Like in most sports, defenders rarely get recognized in lacrosse.
The headlines typically go to the goal scorers and the face-off specialists.
Coaches, however, have a much different perspective. They know that stopping goals is just as important as scoring them.
The ability to play standout defense is the reason that Ethan Eckert, a rising senior at Dallastown High School, will play NCAA Division I lacrosse.
The 2019 York-Adams League Coaches' First-Team All-Star recently gave a commitment to Siena College in Loudonville, New York. Eckert has compiled 80 groundballs over the last two seasons, according to the Dallastown High School MaxPreps page. Eckert’s statistics, however, tell just part of the story.
High 'lacrosse IQ': The Siena coaching staff and Eckert’s head coach at Dallastown, Joe Slessinger, both mentioned Eckert’s high “lacrosse IQ” as a major factor in his success.
“Ethan has a very high lacrosse IQ, which became evident when watching him on the field and hearing his participation in film sessions,” Slessinger said. “He plays the role of QB for the defense, calling out slide packages and offensive sets, as well as looking for holes and working with the rest of the defense to fill them.”
In addition to his high lacrosse IQ, the Siena coaches told Eckert that they liked his “aggressive on-ball play and my ability to throw hard checks.”
Slessinger, however, believes that Eckert can still take his game to another level.
“Ethan's main weakness is his confidence in his own play,” Slessinger said. “Ethan exudes confidence while playing, however, he stays within his comfort zone. Like Ethan, a struggle for most young athletes is believing in themselves enough to test their boundaries and learn new ways to sharpen their game. This is the logical next step in the evolution of his game.”
Choosing Siena: Eckert will join a Siena program that finished 6-7 a season ago, including a 3-4 mark in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“I chose Siena because it had the right blend between academics and athletics,” said Eckert, who plans to major in biology. “The coaches were welcoming, and I felt at home when on campus. … I made my decision shortly after my visit to Siena. I knew soon after that this place would be my home for the next four years.”
Division I goal: The 5-foot, 11-inch, 180-pound Eckert said playing at the D-I level became a goal when he started playing club lacrosse in ninth grade.
Slessinger, for one, is not surprised that Eckert will play at the highest level in college.
“It was evident the first time Ethan stepped on the high school field that he was a standout,” Slessinger said. “During Ethan's freshman tryout, my assistant coach at the time, Tom Westenberger, called that Ethan was going to be a special talent and that he had the ability to go far.
"Ethan also believed that he was going to play D-I. From the first time I met Ethan in the weight room during offseason workouts his freshman year, he had his sights on D-I. Every year I asked him the same question and that goal had never changed. I am proud to see all of his hard work on and off the field is helping him to achieve this goal.”
Plenty of support: Eckert said he couldn’t have achieved his D-I goal without his parents, who “always ran me to and from practice and took me all over the country to play in various events.”
He also credited his development to Slessinger, as well as coaches Jason Christmas and Ebe Helm from Duke's Lacrosse Club and coach Brent Johnson from Team 91 MD.
Standout person: As good as Eckert is as a player, Slessinger said he might be a better person.
“Siena is getting a very coachable, talented and respectful young man,” Slessinger said. “…. He also is a model student-athlete, excelling in the classroom as much as he does on the field. Ethan is also a quiet leader.”
Looking ahead to his final Dallastown season: Now that his recruiting decision has been made, Eckert can concentrate on his final season of Dallastown lacrosse.
The Wildcats finished 7-7 overall in 2019, including a 7-6 mark in the York-Adams League.
“I expect Dallastown to compete for a spot in playoffs,” Eckert said. “Last year we had a young team, and we are bringing a lot of the same team back.”
Slessinger said Eckert, who was a defensive captain as a junior, will be a huge factor in Dallastown’s success next spring.
“I fully expect Ethan to be a dominant and noticeable force all year while continuing to develop his game," Slessinger said. "Just because he is committed to a D-I program does not mean that his work is over. He will have a new goal to work toward and a new path to begin down, which all starts now.”
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.