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Ivy League is good fit for top talent

Garden City's #26 Patric Berkery carries the ball

Garden City's #26 Patric Berkery carries the ball in the Woodstick Classic. (May 5, 2012) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The top scorer is going to Harvard. The top two midfielders will attend Penn. A promising defenseman has committed to Cornell. When you play Garden City, the nation's No. 1-ranked high school lacrosse team, you pick your poison Ivy.

"It's not always about playing lacrosse in college," said Penn-bound middie Patric Berkery, who scored two goals yesterday in the Trojans' thorough and impressive 9-3 victory over rival Manhasset before a crowd of more than 1,000 people at Garden City High School in the 122nd Wood Stick Classic. "It's about getting a top-notch education, too. In this area, your parents want you to go to a big-time academic college rather than a big-time sports school."

For this fast-growing sport, the Ivy League offers both, making it an attractive landing place for top high school lacrosse talent. Princeton and Cornell are elite teams, nationally, in lacrosse. Yale is climbing. Penn and Harvard hope to do the same. There is no stigma attached to playing Ivy League lacrosse as there might be for elite high school basketball or football prospects.

Said Harvard-bound attack Devin Dwyer, Garden City's leading scorer and the leading assist-maker in Nassau County, "I want lacrosse to be part of my future, but obviously Harvard is a prestigious school and I hope that sets me up for my future after college."

Five of Garden City's goals were Ivy-covered. In addition to Berkery's pair of long-range blasts in the first half, Dartmouth-bound sophomore middie Cody George scored unassisted in the second quarter and Penn-bound senior middie Rob Savage contributed two goals and an assist in the second half.

Dwyer was held scoreless by Manhasset defenseman Bobby Duvnjak, who will be his college teammate next year in Cambridge, Mass. So Ivy grows in Manhasset, too. "They play at a high level and they have the grades," Indians coach Bill Cherry said by way of explanation for why there were eight Ivy League-bound players on the turf yesterday and why this is not a new phenomenon.

Garden City sent last year's defensive stalwarts Steven Jahelka and Brian Fischer to Harvard and the school's all-time scoring leader, Dean Gibbons, is a recent Crimson grad. One of Manhasset's stars last season, attack Harry Kucharczyk is at Yale and the Indians' top player from two years ago, Drew Belinsky, is at Penn.

"It's a no-brainer," Dwyer said of his college choice, even though he and the other future Ivy Leaguers on the field yesterday have the grades and lacrosse skills to go to other schools. "It's one of the great academic schools in the country."

Garden City and Manhasset are prosperous communities blessed with many families who can afford to send their sons to Ivy League schools, but affluence doesn't guarantee athletic prowess nor academic excellence. That's a testament to the diligence in the classroom and on the practice fields of Garden City's Dwyer, Berkery, Savage, George (Dartmouth) and junior defense Scott D'Antonio (Cornell). Plus Manhasset's Duvnjak, senior defense Stefan Pate (Harvard) and junior attack Dino Lavelle (Brown).

"Sometimes in practice, you hear the kids talking about SAT scores not just sports," Garden City coach Steve Finnell said. "We have a great connection to the Ivy League and that's something we emphasize. Both towns believe education is the strongest thing."

Cherry joked, "When I was a kid, I didn't even know what an Ivy League school was . . . In Manhasset, a lot of the parents attended Ivy League schools and their kids aspire to that."

With good reason. As Finnell observed, "If you have the grades, lacrosse can open doors,. But it's hard to make a living playing pro lacrosse."


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