The very first Division 1 college lacrosse game played in Georgia, fittingly enough, featured one of the state’s all-time best players.
But Neal Hicks, who had a goal and two assists that day in 2008 against Dartmouth, wasn’t the only Georgian on the field for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish roster also included Andrew Gleason, a freshman middie out of Roswell High School.
And also this wasn’t exactly the first time a big-time college lacrosse program had played in the Peach State.
Georgia Tech had previously hosted a game in Atlanta against a Syracuse team that was just coming off an 11-2 victory the day before—-against the University of Georgia.
But that was in 1927.
Georgia, it turns out, is yet another state, like Minnesota, with no lacrosse tradition that actually did once have a lacrosse tradition—though one that was disrupted and dormant for many years at a time.
In the case of Georgia Tech, the varsity program was done in during the Depression in the 1930’s, even as plans were in the works for scheduling Virginia, Hopkins, and Maryland.
Lacrosse didn’t return to the Tech campus until 1971, and then at the club level.
At UGA, the varsity program begun in 1926 was ultimately dropped in 1934 due to shortages in both funds and competing teams in the region.
Both issues would continue to plague teams in the next incarnation of lacrosse in the state of Georgia—but this time with very different results.
The Coming of Age of Georgia Lacrosse
Georgia now has within its borders a professional lacrosse team (and until February 2020, it could claim two), and, since 2011, a D1 college program in Mercer, located in Macon.
In 2020, Eric Malever became the fourth senior high school lacrosse player from Georgia selected as an Under Armour All-American.
Lacrosse was sanctioned at the high school level by the state in 2003.
In 2001, there were about 8 high school lacrosse programs in the state.
By 2012, Georgia had 72 high school programs statewide.
As of 2019, Georgia had 111 teams participating in the sport.
Only 11 states in total—and only Florida in the South—had more high school lacrosse teams than Georgia.
The Strength of Georgia High School Lacrosse
You can’t blame some of lacrosse’s Old Guard for discounting some of the dizzying numbers coming out of high school lacrosse in Georgia.
When Nate Solomon had shown up as the first Georgian invited to the 2015 Under Armour All-America Senior Lacrosse Game—the nation’s foremost showcase for incoming freshman—he’d compiled some seemingly sketchy numbers in his home state.
Solomon had 95 goals and 75 assists in his senior year alone; and he’d left Centennial High School with a career total of 326 goals and 297 assists. Three years later, Nate’s younger brother Nicky would arrive at the UA game with a similarly stratospheric point total of 684.
But during the course of the UA game, competing for the South against some of the nation’s top recruits, the brothers managed to dispel some of the skepticism.
In the 2015 game, Nate scored 3 goals; in 2018, his brother scored four—and was voted the game’s MVP.
The state’s top high schools have similarly proven themselves against elite out-of-state powers—and not just on the back of whatever Solomon brother was available.
Lambert, for instance, was the only public school to make the round of eight at the National High School Lacrosse Showcase, held in Maryland in 2018.
Lambert ultimately lost to two longtime standard bearers of Maryland high school lacrosse: to Calvert Hall by a score of 6-2, and then to Bullis 6-2.
On the other hand, Lambert did defeat another Maryland power, Loyola Blakefield, as well as Episcopal (Virginia), and a tough Lincoln Sudbury team from Massachusetts.
Georgia Lacrosse and Geography
There is one troubling aspect of the growth of high school lacrosse in Georgia.
About 90 of the state’s approximately 110 programs are concentrated around the Atlanta area.
Georgia isn’t unique in this pattern among states where lacrosse continues to spread.
But there are definitely programs that are emerging in other parts of the state.
One example is the Dalton team program based in the northwest corner of the state, near the Tennessee border and, in fact, much closer to Chattanooga than to Atlanta.
Granted, the program has taken its lumps against some of the state’s established powers, but that too is part of a familiar rite of passage and growth pattern.
Georgia Lacrosse from the Division 1 Perspective
There were 78 Georgians on Division 1 college lacrosse rosters in 2020.
You would expect those players to be disproportionately concentrated in the D1 programs located in the South. And yes, in-state Mercer, for instance, does have 14 Georgians on its 2021 roster.
But in 2020 the state was also represented in all 10 Division 1 conferences.
And, importantly, Georgians had penetrated the upper reaches of D1 lacrosse, including programs such as Notre Dame, Loyola, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, and Princeton.
Nate Solomon probably heard himself described as a “pioneer” so often, it’s a wonder he didn’t subconsciously chose to play D1 for Bill Tierney in Denver.
The four-year starter at Centennial High School was the first Georgian to be named an All-American in lacrosse.
He was also the first to play in the Under Armour All-America game.
He was ultimately a three-time All-American, and ended his career at CHS ranked fourth all-time in assists, and third all-time for points—nationally.
But if there were subliminal forces at work in Solomon’s recruitment, they no doubt favored one of the Denver Pioneers’ eastern rivals: Syracuse.
Both of Solomon’s parents grew up in the Syracuse area.
He was introduced to lacrosse at the age of around 10 by none other than Casey Powell, at a Georgia clinic conducted by the former SU star.
He’s also the nephew of former Orange football coach Paul Pasqualoni.
And, just for good measure, he was coached locally in the LB3 program by Liam Banks, a former Syracuse All-American. (After relocating to Atlanta from Philadelphia in 2007, Banks and the LB3 program have been instrumental in growing the sport, both in Georgia and the South).
At Syracuse, Solomon was a 3-year starter at attack, finishing with 124 points on 84 goals and 20 assists. As a senior in 2019, he was both a USILA Honorable Mention All-American, and an All-ACC Team selection.
He is now with the Chesapeake Bayhawks of Major League Lacrosse.
“Senior Neal Hicks (25G, 18A) came out of nowhere last year.”
That, at least, was how the 2010 edition of Inside Lacrosse’s Face-Off Yearbook of 9th-rated began its analysis of the Notre Dame attack.
True enough, the previous year’s profile of the Fighting Irish team didn’t even mention Hicks.
IL’s analysis of the team, which entered the 2010 season rated 9th nationally, goes on to say that Hicks “…is the team’s shooter and is the undoubted leader at attack.”
Hicks’s odyssey to Nowhere and beyond began at the Lovett School, and even before that in Massachusetts.
His family moved to Georgia before he started 9th grade (just as teammate Nick Gleason, mentioned above, came to Georgia from New Jersey).
But like Gleason, Hicks was indisputably a product of Georgia high school lacrosse.
He played four varsity seasons at Lovett under Jim Buczek (still at Lovett, Buczek also coached at both Princeton and North Carolina, and was a two-time All-American and member of the 1991 Tar Heel national championship team).
Hicks led the team in scoring each of those four years, graduating with career totals of 187 goals and 103 assists. He also led Lovett to two state championships and the high vote-getter nationally among All-American candidates his senior year.
No less an authority than longtime coach and promoter of lacrosse in Georgia, Lou Corsetti—himself a transplant from hotbed of Long Island—told the Atlanta Journal Constitution while Hicks was at Notre Dame that he was probably the best player the state had produced.
(See this 2020 interview with Corsetti, now the Southeast Regional Manager of US Lacrosse, for more on the growth of lacrosse in Georgia and both the greater South and Southeast).
One factor in Hicks’s blossoming at Notre Dame positioning. During his first two years with the Irish, he had divided his time between attack and midfield.
Prior to his breakout junior season in 2009, coach Kevin Corrigan decided to move him full-time to attack.
The results were dramatic.
Hicks opened the season with three goals against in a 10-9 win over Loyola. The next week he had 7 points against Penn State. In a season in which the Irish went 15-0 (only to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Maryland), he led the team with 43 points and earned second-team honors in the Great Western Lacrosse League (long gone, the GWLL once consisted of Notre Dame, Ohio State, Denver, Fairfield, Air Force, and an equally defunct, once-promising Butler lacrosse program).
The 2010 team Hicks captained fell well short of regular-season perfection. It stumbled into the NCAA tournament at 7-6 having lost, having lost 3 of its last 5 games. It would go on to become the first Irish team to make the NCAA finals, and the first unseeded team to do so since UMASS in 2006.
Hicks, who scored 4 goals in the semifinals against Cornell, would leave Notre Dame with 61 goals and 39 assists. He’d begun his junior year with a total of 20 points.
Scott Ratliff was the first Georgian to play at Loyola…and, with the Greyhounds, he more significantly became the first Georgian to play on a Division 1 national championship team.
Even more significantly, Ratliff had ended up at Loyola almost by default.
Despite an impressive D1 pedigree (his father Randy was a two-time All-American at defense at Maryland, and two-time Terp captain under coach Buddy Beardmore from 1976-’79), and some equally impressive earned credentials (an All-American as a senior and two-time All-State honors at Walton High School), he’d attracted almost zero D1 interest.
With the Greyhounds, he began to get meaningful playing time even as a freshman.
By his junior year, he captained the team that won the 2012 national championship (defeating his father’s alma mater, Maryland).
Ratliff earned USILA All-America Third Team honors at LSM in 2012, and Second Team in his 2013 senior year (another first for a player from Georgia).
Like his father, Ratliff was an accomplished defender (he had, for instance, 37 caused turnovers as a junior and 88 in his Loyola career); but he was also a constant offensive threat.
Against Fairfield his senior season, he became the first long-pole player in college lacrosse history to score four goals—and he did it with just four shots. By the end of his Loyola career, he’d recorded 30 goals and 14 assists.
In 2013, was nominated for the Tewaaraton Award, and narrowly missed being named one of its five finalists.
Now with the Archers in the PLL, was also selected to the 2018 National Men’s Lacrosse Team.
As mentioned above, Nicky Solomon stepped onto field the UA game in the summer of 2018 with numbers even more seemingly sketchy and inflated than those his brother Nate took to the same game three years earlier.
His performance at that game, and since at the D1 level, have gone a long way toward quelling skepticism about high school lacrosse in Georgia.
Solomon indisputably has a place on this list. He began his D1 career rated by Inside Lacrosse as the 29th best incoming recruit nationally; and only an elite talent would be able to step into a top-level program like North Carolina and carve out such a significant and immediate role.
Solomon ended his freshman year with 20 goals and 10 assists at attack. More tellingly, he started all 15 games for the Tar Heels and was used extensively on the extra-man unit.
Solomon was off to a great start in his sophomore season, recording 29 points (16g,13a) in seven games. But that season was the COVID-curtailed season of 2020,
Cynics will point out that Solomon hot start was at the expense of some of softer opponents on the UNC schedule—such as Mercer, Lafayette, and Colgate. Still, that’s hardly his fault and two of those goals came against Denver.
Whatever allowances need to be made for Solomon’s 2020, he undoubtedly offered glimpses of his full D1 potential.
Bowling was considered a legitimate All-American candidate at defense going into his 2014 senior season at Ohio State, and was even named a preseason Honorable Mention All-American in Inside Lacrosse annual Face-Off Yearbook.
And though he never received that honor, or any of the kinds accolades given most of the other players on this list, he’s still worthy of being included here.
Bowling came to the Buckeyes as a four-year starter out of Holy Innocents in Atlanta. He was a relatively late bloomer at OSU, making the biggest developmental step in his junior year. That season he recorded 14 caused turnovers and 40 groundballs.
Ohio State would win the ECAC title in both his junior and senior seasons and reach the NCAA quarterfinals in 2013. Bowling was a key member of Buckeye program that was starting to hit its stride nationally.
Zack Price and Chris Price
Being recognized by the Southern Conference probably still strikes some D1 lacrosse purists as a back-handed compliment—which is unfair.
As noted in a number of places on this site, the SoCon is a league rapidly on the up; but even going back to its inception in 2015, it always included top-level talent and competitive teams.
Richmond, and especially High Point, have consistently been at the vanguard of the SoCon surge.
Zack Price was a High Point for the school’s 2013 inaugural D1 season—even before there was a SoCon. High Point managed to have a winning season in only its second year of existence, beating teams like UMBC and Sacred Heart, and performing respectably against North Carolina.
By 2016, Price’s senior year and the season for which he won First-Team All-Conference honors, the SoCon had begun to assert itself nationally. High Point defeated Virginia that year, and Richmond beat Duke.
Having played professionally with both the Atlanta Blaze and Dallas Rattlers, Zach now coaches at Southlake Carroll High School outside Dallas.
Zack’s brother Chris isn’t as straightforward a case.
He spent two years at Lambert playing midfield; and compounding that confusion, he’s also probably best known among many fans for scoring a goal—specifically, a game-winning goal he scored in 2019 in High Point’s upset of then 9th-rated Virginia.
But like his brother, Chris played defense, even if he didn’t have much of a chance to do it.
The sad fact is that because he redshirted his freshman year, and lost what would have been his senior year to COVID, Chris had only a little over two full seasons of D1 lacrosse. Still, he was a formidable defender whose skills attracted the attention of the Premier Lacrosse League.
He was drafted by Redwoods LC as the 13th overall pick in the league’s 2020 draft.
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.