Alex Jesseman understands well what the newest Ewing High School boys’ lacrosse players are going through.
It wasn’t so long ago that the senior midfielder was going through the same growing pains. He picked up the game when Ewing head coach Kevin Anderson asked him to try the sport.
“As a soccer player, he threw me right in the midfield for stamina reasons to go back and forth down the pitch,” Jesseman said.
“One of the biggest things I came up on and some of the new kids are coming up on now is confidence,” he adds. “It’s one thing if you can practice your stick skills and practice passing and catching, but once you get on the field for the first time, the game seems so quick no matter how much you practice. When you see kids running at you full speed with sticks ready to hit you, it’s a little bit frightening.”
Jesseman didn’t start playing lacrosse until his sophomore year. Anderson noticed Jesseman lifting weights daily in his freshman year and liked the potential he saw in Jesseman’s work ethic.
“I thought, this kid is dedicated to whatever he does, if I can just get him on the lacrosse field and have him interested, I’m sure he’d dedicate himself,” Anderson recalled. “He has. He’s by far our top player and he only picked up the stick sophomore year so he’s two and a half years in.”
Jesseman’s role has increased each season. He spent his sophomore year learning the game and starting to pick up the basic skills. And he didn’t stop when the season ended.
Jesseman had to work at the skills to be a more valuable member of the team. He started to take over for Connor Delaney on faceoffs last year, and with Delaney’s graduation, he has been taking the majority of faceoffs this year.
“Connor Delaney was a good friend of mine and the coach said, pick three kids to teach faceoffs to and he picked me,” Jesseman said. “And because we were closer friends, we practiced a lot offseason and he taught me a lot about the ins and outs of faceoffs. I eventually became better than the other two kids.”
Faceoffs are critical to winning possession after each goal, and Jesseman’s ability to win them has been important to help keep the ball out of the Ewing defensive end, where the Blue Devils aren’t as experienced after the graduation of goalie Russell Stackhouse.
“That’s been our game plan a few times and fortunately we are winning draws,” Anderson said. “Alex has won more than 50 percent of his faces. We’re keeping possession pretty well, especially lately, but we’re not finding those ideal shots. We’re turning it over before scoring more often than we should be.”
Jesseman is part of the midfield unit that is the strength of the Blue Devils team. It has strong athletes like Matt Hedrick, who has returned from a preseason rib injury to strengthen the unit.
“We have athletes that come play lacrosse, we don’t have any lacrosse players,” Anderson said. “Matt’s a football player and wrestler and picked up a stick last year and did a phenomenal job as a freshman. For a guy his size, he throws his body around as well as anyone. He’s the fastest kid on the team.”
Anderson has been trying to find more athletes to take up the sport for Ewing. Unlike many of the schools that they play in the area, the Blue Devils don’t have a feeder program, something that Anderson would like to change and players like Jesseman want to see happen too as they look to brighten the future of the Ewing program.
“I think there are rumors we might have a program at the middle school,” Jesseman said. “They might try to get one off the ground there. We’ve been trying for a couple years. If that happens, I will most certainly be helping out even though I’m going off to college.
“We have some more games and I’m going to enjoy them as much as I can, and help out the next generation as much as I can.”
Anderson is open to working with any younger Ewing student-athletes interested in learning the game, and encourages them to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We had 32 guys come out this year, and last year was the first year we had an established JV program, which was great,” said Anderson, who has coached seven seasons. “They get a full game and they’re learning the whole varsity game and then they can go into the JV game and show their skills. That’s definitely a big advantage.”
The older players like Jesseman serve as role models for the up and coming players, and they strive to get the future leaders prepared. The quicker that the veterans can get their newer teammates up to speed, the better the games go for the Blue Devils.
“We try our best to teach actively—with such a short preseason—not only passing and catching basics, we want you to have the basics so you pass and catch with pressure because we find often a lot of our turnovers are caused by just dropping the ball or you can’t catch and pass and it’s not quick enough,” Jesseman said. “It’s frustrating at times, but after games when you’ve had time to cool down, I think, ‘What can we do at practice, what can we apply to be better?’ These kids haven’t picked up a stick just like I didn’t, so I know how it feels.”
Ewing has seen what everyone in the program is looking for—progress. They can measure it in the way that they’re playing and on the scoreboard. After losing to Hamilton, 12-0, to start the season, they lost 7-6 in the rematch two weeks later on a goal in the final minute.
“It was a very unique loss,” Jesseman said. “In all my years of playing sports, a loss that close to the buzzer really stings. But the whole team as a collective, we were happy because we realized that’s a lot better than a 12-0 loss and we improved so much.”
Anderson is hoping he will see more improvement over the final weeks of the season. Ewing will have chances at rematches with the goal of trying to pick up another win.
Jesseman is looking for continued improvement as he heads into his final games with the Blue Devils before he will graduate and head to James Madison University, where he intends to play club soccer and could stay in lacrosse at an intramural level for fun.
Four years ago, he never would have expected to be anywhere near a lacrosse field, but it’s become a passion for him and he’s bought into trying to get Ewing playing as well as possible.
“A lot of the improvement, I see is two-fold,” Jesseman said. “Some of the defenders are playing a little smarter now, especially the ones that haven’t played before are learning the game and defensive schemes better.
“Offensively, we’ve been stressing heavily to move off the ball and being available for some of the main dodgers and shooters so that when we can draw double teams and they can have open lanes for shooting. That Hamilton game in particular, we set a lot of picks, we cut through, had a lot of movement, and the off-ball movement was a big improvement.”