Commentary

Tradition fuels current Brother Rice players

Updated: April 20, 2009, 1:15 PM ET
By Brian A. Giuffra | ESPN RISE Magazine

The Brother Rice (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) lacrosse team has nothing left to prove. Its legacy is forever intact.

[+] EnlargeBrotherhood
ESPN RISE MagazineThe cover boys from the Brother Rice lacrosse team haven't lost to a Michigan team since 2002.

The Warriors went 23-0 last year and finished No. 1 in the STX/Inside Lacrosse national rankings. They coasted to their sixth straight state title -- including all four since lacrosse became sanctioned by the MHSAA in 2005 -- and haven't lost to a Michigan team since 2002.

As a result, Brother Rice could go winless this spring and still be considered the state's top lacrosse program. Time to kick back and relax, right? Wrong.

"We can't take a year off because we were national champions," says All-American midfielder Danny Henneghan. "We still have a lot to prove. I bet if you asked, nine out of 10 people would say an East Coast team should have been ranked No. 1."

OK, so Brother Rice can't take a year off. But a mediocre season wouldn't exactly put a dent in the Class of 2009's legacy. After all, at least five Brother Rice seniors will play college lacrosse next year whether or not the Warriors win state again. Three of those players -- Henneghan, goalie T.J. Yost and attack/midfielder Nick Dolik -- were named All-Americans as juniors.

Between state titles, All-American honors and college scholarships, there's really nothing left for the senior class to accomplish, right? Wrong.

Nick Dolik Favorites

  • TV Show: "Lost"
  • Movie: "Billy Madison"
  • Actor: Adam Sandler
  • Musical Artist: O.A.R.

"I hope to go undefeated and keep that tradition alive," says Yost, who has signed with Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. "We can't be the first team to lose to a Michigan school. It's on us seniors to keep the tradition alive."

Indeed, Brother Rice has cemented itself atop the state's lacrosse hierarchy. The Warriors have won 11 of the last 13 state championships and five of the last eight Midwest titles. They've also gone undefeated three times since 2004, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight.

"Our goals don't change," says coach Rob Ambrose. "It's not a wavering thing. We try to pride ourselves on not having a rebuilding year." Isn't that the truth. Graduate an All-American one season (or three in the case of 2008), replace him with another star the following season. Graduate a Detroit News Player of the Year one season (as was the case with Joe Fontanesi last year), and the next season replace him with three new candidates in Henneghan, Yost and Dolik.

In all, more than 20 Brother Rice players have gone on to Division I college programs. And that doesn't include Yost or Penn State recruits Dolik and Henneghan.

All that success has yet to silence critics around the country who question the Warriors' legitimacy because state regulations restrict them from traveling to play teams from lacrosse hotbeds like New York and Maryland.

"We had kids from the East Coast coming up to us at summer camp saying we really didn't deserve [the national championship]," Dolik says. "They didn't believe we were good." To those haters, the Warriors respond with one word: undefeated. And with key players returning at every position this spring, going unbeaten remains the goal.

Dolik, Henneghan and Yost headline the list of returning players, but plenty more returnees will play vital roles in the team's success. Ambrose says Yale-bound senior Brian Walker is one of those players. The 6-foot-5 midfielder has great all-around talent and will play a bigger part in the offense than last year, as will senior attack Pat VanDusen.

T.J. Yost Favorites

  • TV Show: "The Office"
  • Movie: "Fight Club"
  • Actor: Steve Carell
  • Musical Artist: The Medic Droid

Senior Peter Plaskey will also have an expanded role this spring. He's both a captain and the only returning defensive starter, two titles that carry plenty of responsibility.

"There's a lot of pride playing for Rice," Plaskey says. "Personally, I would be disappointed if we lost one game. But that's why guys come to Rice; they come for that challenge." Of course, most of the responsibility to uphold Brother Rice's lofty standards this season falls on the trio of returning All-Americans.

Dolik has moved from attack to midfield this year to lead the offense after scoring 65 goals and adding 41 assists as a junior. He uses a quick-cut arsenal and a monster shot that tops out at 90 mph to constantly keep defenders off balance. Henneghan, who scored 23 goals and had 16 assists last year, is one of the best faceoff men in the country, winning possession 75 percent of the time. Also a tailback for the Brother Rice football team, Henneghan will be an even bigger offensive threat this year after an offseason spent working on his shot until his forearms burned.

On the other end, Yost stopped 68 percent of the shots he faced as a junior. His unique style of letting the ball come to him -- the opposite of what goaltenders are taught -- has worked wonders during his two years as the starter.

After enjoying so much individual and team success, Yost knows the pressure is on the Class of 2009 to perform. "[Last year] doesn't mean as much if we don't back it up," he says. "You can't let the team down. You can't let the supporters down. So you have to keep working hard to keep the tradition alive."

Hard work has never been an issue at Brother Rice. It might be the biggest difference between the Warriors and their competitors. Just a few weeks after earning the national championship last spring, the newly appointed captains (Henneghan, Dolik, Yost and Plaskey) mapped out a grueling offseason workout schedule. Each week, the plan included one day of scrimmages, two days of lifting and three days of captains' practices, which can be tougher than regular practices.

"There's no room for mistakes in practice," Henneghan says. "If you make a mistake, you run. But all that running just helps prepare us for games."

Does that sound like somebody with nothing left to prove? Didn't think so.

Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.