The Victoria native went to Ohio State without a clear idea of what he wanted to major in. When he decided civil engineering was his chosen path, a problem arose.
“The program ran from 8:30-12:30 every day, which if you were a regular student would have been great,” MacLean says. “But our lacrosse team practiced from 6-10 every day. The coaches said they'd work around it but I knew at the same time either I'd never go to class or I'd never get to play. If I wasn't at practice or I wasn't in class, one was going to suffer.”
Transferring to McGill turned out to be a great move for MacLean's schooling. “Personally,” he says, “I never felt like a student when I was down in the States. CUFLA is much more of a balance. In the off-season, you're not expected to practice every day. The off season is a true offseason.”
“Academically, I think it was the right move. I really see a difference academically,” says MacLean, who is now part of the engineering team that is building the LRT line in Ottawa. Things worked out well for him on the field, too. MacLean wound up as a captain with the Redmen and helped them win a Baggataway Cup championship in 2012.
Noah Miller made his way north to Montreal to finish up his final 12 credits at McGill in the fall of 2010 after doing most of his degree at the University of Vermont. He agrees with MacLean, his former teammate, that the student/athlete balance is far better in Canada.
“I would definitely say that playing NCAA Divsion 1 lacrosse is a full time job,” says Miller, who is a dual US/Canadian citizen. “For better or worse, I feel like I spent more time playing lacrosse than actually doing anything school-related.”
Miller stresses that finances were a big factor, too. As a Vermont resident, he was already getting a good deal compared to what most students were paying, but he says McGill was still far less expensive. Miller is also a big fan of the lacrosse in Canada, which he says is below the quality in NCAA Division 1 but is catching up.
“Don't downplay the quality of CUFLA ball. It's very, very challenging to play,” Miller says. “If you're someone who is not ready to be a Division 1, seven days a week, 365 days a year player, Division 1's not for you because that's what the commitment is. Think about how much you're willing to give to continue playing. I found that CUFLA ball really offered more of an all-around student-athlete experience while Division 1 was more of an athlete than a student.”
The lacrosse/school balance is still working out well for Miller. He is now completing an MBA in Sustainable Entrepreneurship back at UVM and has played for Israel at a variety of world and European lacrosse championships.
MacLean says he gets what lures Canadians south of the border, but if he were making his undergrad decision now, he would do it differently. “I can imagine guys from Canada, they see those brand name NCAA schools and I'm sure that stirs up a lot of excitement, but I'll tell you what, if I could do it all over again I might even do four years at McGill.”
While both MacLean and Miller are done school now, a pair of Trent students are enjoying the benefits of returning from the US to play and go to school in Canada right now.
Garrett Eddy is an All-Canadian with the Excalibur. He says the cost of going to school south of the border was the major factor that led to him switching from the business program at RIT to the same program at Trent.
“The cost of going to school was going to be cheaper coming home. Substantially cheaper,” Eddy says. “I had a decent scholarship but even with that the currency exchange was just not the greatest.”
Eddy has found that the academic side is quite similar, enjoying the small class sizes at both schools. On the field, the style of play is defnitely different. Eddy points out that Americans tend to be better at dodging and do it from the top of the formation. He's brought some of that to Trent with him, although he's now playing attack.
He enjoys the Canadian game, and getting to play with and against players that he used to face in minor lacrosse. “It's been really fun. I didn't know what to expect,” Eddy says. “I knew I'd know a bunch of guys just from growing up playing lacrosse.”
The biggest difference is the amount of hype, he says. “How they treat their sports compared to how Canadian school treat their sports is way different. Everything is more hyped up,” Eddy points out. “It's so easy for them to do that in NCAA with all the media around them it's just nuts.”
Eddy is doing his part to try to draw more attention to CUFLA. He produced a video on Trent's season that culminated in the school's first-ever trip to the Baggataway Cup championship game. “I wanted people to see that it needs to be more known about compared to NCAA,” Eddy says, pointing out that only a few people cover the Canadian game.
Johnny Leclerc went to Richmond for a year and a half before joining Eddy in the Trent business program. He says that Excalibur coach Geoff McKinley made sure Leclerc and others returning from US schools realized they had better not expect to dominate in CUFLA just because they had been scholarship athletes down south.
“Geoff did actually have a conversation with us,” the LSM says. “It's great competition up here. A lot of guys I grew up playing with are more into box and go to univerities here are great field players. It's a good quality of play.”
Leclerc is enjoying Trent, but admits that while he appreciates having more time to focus on school, he does miss the year-round lacrosse focus a bit. That led him to find opportunities to play during the winter, after the fall CUFLA season is completed.
He played in the Durham junior league this winter and would like to take part in the Arena Lacrosse League next season. Leclerc has also noticed differences in the styles of play and coaching.
“There's more trust in players' capabilities that they'll prevail,” he says of playing in CUFLA. “That puts more flexibility on the players, too. Over there it's a little more mechanical and scripted. You know what you're doing every moment. Here it's more you're just playing, which I like. You have more freedom to be creative and make some fun plays.”
Ultimately, the decision on where to play lacrosse and go to school is highly personal. Everyone has to find the fit that is right for them. For these four players, the right fit turned out to be in CUFLA.