Harlem Lacrosse Players See Rapid Advancement In Year Four of Partnership with 3d Lacrosse

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HARLEM, N.Y. — Harlem Lacrosse’s partnership with 3d Lacrosse is having a remarkable impact on Harlem’s high school-aged student-athletes who are being immersed in 3d’s advanced training and benefitting from carefully thought out exposure opportunities.

A not-for-profit organization that uses lacrosse as a tool to put disadvantaged students on a better path for success, Harlem Lacrosse recently wrapped up another summer of working directly with Denver-based 3d Lacrosse to train and field Harlem select travel teams.

Having worked together since 2014, 3d Lacrosse and Harlem formally launched Harlem’s first travel club squads in 2016.

Leaning on its 3d Tri-State staff based in Connecticut, 3d has worked directly with Harlem coaches and staff in the past two years to create plans for small-sided training sessions that make the most of Harlem’s practice facility – most often nearby handball courts.

Assembling a jam-packed summer schedule for two 3d Harlem squads in 2017, 3d Lacrosse more deeply engrained its signature hybrid training and development into the plan in a summer that leadership is calling the program’s most productive so far.

“From our perspective, it’s worked,” said Joel Censer, Harlem Lacrosse’s Chief Program Officer. Censer, who oversees Harlem’s club teams, spent the summer traveling with Harlem’s two teams.

Censer said he saw his teams take the “jump to the next level” this past summer.

“A lot of people knock the whole idea of competitive club lacrosse,” he continued. “But it’s not like we can go home and get that experience. We are connecting kids to club to use lacrosse as a spring board and connection to higher education and college.”

In the wake of the summer events season, colleges have now shown interest in more than a dozen members of the 2019 Harlem squad. Harlem’s coaches and leadership say the apparent positive steps for Harlem trace back to their initial training sessions three years ago and now the goal is to find the right kind of post-secondary school fit for all the different athletes in Harlem Lacrosse program.

The summer season started at the Pomfret Bash, a one-day event hosted by 3d New England at the Pomfret School in Connecticut. There, the Harlem 2019 and 2021 teams competed against 3d New England, 3d New England South and 3d Tri-State teams, as well as the Top Gun Fighting Clams. Held in early June and drawing about 30 coaches from colleges and prep schools, the event was considered an early tune-up for the participating teams.

Those late-Spring reps on the field served as a prep not only for the Harlem teams, but also for individual players who went on to attend various 3d showcases throughout the summer.

After the Pomfret Bash, a group of Harlem student-athletes attended the STX Rising DIII Showcase, an increasingly popular training and exposure event for Division III prospects. Held at the Salisbury School in Connecticut, it gives participants an intimate training opportunity with upward of 50 college coaches before players break out in teams for competitive games.

Another group of Harlem Lacrosse student-athletes attended 3d Lacrosse’s prestigious National Training Camp, held this past summer at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey from June 20 to 22.

There, Harlem players engaged in intense back-to-back training sessions on two consecutive days before breaking out into teams for competitive play in front of sidelines packed with college coaches on the final day of the camp.

Harlem attackman Clifford Pollard, a sophomore attackman at Frederick Douglas High School in New York City, attended NTC. He said it was there that he saw himself and his teammates truly improve aspects of their skill and lacrosse IQ.

“I feel like at NTC, that’s where I actually got better,” Pollard said. “The coaches did a great job. When I got there I was a little confused and I wasn’t really sure about some things, like the pairs offense. So I had some trouble with it. But the coaches put me in the spots where I could do well in the offense on game day and it helped me understand it.”

Davon Johnson, a sophomore midfielder at Frederick Douglas, said his experience at this summer’s NTC made a big difference in his game and his confidence.

“Just grinding at it, going through three practices a day before playing in three games – that really helped me with my lacrosse IQ and how I move myself around on the field, my awareness of what to do and where to be,” Johnson said.

He added that the chance to compete against and get to know the players at NTC – including many of the top 3d Lacrosse prospects in the country – was also important for his development and his goal of playing in college.

“It was insightful to the level of play I should be at,” Johnson said. “Last year, I didn’t know that level. I couldn’t imagine the level of play I’ve seen this summer. And that helps me understand where I need to be if I’m really going to play in college.”

Additional motivation for the Harlem players in attendance at NTC, Keith Wilford of The Wilford Movement spoke to the attendees at NTC. Wilford, who played lacrosse at Rutgers and has emerged as a powerful motivational speaker and lacrosse coach, left an impact on the Harlem players.

“We could relate to him more and he was really speaking to us, to the Harlem players, most of the time when he was talking about his life,” Johnson said. “It was like he was speaking to us through his words. He told us that he could relate to us and he wanted us to do well. That was very inspirational.”

Matt Rowley, 3d Lacrosse’s National Club Director and the creator of NTC, said Harlem players themselves were a source of inspiration for other attendees.

“Harlem’s presence at our national Team Camp was a special addition,” Rowley said.

“This is a terrific group of kids who work hard and carry themselves with dignity. They have certainly developed their skills and are turning heads. It was a treat for not only the college coaches who were here on the sideline, but for our 3d National players too. The chance to get to know the Harlem kids is an incredible life experience for our guys.”

The next stop this summer for Harlem Lacrosse was the FLG in 3d Summer Shootout, an event co-hosted by 3d and Long Island-based FLG in late mid July. A two-day event with upward of 160 teams competing for championships, the FLG in 3d Summer Shootout is where Harlem coaches say the teams would essentially turn a corner.

Logan Bobzien, 3d Lacrosse’s Director of Methodology, oversees the evolution and implementation of the company’s teaching paradigm. Bobzien worked closely with the Harlem teams and players at 3d Tri-State training sessions and at National Team Camp.

Bobzien said that the combination of repetitions, exposure to high level offensive and defensive schemes and immersion in a variety of learning-based settings paid off when the teams joined forces for a full weekend together at the annual FLG in 3d Summer Shootout in Maryland.

“Watching the improvement of the Harlem teams and seeing it come together for them at FLG in 3d was a highlight of the summer,” Bobzien said.

“It wasn’t just that the team had a few college coaches on the sideline. They had a bunch of coaches watching and they played excellent lacrosse. They won games by outplaying and out hustling other teams. They looked confident, they played comfortable, they played unselfish and you could see how well they were clicking. It all stems from training sessions and scenarios that focus on the skills and IQ and helping each player find himself or herself.”

Pollard, who like many of the Harlem players hopes for the chance to play Division I lacrosse after high school, said that he and his peers made the trip knowing how important exposure could be for their futures.

“Playing in front of college coaches, a lot of us didn’t know how to play under pressure, but we went there and kept a cool head and played team lacrosse,” Pollard said. “Winning is fun. When we win, it’s fun. Seeing someone else on your team succeed, that’s fun.”

Owen Van Arsdale, a Program Director for Harlem Lacrosse and former standout attackman at the University of Virginia, said this summer’s success helped make a strong connection between the players and their goals. And, much more so than last year, the Harlem players seemed eager and prepared to rise to the occasion.

“At the end of the day, the point of the club team is to be a college placement program for us,” Van Arsdale said. “So for the kids to have a sense of urgency and appreciation and know that there’s a point behind it, to know they have to stay focused, I think that’s a good thing if they remember to have fun. The true joy is when they see themselves improving and functioning well as a team.”

“We experienced that for the first time 100 percent at FLG in 3d this summer. That was the first time our summer club team had a winning record at a tournament. We don’t talk about wins and losses or the scoreboard. Our message is actually to not focus on those aspects, but for the kids, it’s a direct sign of their growth. They see there are real results from the energy and effort they put into this thing in the last couple years.”

Harlem long-stick midfielder Souleymane Ballo, a junior at the Westminster School in Connecticut has already received interest from Division III schools. He said the weekend at FLG in 3d was especially important to him and his teammates.

“It’s gives the whole program confidence when a team full of kids who just picked up the stick five years ago are leaving one of the best recruiting tournaments with a winning record,” he said.

While Harlem’s 2019 team experienced an unforgettable weekend on the field, student-athletes on the 2021 team had their own unique experience thanks to 3d Mid-Atlantic families. As part of 3d Lacrosse’s Homestay program, Harlem players spent their off-field time getting to know players and families from the Mid-Atlantic region.

“This is a tradition now that has really helped make our summer a special time, not just during games but as a group off the field,” said Spencer Ford, the Director of 3d Mid-Atlantic.

“Our hope is that the Harlem kids leave feeling like they really connected with our guys and learned something. And obviously I think our kids learn a lot about life by hanging out with them. It’s really fun to be a part of it.”

As the Harlem athletes come into their own and more college recruiters begin to take note, the organization’s leaders say the partnership with 3d Lacrosse has exceeded their own expectations of how powerful of a tool the sport could be.

“At first I wasn’t really sure if the club program was going to be that successful on the field. I knew it could be a motivational tool to get the kids to show up to tutoring sessions in the summer, to focus on their academics, SAT prep,” said Van Arsdale.

“I really thought it was something that was going to keep them engaged so academically they could stay in place. It’s been remarkable to see so many kids taking the opportunity on the field and running with it. In the last two years we’ve been able to make a lot of progress.”

The partnership with 3d Lacrosse, Censer believes, has been crucial to the program’s increased visibility over the course of 2016 and 2017.

“I think 3d has been the most important on-field relationship in a lot of ways. It’s helped us become organized on the club circuit. And then I think of the small space where we train, and our curriculum and our practice plan has all been heavily influenced by 3d,” Censer said.

“The culture of our club has helped play better field lacrosse this year than ever before. The field is still fairly new to us as we train on handball courts and playgrounds. The most important on-field thing though is that it’s helped create a lacrosse culture in Harlem where there is an understanding of how much work we need to do and we always need to seek improvement. And 3d has been imperative to the structure that has given us a way to pursue it.”

Greg Waldbaum, 3d Lacrosse’s CEO, has seen the relationship with Harlem through since helping initiate it. He says he was blown away then, in 2014, and now, with the commitment of the Harlem staff and coaches, as well as the players.

“To see all the growth, to see all these players, teams and families working together, it is just incredible,” said Waldbaum, who is on Harlem Lacrosse’s New York Advisory Board.

“I see the Harlem players moving on to play at the next level and to become more accomplished people. I am proud of all of the work everyone is doing on and off the field. I plan to use 3d Lacrosse as the vehicle to help move the kids forward in any way we can. The bigger we get, the more we can do. Everyone at 3d Lacrosse is thankful for our relationship and we are better people and a better company because of it.”

As 3d Lacrosse’s coaches and student-athletes continue to forge a deeper relationship organization wide with Harlem, the student-athletes at the center of the partnership are trying to stay focused on their goals instead of the attention they’re receiving from lacrosse media.

“It’s taught me, one, that no matter how good you are, your mental game and how you prepare and how you get ready for something is always how you’re going to take it to the next level,” said Ballo.

“No matter how hard you can shoot, how fast or strong you are, there’s no such thing as getting too many reps. You can always hit the wall, do this or that, be working on your left hand, or watching film on a Saturday night to get your IQ better. It’s taught me that no matter how good you think you are, you can always be working on something. That’s what I love about lacrosse.”

About 3d Lacrosse

3d Lacrosse is the nation’s fastest-growing lacrosse services company, offering innovative training, premier events, select travel teams, showcases and leagues for boys and girls ages six through 18 at all levels of organized competition. Founded in 2009, the Company trains more than 35,000 athletes annually using its proprietary Box-Field Hybrid™ Development System that combines the tight stick-handling and ball control of box lacrosse with the team-based field strategies used in Division I college programs. In addition to lacrosse-specific training, professional coaches help players develop lifelong skills, including dedication, teamwork and critical thinking under pressure. Based in Denver, 3d Lacrosse also has offices in Annapolis, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Hartford, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Rochester, San Diego and San Francisco. Learn more at 3dLacrosse.com.

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