Much has been written about the insanity and progression of early recruiting. A few years ago, there were just a handful of freshmen to decide at this point. Now, there are 70 and counting. College coaches plop down in chairs in June and July then go hard in November, attending event after event in order to make decisions. As crazy as it is to eyeball such young kids and project how they will be in a few years, it’s easy to pick out the cream of the crop.
With that said, let’s unleash an early watchlist of the best players in the class – unranked and put together by combining my opinions and long conversations with half of the colleges that have accepted 2019 commitments. Of course, a lot will change over the years, but there’s no doubt that the following players have shown what they can do early on. Without further ado….
Scott Bower, D, Episcopal Dallas (Tex.) – video
Clubs: 3d, Texas Mustangs
Standing 6’2 and at least 175 pounds, Bower looks the part at this early stage, but also has many more redeeming qualities other than just his size and reach. He possesses the type of athleticism that makes you understand why Dom Starsia has dipped into Texas for a longpole for a second straight year, moving impeccably well for a kid his size. When Bower’s on his man, he’s all over their gloves and plays excellent position, seldom allowing them to get past him while frequently checking the ball loose. On top of that, he’s excellent off-ball, which is usually a deficiency for non-hotbed players. To me, Bower is the top close guy right now, though the biggest defensemen always jump off the page early, so it’ll be intriguing to see where he stacks up in a year or two.
Greg Campisi, LSM, St. Anthony’s (N.Y.)
Club: Team 91
Few players on the recruiting circuit have the type of presence that Campisi brings each time he’s on the field for 91. His motor and tenacity are the attributes that first come to mind when describing his skill set, as he’s relentless and disruptive. The kid is all over the field, routinely snagging a pass out of midair or putting the ball on the ground before jetting towards the goal. He plays with an incredible edge, bringing the hammer off the wings and when covering his man up top. From what I’m told, he’s also a standout football and basketball player, which comes as no surprise considering the type of athlete he is. Having already visited Notre Dame, Duke and Harvard, he has no shortage of options and excellent grades.
Jake Caputo, M, Middle Creek (N.C.) – video
Club: Team 91
One might expect the son of Duke assistant coach Ron Caputo to be fundamentally sound in every sense. However, it’s his shooting ability that separates him from most 2019 midfielders – he can rip it out of his left and right equally, hiding his stick behind his ear to make it near impossible for goalies to get a read on it. On top of that, he’s an elusive and resilient throwback midfielder who competes his tail off and can boost his team in a number of ways whether it’s a key groundball, caused turnover on defense or pretty assist in transition. It’s safe to assume that the Blue Devils will win out, though that doesn’t mean that other established programs will stop recruiting the kid. It’d be silly not to.
James Cipolla, M, Parkland (Pa.) – video
Club: Big 4 HHH
Commitment: Ohio State
Left-handed midfielders are commodities – everybody and their mother went hard after Cipolla, so he’s a major coup for Nick Myers and the Buckeyes. Hailing from the Lehigh Valley, he’s armed with an outstanding first step and toughness to boot, bouncing off defenders on his way to the cage. Cipolla’s great between the lines as well, showing a knack for key groundballs and high-IQ heads up plays. Since his end-to-end speed is what makes him stand out, it’s no surprise that he’s been highlighted on the club circuit so many times – he’s at his best in the ‘run and gun’ style of play. All of those qualities make up for the fact that he’s undersized at this early stage, but it doesn’t matter as long as he keeps up his development and dedicates himself to the weight room.
Connor Drake, M, Wilton (Conn.) – video
Club: Long Island Express
Commitment: Duke (edit: 6/17)
A smooth operator up top, Drake was able to get his hands free for a shot on the run seemingly at will throughout the fall, giving goalies fits by mixing up his offerings and putting a ton of velocity on each one. The lefty is big, dynamic and athletic, dodging the alleys with tremendous confidence and canning shots at a higher level than anybody else in the class. He has slick hands and wrists, allowing him to get the ball out in the blink of an eye. Drake isn’t just a shooter either, as he’s awesome in most situations and can thrive on both sides of the field. I’d like to see him develop as a feeder, but he still has my early vote for the top midfielder in the 2019 group. Secured a commitment in late November to a Final Four mainstay.
Will Frisoli, LSM, St. Sebastian’s (Mass.)
Commitment: Ivy League (edit: 6/17)
College coaches gush about what Frisoli brings to the table, with one assistant coach saying that he is “as athletic a defenseman as I’ve ever seen at that age” in a recent phone call. Besides being awfully difficult to dodge against, Frisoli dominates 50-50 groundball situations and is able to use exceptional stick work to push transition, which he often does with success. It’s clear that Frisoli is in awesome shape, as he doesn’t ever seem to get tired and is relentless in his pursuit of ball carriers. Off the wing, he’s extremely reliable and cleanly gets the ball off the ground. At the moment, he’s high up on Duke’s list while also being recruited heavily by Penn, Princeton, Harvard and Hopkins. Older brother, Jack, is a standout midfielder in the 2017 class set to play for the Crimson.
Clay Lanham, D, Georgetown Prep (Md.)
Club: Baltimore Crabs
Commitment: North Carolina
The second player to commit in the entire class (verballing back in late July), Lanham made his reputation during the summer months rather than the fall, sitting it out while prepping for the varsity hockey season. A prototypical hotbed cover man with 6’2 size and ideal athleticism, Lanham is a pest to the hands of enemy attackmen, using his physicality and strong lower body to prohibit them from getting topside. Younger brothers seem to benefit from seeing their older brothers work hard to get to the high levels of D1 and the other Lanham is a sophomore at Brown, so it’s clear that he’s learned a lot. With Clay, he’s able to swing back and forth between LSM and close, though it’s likely that he’ll stay down low once he eventually arrives in Chapel Hill. For now, he’ll be a terror for Georgetown Prep and is a strong candidate to get some PT this spring.
Brett Mallee, LSM, La Salle (Pa.)
Club: Big 4 HHH
An Energizer bunny that never slows down, Mallee just goes out there and hunts ball carriers until they don’t want to go anywhere near him. He’s mean and gritty, owning the middle of the field with huge GB’s in scrum situations or ruthless caused turnovers. On the face-off, he uses his stick extremely well coming off the wing then is able to use his straight line speed to make fantastic plays, putting the ball in the back of the net a number of times in November. Though he’s still considerably young, he already plays like a Maryland defenseman (I’ve called him Matt Neufeldt 2.0 a number of times) in that he presses out and makes life difficult for you. Set to play at a perennial prep powerhouse in Philly, I’m excited to see what he’s able to bring to the table in a program that could use his wares.
Connor & Grant Mitchell, M, Buford (Ga.)
Commitment: Ohio State
Considering it’s hard to tell who is better right now and they’re both deserving, I’m going to cheat by lumping these two together to make it a total of sixteen. The talk of the Philly Freshman Showcase, the Mitchell twins put on a show with their dodging prowess, stinging corners (Connor’s a lefty, Grant’s a righty) in terrific fashion on a regular basis. At this time, they’re big, hard-nosed and athletic horses in the middle of the field, fighting hard for the ball and turning groundballs into goals. Like many others in the class, they’re at their best in transition rather than 6-on-6 situations, which will change with time and increased reps. Coaches worry if they’ve already reached their ceiling, but if they continue their upward trajectory and work ethic, the Mitchells have all of the potential in the world to be studs down the line at Ohio State.
Christian Mule, A, Half Hollow Hills West (N.Y.) – highlights
Club: Team 91
Another sought after coach’s son, Mule has a great knack for ssperating from his man at X or on the wings and using superb body control and toughness to get to the rack. He can score in bunches and do so in a variety of ways, even showing range from eight to ten yards when he wants to. Currently looking hardest at Michigan, Notre Dame and Duke (where brother Cam ’17 is committed), the lefty is a quarterback type able to make the teammates around him better, a rare quality for a player so young. He’s deceptively quick but uses his smarts, patience and toughness to make up for having plenty of room to grow. What I enjoy the most about his game is that he goes after GB’s with ferocity and rides hard to the midline on every occasion. Set to play in Suffolk County ‘A’, a lot of people – including myself – expect the Long Island native to have a big impact as a freshman this season.
Owen Murphy, A, Medfield (Mass.) – highlights
Club: 3d New England, National
Commitment: Johns Hopkins
Murphy was constantly raved about throughout the summer circuit, so Hopkins locked him down in September before anybody could watch him flourish two months later. The excitable playmaker is blessed with soft hands and quick wrists, showing off insane stick skills and two-handedness, making it hard for anybody to get a body or stick on him. As a quarterback, he’s smooth and can run a two-man game to perfection. In the riding game, he doesn’t quit. Murphy is able to get his shots off from all kinds of different points on the field and in a plethora of different ways, making it look downright effortless at times. College coaches I spoke with felt that he’s a top two attackman in the grade and many don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Connor Shellenberger, A, St. Anne’s Belfield (Va.) – highlights
Commitment: Johns Hopkins
It would be hard to argue with the prediction that Shellenberger probably buried as many goals as any other 2019 this fall. The Charlottesville native plays beyond his years, demonstrating a lacrosse IQ that’s off the charts and an outside shot that is just as impressive. Shellenberger has so much confidence in his game, connecting on overhand cannons from deep and dishing beautiful assists to cutting teammates. When the ball is in his stick, he’s creating offense while putting on a show, which is why it’s my belief that he’s the top player in the class early on. He’s got good size at this age and looks to be the complete package. College coaches called him things like ‘special’, ‘amazingly talented’ and ‘as dynamic as they come’, so I’d say that backs it up.
Alex Slusher, A, Oregon Episcopal (Ore.) – highlights
Clubs: 3d Oregon, National
Commitment: Princeton (edit: 6/17)
The state of Oregon has seen a big rise in Division I talent recently, so consider Slusher the next in line of great scorers from the Pacific Northwest. Quick, slick and intelligent, he has a great change of direction and overall dodging style from X, turning the corner with fearlessness. In addition, it’s evident that he’s been coached extremely well, as Slusher doesn’t have any bad habits like dropping his hands or telegraphing passes. At the Philly Freshman Showcase, he was money when finishing from 5-8 yards and could do so with either hand. What makes him an X-factor, however, is how he’s unmatched in the riding game and constantly got the ball back for his team. Slusher is currently eyeing Duke and Ivy League programs, among others.
Michael Swirbalus, M, Westwood (Mass.) – highlights
Swirbalus really came on strong this fall, appearing tougher to cover as November wore on. He’s hyper athletic and plays with a high motor, thriving when his Laxachusetts team ran in transition. The left-handed Swirbalus made a living by sweeping across the top and connecting on outside shots on the run, routinely registering hat tricks to boost his squad. From what I saw, shortsticks and longsticks couldn’t keep up with him due to his explosive first step and athleticism, plus he’s developed as a midfield feeder who liked to thread the needle when the opportunity arose. Though he’s a year older, Swirbalus looks relatively complete, pitching in on the wings, defense, offense and every situation imaginable, never looking uncomfortable. Great pickup for Cornell, though as he continues to blossom, you can bet other top programs will try and go after him.
Gavin Tygh, FO/M, Penn Charter (Pa.) – highlights
Clubs: Big 4 HHH, Duke’s LC
It’s a loaded group of face-off men and while it’s hard to say how they rank, there’s no doubt that Tygh is the headliner. Just when you thought another individual had the upper hand on him midway into the game, Tygh would battle his way to a groundball and then keep the momentum rolling. In all honesty, it’s silly to call him a FOGO considering how much he scores due to shear size, athleticism and competitiveness. Because he’s going forward on the lion’s share of the draws he takes, Tygh is always a threat to score. Technique wise, he’s worked tirelessly with the renowned Face-Off Academy, so that’s another reason why it’s easy to assume he’ll only get better as the years go by. As an 8th grader for Penn Charter, the Virginia-bound athlete saw a lot of burn and fared well against competition that was much older. Though I like to mostly avoid using cliches, the sky is the limit for Tygh.