USA TODAY High School Sports presents the 2016-17 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Lacrosse Team. The team and honorees were selected by Casey Vock of 3dRising.com based on performance, level of play and strength of schedule.
The ALL-USA Coach of the Year is Bryan Kelly from Calvert Hall (Baltimore, Md.).
Player of the Year: Justin Shockey, Landon School (Bethesda, Md.)
Team of the Year: Culver Academy (Culver, Ind.)
Name: Bryan Kelly
School: Calvert Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Record: 17-2, MIAA A Conference champions;
Super 25 Expert Rankings: No. 6
When Calvert Hall lost back-to-back games back in late March, few would have expected the Cardinals to be where they stood at the end of the season.
With the rain pouring down on Johns Hopkins University’s storied Homewood Field on May 25, Calvert Hall closed out a 15-game winning streak with a convincing 12-6 win against rival McDonogh (Owings Mills) to claim the program’s third MIAA “A” Conference championship.
Unthinkable was not that Calvert Hall would go on to capture the most coveted championship in scholastic lacrosse, but that it could accomplish that by winning every single game played against a conference opponent.
“We figured out that we really had to play defense differently,” said Calvert Hall head coach Bryan Kelly, named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year.
With a more pressure-oriented defensive approach, the Cardinals began to get better results in goal. That eventually translated to the best overall defense – allowing only 6.05 goals per game – in the MIAA, a fact Kelly believes people overlook when analyzing his team.
Reliable short-stick defense and wing play, he said, was another key strength of the team, as well as the attack’s ability to pressure clearing defenses with a vicious ride. But credit Kelly for his and his staff’s ability to continue to assemble one of the most polished offenses season after season – a fluid system of dodgers and cutters that features pinpoint passing and produces quality scoring chances in rapid succession.
The team finished the year averaging 12.8 goals per game, giving the Cardinals the best goals-goals allowed margin of any team in the league.
“But the one big thing that happened for us was that no one cared who got credit, or who scored goals, it was just a team effort,” Kelly said. “When we saw something we liked, we went with it. We never worried about getting one person the ball. The kids trusted us and once they trusted in what we saw as coaches, they did a great job of executing.”
At 11-0 against what many consider the most competitive conference in the nation, the Cardinals looked and performed like one of the best teams in the nation by year’s end, earning the No. 6 ranking in the final Super 25 boys lacrosse rankings.
That in itself is a considerable accomplishment for the small private school that is a bit of a melting pot. While Calvert Hall features many players from some of the prominent area clubs, it is the only MIAA A Conference program without a middle school to have won a league championship.
“We take what we can get and we work with it,” said Kelly, who has two sons on the team – Jacob and Daniel, both of them standouts who are verbally committed to their father’s alma mater, North Carolina. Jacob, a junior, was named to the ALL-USA Third Team.
“The kids really work hard on their skill level and they certainly are talented. We do have a great collection of different kids.”
As important as skill and technique has been to Calvert Hall’s success, Kelly acknowledged that the culture of his program has just as much to do with this year’s results.
“The culture is very important to me,” he said. “I view coaching as a ministry. I want to have an impact beyond the lacrosse field and help them grow as people. I hope they see that I care about them and I love them. We believe leadership is to be a servant – they serve, our leaders serve the team.”
A coach and key leader for the Baltimore-based Fellowship of Christian Athletes lacrosse program, Kelly has built a culture at Calvert Hall that allows younger players to develop among their older, more experience and more athletic peers.
“Our leaders pick up our freshmen and drive them to weightlifting,” he said. “Our seniors go get the balls and the goals, and our young players see that and they want to get involved. We have a culture of guys that care about one another and love one another, and that manifests itself on the field.”
PRESEASON: ALL-USA Preseason Boys Lacrosse Team
LOOKBACK: 2015-16 ALL-USA Boys Lacrosse Teams