Did you know that one of the finest prep school programs in the nation is no more than an hour or so in any direction from any point inside the LaxLessons.com readership area?
It’s true, I assure you.
Of course we’ve all heard about the MIAA, the power prep school league in Maryland that produces more Division I college talent than probably any one league or conference in the country. We know its top team, Gilman, has been the No. 1 team in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse Top 25 all season. We’re also aware of national powers like Boys Latin, Loyola-Blakefield and St. Paul’s, all of which play in the vaunted MIAA and often take on the finest programs in the tri-state area.
But if your desire is not to have to travel very far to see teams of this caliber play, you need go no further than Greenwich, the home of Brunswick School.
Brunswick, which debuted at No. 15 in this week’s LaxLessons Top 25 regional rankings, plays arguably the finest schedule of any team in our area. Sure, Section 1’s Yorktown and John Jay, for example, take on all comers and many schools on Long Island, namely Manhasset, Garden City and a few others, besides having to deal with nasty next-door neighbors on a daily basis, welcome a challenge from just about anyone.
But Brunswick is in a peculiar position. The Bruins recently graduated to the highly competitive Western New England Division I conference, a league that may just rival the MIAA in certain aspects of play and certainly compares favorably in talent.
Brunswick is currently 11-2, including a 12-5 win over Choate on Wednesday. A 7-3 defeat to mighty Deerfield Academy, the No. 5 team in the latest Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse Top poll, back in the first week of the season, and a 5-4 loss to nationally regarded Haverford are its only blemishes.
And, to hear Brunswick coach David Bruce say it, those defeats weren’t that difficult to swallow, considering the competition.
“Deerfield is arguably the best team in the nation,” said Bruce, a Rye native who played for the University of Virginia’s 1999 national championship team. “I have seen Gilman play, but Deerfield is just loaded with talent. They should definitely be talked about.”
But to the layman, what hamstrings Brunswick to a degree is the fact that from a scheduling standpoint it can’t play New York schools due to the state’s rules about PGs and because its tests and graduation come long before public schools in our area. Brunswick’s 2009 graduation is on May 23, just when crunch time is about to commence in New York. Bruce said he’s okay with that because the competition his players get to face rivals what the best public school programs face on a daily basis.
“We just take our game down to Philadelphia and New Jersey,” he said. “It’s literally one game at a time for us. Even more than that, for our players even a winning record is a fine season. Our guys believe that every game they go out there to compete they are going out there for bragging rights for the year. Even with a .500 record we could be a dangerous team to face.”
Brunswick’s schedule is quite impressive, consisting of matchups with many of the finest teams in New England, including Loomis Chaffee, Taft School, Hotchkiss, Salisbury School, Choate, Avon Old Farms and Westminster School. Throw in the fact that Brunswick also plays aforementioned Deerfield and Haverford, as well as Greenwich High School, Malverne Prep and Lawrenceville of N.J., and it’s easy to understand why some people think the Bruins have as good a thing going as any team around.
As for Brunswick not getting a lot of recognition among those who mainly follow the public school game in New York and Connecticut, Bruce said it’s all relative.
“We’ve definitely gotten better over the years,” Bruce said. “We could be in one of the tougher leagues in the area. We’re playing a tough schedule and there aren’t many games that we will win by more than one or two goals or lose by more than one or two goals.
“We have guys at all the Ivy League schools. We send kids every year to play in college.”
When asked how he thinks his team would fare in the FCIAC against the likes of Darien, Ridgefield, Wilton and New Canaan, Bruce seemed cautiously optimistic.
“I think we could definitely play with all of them,” he said.
One reason why is Brunswick’s style of play. In true prep school fashion, the Bruins are more of a finesse team that relies on ball movement and finishing shots over rattling bone checks. That’s not to say the Bruins shy away from the physical game, they just prefer to get up and down the field as quickly as possible, hopefully filling the net with shots during their travels.
It helps when your starting attack consists of three talented sophomores who each have more than two-dozen points. Conrad Oberbeck (33 goals, 8 assists through the first 12 games) is a classic finisher, while David Dickson (10, 23) and Bo Stafford (10, 17) look to push things on the break and create from behind the net and from the wings in settled situations.
“Our starting attack won’t bull anyone because of their size,” Bruce said. “So we enjoy transition.”
It also helps to have senior leadership at midfield. Co-captain Charlie Payton, brother of Brunswick grad and current Duke senior middie/captain Sam Payton, has 20 points, including 16 goals, and, according to Bruce, has been a major sparkplug in Brunswick’s high-octane transition game. There’s also Garrett Virtue, a member of the Hudson Valley team at the 2008 Empire State Games, who is bound for the University of Vermont next season.
Though Bruce would prefer to run and gun over executing a settled offense, he has no problem forcing opponents into 6-on-6 sets when they have the ball.
“Defense is the strength of our team,” he said.
Anchored by seniors Billy Chapman and Spencer Hurst, who will both attend Middlebury next season, junior pole Jimmy Craft and senior goalie/co-captain Peter Castine, the Bruins have allowed just 71 goals in 13 games, 11 of which came in a two-goal victory over Salisbury on April 11.
“I think we’re off to a better start than anyone would have thought,” Bruce said.
Now it’s time for the rest of us to start paying attention. There’s no question Brunswick has earned more than a casual look-see.
Be sure to post your predictions on today’s games and check back for score updates.
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