Two potential candidates for this list of Minnesota’s all-time best Division 1 lacrosse players share an interesting distinction.
They’ve yet to play a full season of D1 college lacrosse.
Due to an injury to sophomore Cade Saustad (one of Texas’s all-time best lacrosse players) Quentin Matsui of Eden Prairie became one of several freshmen defenders pressed into service by defending national champion Virginia.
Matsui started every game of the season for the Cavaliers.
Unfortunately, that season was Covid-curtailed 2020—and consisted of a mere six games.
But Matsui hadn’t simply blundered onto the field to become the beneficiary of dumb luck.
True, he’d come to Charlottesville as the very first Minnesotan to play for the celebrated Cavalier program.
He’d also been Inside Lacrosse’s 13th best overall freshman recruit, and rated #5 among all defenseman in his class.
There are over 40 D1 college lacrosse players from Minnesota in 2021.
Players like Matsui represent the growing of Minnesotans playing who, importantly, are finding playing time in the upper reaches of D1 lacrosse—and not merely filling out roster spots in marginal programs.
The second player worth noting here was recently selected to participate in the nation’s preeminent showcase for incoming D1 lacrosse freshmen, the Under Armour All-America Game.
Seamus Foley, a defenseman out of Benilde-St. Margaret’s School, became only the third player from Minnesota to receive the honor since the event’s inception in 2006 (the other two being James Riley from Apple Valley in 2014, a defenseman who went on to Duke, and, in 2019, Quentin Matsui).
In the Foley’s case, his playing time in the annual showcase event was severely limited—primarily by the fact that, like much of the college and high school lacrosse seasons in 2020, that game too was never played.
Foley’s credentials aren’t quite up to those of Matsui’s, but they’re still pretty formidable.
He enters Georgetown as IL‘s 43rd best recruit in the incoming freshman class.
Minnesota and Division 1 College Lacrosse
The late Michael Goerne was Minnesota’s first Division 1 college lacrosse player.
He joined the program at Marist in 2000 as a walk-on.
At that time, Minnesota had only about 11 high school teams playing lacrosse at the varsity level.
Since then, the sport has been officially sanctioned by the state, and as of 2020, the number of varsity programs competing statewide has increased to 82.
The number of D1 players has risen accordingly: there were 45 Minnesotans on Division 1 college lacrosse rosters in 2020, and they were represented in each of the 10 conferences.
(For more on Michael Goerne, as well as the history of lacrosse in Minnesota, see “Remembering Minnesota’s First D1 Lacrosse Player”.)
Hopkins and The Growth of Minnesota Lacrosse
But the beginnings of modern-era lacrosse in the state was also largely centered on Hopkins.
No, not that Hopkins.
The Hopkins in this case was the Hopkins Pavilion in Hopkins, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.
The early 90’s saw the advent of the Minnesota Chapter Indoor Box League at the facility, primarily due to the efforts of Mark Hellenack, who would also go on to direct the Minnesota Lacrosse Association, and help shepherd the growth of field game in the state.
Weather conditions made the indoor box game was a logical precursor to field lacrosse in Minnesota.
Multipurpose facilities like Hopkins also helped expose and promote lacrosse among hockey players, if only initially as an off-season alternative to baseball.
Most of the players profiled below exemplify the symbiotic relationship between hockey and lacrosse in Minnesota, similar to Texas’s crossover culture linking football and lacrosse.
Ryan Hurley, for instance, was on a state championship team at Holy Angels; Peter Johnson was a member of two conference championships teams, and Ryan McNamara captained the hockey team at Eastview High School, and won all-conference honors.
2007 was the year that, after several years of effort, Minnesota finally agreed to sanction high school lacrosse as a varsity sport.
2007 also marked Ryan Hurley’s first season at Cornell.
The attackman had been both a three-time All-State selection as well as an All-American, but in his rookie season with one of the nation’s elite D1 teams, his numbers didn’t appear especially promising.
In 10 games, he’d amassed two goals, two assists, and four ground balls.
That would change.
In his sophomore season he recorded 60 points—the most since the late Eamon McEneaney in 1975.
His performance earned him unanimous first-team All-Ivy honors, and honorable mention All-American.
Hurley would go on to score 45 goals in 2009, and 47 in 2010, becoming just the second player in Cornell history to score or more goals in three straight seasons.
He would leave the Big Red as the program’s second leading all-time scorer.
There’s been considerable disagreement about the expected effect of recent NCAA rule changes regarding face-offs.
That said, if the debate itself didn’t resolve anything, it certainly succeeded in underscoring the impact of face-off specialists—especially the accomplished ones—on the sport of college lacrosse.
Along with players like Trevor Baptiste, T.D. Irelan, and Sam Talkow, Williams was instrumental in elevating (or overemphasizing, as some would come to argue) the role of the face-off specialist.
Like his elite peers, Williams re-defined that role well beyond the traditional, somewhat dismissive “FOGO” tag.
His dominance was hard to overlook or underestimate—especially against top-shelf competition when an even greater premium is attached to time of possession.
Some representative face-off numbers during his Syracuse career included going 14 of 20 against Albany, 17 of 24 against Hopkins, 16 of 24 against North Carolina, and 18 of 29 against Virginia.
Williams would graduate from Syracuse in 2017 as the program’s all-time leader in both face-off wins (669) and ground balls (340)—totals made even more impressive by the fact that he’d compiled them in only three years.
Williams had come to the Orange as a sophomore transfer.
And it was a measure of both his potential and development that in a single season he outgrew a Holy Cross program that, as a recruit coming out of a fledgling lacrosse program at a Minneapolis military school, had only a year before seemed like a stretch.
Among other honors, Williams was also a Tewaaraton Award nominee, USILA Second-Team All-American, and an All-ACC selection.
At a time when D1 players from the state were still a rarity, Peter Johnson of Minnetonka was the first Minnesotan to play for Yale.
The Yale program then was hardly the national power it’s become in recent years.
The Bulldog team Johnson joined out of The Blake School in 2010 was coming off a 5-8 season in which they’d been unable to win consecutive games, and had gone 1-5 to finish last in the Ivy League for the second straight season.
Johnson was one of three freshmen who started on defense for much of that season, and his success mirrored that of the program.
Yale finished 10-4 in his freshman season, with Johnson earning honorable mention All-Ivy.
The Bulldogs went 10-5 in 2011, and in 2012, when they reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years, Johnson was recognized as First-Team All-Ivy, and as an Honorable Mention USILA All-American.
Johnson was again an USILA Honorable Mention selection in 2013. He was the defensive MVP and leader in caused turnovers of a team that reached the NCAA quarterfinals (a first for the Bulldogs in 21 years) and held a 2-goal lead with three minutes left in the game before losing in that round to #1 Syracuse.
A two-time All-American at attack at Eastview High School, Ryan McNamara repeated the feat at the D1 level, becoming Marquette’s first two-time All-American in 2017.
He was also First-Team All-Big East in both 2016 and 2017, leading the Golden Eagles to that conference’s championship both years.
McNamara entered the NLL draft after graduation in 2017 as Marquette’s all-time leader in goals (102), points (152), and game-winning goals (10).
He also set season records for the Golden Eagles for goals (40) and points (57).
McNamara now plays professionally with the MLL’s Connecticut Hammerheads, and also serves as director of player development for True Lacrosse in Minnesota, a program he himself played for prior to college.
A number of contributions have been singled out in Denver’s 10-5 win over Maryland in the 2015 championship game.
One obvious one is the 5-goal performance of attackman Wesley Berg.
Another is the 13 saves recorded by Pioneer goalie Ryan LaPlante.
Or the face-off work done by then-freshman Trevor Baptiste.
Another among those key performances is Carson Cannon’s work in helping to shut down Maryland All-American Joe LoCascio.
LoCascio ended the game with a single assist; more importantly, he’d managed to take all of 3 shots.
Drawing a key defensive assignment like this had been routine for Cannon over his career at Denver.
The Stillwater resident was a four-year started with the Pioneers, and captained the team as a senior.
During his career he was also a First Team All-ECAC selection, and an Honorable Mention USILA All-American.
Todd Baxter did not win the kind of accolades that other players included here did.
That said, not only was he instrumental in Denver’s reaching the upper stratum of D1 college lacrosse, he also exemplified the kind of player from outside the sport’s traditional hotbeds that would (and still do) power Bill Tierney’s Pioneer teams.
Baxter transferred from Fairfield in 2009, joining a team under coach Jamie Munro that had been to the NCAA tournament in two out of the previous three years, and were now expected to reach its later rounds.
2009 instead began with a 20-7 dismantling at the hands of Billy Bitter and North Carolina, and promptly slid into a season marked by close losses, erratic play and eventual dismissals for disciplinary violations.
The team ended at 7-8.
Baxter was a starter at attack in Tierney’s first two seasons, which saw the Pioneers qualify for the tournament in 2010.
In 2011, a Pioneer team composed of players from 17 states and two Canadian provinces defeated both Duke and Johns Hopkins en route to the semfinals.
In the quarterfinal upset of a strong Hopkins team (which during the season had defeated both teams that eventually played in the finals), Baxter scored three goals despite a knee injury.
Unlike most college players, Nick Washuta was able to play a full season of lacrosse in 2020.
Though “full season” would be a charitable definition of the quarantined stretch during which Major League Lacrosse managed to shoehorn both a regular season and the playoffs into nine days in an Annapolis-based bubble.
Still, the MLL managed to pull it off; and for Washuta it meant the chance to play in July, professionally, and in a championship game no less.
The lefty goalie from Orono and The Blake School had begun 2020— his senior season with the Vermont–as both an Inisde Lacrosse Honorable Mention All-American, and its preseason selection for the America East all-conference team.
Washuta had established himself as one of the nation’s premier goalies in his time with the Catamounts.
As a sophomore in 2018, he led the nation with a .609 save percentage; not surprisingly, Vermont had its best season in program history, going 12-4, and Washuta was honored by Inside Lacrosse as a Third Team All-American selection.
In 2019, he recorded a .563 save percentage—ranking 7th among all D1 goalies—and was chosen First Team All-Conference.
It was good to see Washuta land in the MLL, and especially with the Denver Outlaws franchise.
But it still would’ve been nice to see him get a full four seasons in college.
Two Honorable Mentions: John Uppgren and Colin Achenbach
This site focuses on college players from areas outside traditional lacrosse hotbeds—and specifically, those players on teams at the Division 1 level.
But throughout this site the point has also been made that not all D1-calibre players end up at D1 schools.
There are many exceptional players possessing D1 talent who have, for any number of reasons, played with DII and DIII schools.
With respect to Minnesota, two examples come to mind.
The first is John Uppgren, a member of the Boston Cannon team that defeated Nick Washuta and the Denver Outlaws to win the 2020 MLL championship.
Uppgren had one of the most celebrated careers in Division III history, compiling a total of 418 points on 237 goals and 181 assists at Tufts. He was also a member of two national championship teams.
(Uppgren has two brothers, both goalies, currently playing a the Division 1 level: Turner at Duke, and George at Richmond).
The second player is Burnsville’s Colin Achenbach, who became the first Minnesotan to play in the NLL after graduating from Division II C.W. Post in 2006 as a two-time All-American.
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.