Division 1 college lacrosse always seems to be at least a couple of steps behind the state of California.
But even if you hadn’t been all that alert, you might’ve detected the presence of Californians at the D1 level at least a couple of times over the years.
Beginning maybe with the sight of Syracuse All-American Spencer Wright celebrating SU’s victory over Princeton in the national title game— draped in a California state flag.
And that was back in 2002.
Or you might have picked up on the play of Casey Hingten (Dartmouth ’10), or Roy Lang (Cornell ’12), or Will Yeatman (Notre Dame/Maryland ’10)—just some of the best lacrosse players from California.
It’s now 2022,and there are 143 Californians on D1 college lacrosse rosters .
But least on the men’s side, there’s not a single D1 college program in the nation’s most populated state.
A D1 college game wasn’t even played in California until 2005.
And 2005 was also the same year that one of East Coast’s flagship programs, Garden City High School on Long Island, was defeated by a California team: Torrey Pines.
Meanwhile today, 3,000 miles away, in one of the nation’s least populated states—also known as the Ocean State—the relevant ocean at least in lacrosse terms seems to be the Pacific.
Bryant, located in Smithfield, Rhode Island, has 7 Californians on its 2022 roster; Brown, located in Providence, has a total of 9, including 3—Topher Bligh, Henry Niehaus, and Wells Bligh—all coming from the same San Francisco-area school: St. Ignatius College Prep.
St. Ignatius and D1 College Lacrosse
There are 13 graduates of Saint Ignatius on 2022 D1 college lacrosse rosters.
And the presence of SI grads at the D1 level also isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.
In fact, when that first D1 game in the state was played in 2005, several of the elite teams being showcased already had Californians on their rosters.
The First 4, held in March, 2005 at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, attracted more than 7,200 fans, and actually featured several games. One game pitted Notre Dame against North Carolina.
In the other game, a Syracuse team featuring Sean McGonicle (La Costa Canyon) and Jake Myers (Torrey Pines) squared off against a Georgetown team that included San Francisco native Neil Bassi.
Also on the Hoya roster that day was Matt Fredericks.
Fredericks’s story was pretty representative. Though he arrived at Georgetown having been an All-American at Saint Ignatius, he still had to try out for the team as a walk-on.
The school’s profile was elevated further by the regular rivalry for Ivy dominance pitting Cornell against Princeton, and the Big Red’s Roy Lang against former South Marin Lacrosse Club and SI teammate Alex Capretta.
But even before that, Ben Horn had played attack at Navy, and Drew Virk and Peter Ellis would take the field for Maryland, becoming the first two Terps from California.
Lang twice earned All-Ivy First Team honors at midfield at Cornell, and was an All-American twice as well, receiving First-Team honors in 2011.
And they, along with Tom and Mike Corbolotti (Cornell ’08) were all former Wildcats.
The Emergence of St. Ignatius Lacrosse
St. Ignatius may be one of the few high school lacrosse programs that can claim to have been coached by a governor and former member of Congress.
When the program was just getting off the ground in the late 70’s, a Saint Ignatius teacher asked a friend who’d played at Dartmouth to take over.
The Wildcats’ first coach, John Carney, was re-elected governor of his home state of Delaware in 2020, after serving 6 years in the House of Representatives (and also putting in 3 years on the staff of then Senator Joe Biden).
The more recent history of the program has been bookended by near-identical one-loss seasons.
In 2009, Greg Angilly stepped down as the Wildcats’ coach, having led the team to 19-1 record in 2008 and a ranking of 27th among high schools nationally, and #2 among those in the west. Overall, in Angilly’s 6 season, Saint Ignatius was 107-15.
Angilly’s successor as coach was former Cornell captain and Long Island transplant Chris Packard. Under Packard, the Wildcats reached the Central Coast CIF finals (losing to Sacred Heart Prep, a team they had beaten earlier in the season), and ending with a record of 16-1.
Between those two seasons, the Saint Ignatius did much to elevate the reputation of California lacrosse on the national stage. In 2013, they beat New Jersey titan Seton Hall Prep, and lost by only one goal to Long Island powerhouse Chaminade. In 2015 they struck a blow at the very heart of another of the game’s traditional hotbeds by defeating Bethesda, Maryland-based Landon.
Rob Emery’s Different D1 Route
The SI program has benefitted not only from Chris Packard’s experience and knowledge of the game, but also his East Coast ties.
By the time Rob Emery played for the program, for example, Packard was able to help the talented middie land an invitation to the prestigious Nike Blue Chip camp in Baltimore.
Unlike some of the state’s earlier D1 recruits, Emery began his D1 career squarely on the national radar, rated as the 9th best overall recruit for his class by Inside Lacrosse.
Emery would live up to that billing; he was an Honorable-Mention All-American in both his junior and senior years at Virginia (’13, ’14), and finished his career with the Cavs as the program’s 9th all-time leader among middies in goals.
Saint Ignatius Players on 2022 Division 1 College Lacrosse Rosters
Sam Parkinson, Villanova, JR, M
Nils Barry, Penn State, FR, A
Topher Bligh, Brown, JR,
Henry Niehaus, Brown, FR,
Wells Bligh, Brown, FR, A
Payton St. Geme, Dartmouth, JR, A,
Colin Niehaus, Dartmouth, FR, M,
Bryn Evans, Harvard, SR, M
Mark Stevens, Harvard, SO, M
John Pollak, Penn, JR, A
Pat Brosnan, Bryant, SR, A
Mario Hemann, Boston University, SO, G
Pete St. Geme, High Point/Delaware, GR
Some Past D1 Lacrosse Players from Saint Ignatius
Drew Virk, Maryland ’04, M
Peter Ellis, Maryland ’04, DM
Ben Horn, Navy ’05, A
Mike Corbolotti, Cornell ’08, M
Tom Corbolotti, Cornell ’08, M
Matt Fredericks, Georgetown ’08, D
Ryan Carter, Hofstra ’09, M
Jordan Rosen, Hofstra ’10, M
Roy Lang, Cornell ’12, M
Alex Capretta, Princeton ’12, A
Spencer Kaplan, Bucknell ’12, M
Billy Mattimore, Bucknell ’13, A
Will Fredericks, Loyola ’13, A
Rob Emery. Virginia ’14, M
Dax Cohan, Duke ’14, M
Bobby Gray, Notre Dame ’16, A
Chad Cohan, Duke ’16, A
Will McKee, Lehigh ’16, M
John-William McGovern, Yale ’16, A
David Fleming, Fairfield ’17, A/M
Charlie Ford, Georgetown ’17, M
Chad Bell, Boston University ’17, M
Matt Emery, Virginia ’18, M
Joe Lang, Harvard ’18, A
Spencer Evans, Harvard ’18, M
Joe Lang, Harvard ’18, M
Nick Stinn, Notre Dame ’19, M
Nick Dupuis, Vermont ’19, M
Cyrus Scott, Colgate ’19, G
Tim Baker, Air Force ’19, M
Finn Barry, Furman ’19, M
Stephen MacLeod, Georgetown ’20, D
Nick Clarke, Bucknell ’21, M
David Parry is the founder and editor of LaxAcrossAmerica. A New York-based digital marketer and copywriter, he played Division 1 lacrosse as a walk-on at Brown.