April 13, 2011

UnCensered: Hawley Reminds Us That Good Lacrosse Exists Beyond Division I

by Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com

David Hawley, Brown's senior attackman-turned-midfielder-turned-attackman, has proven he belongs at the Division I level after transferring from Division III Williams.

© Greg Wall

Last year, Brown men's lacrosse coach Lars Tiffany wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from David Hawley. Sure, the junior was big (6-foot-3 and 210 pounds), could move, and had put up a ton of points at Division III Williams College his first two seasons. When Tiffany first started recruiting Hawley, one NESCAC coach remarked that he’d be voted “Coach of the Year” if he were able to draw the bruising sniper away from Williamstown.

But Tiffany -- who coached at Washington and Lee during the Jim Stagnitta era -- knew Division I lacrosse was a different animal than the NESCAC. After matriculating at Brown in the fall of 2009, Hawley found himself learning a new position (he had played attack for the Ephs), and trying to establish himself on Brown’s first midfield. 

It didn’t take long, however, for Tiffany to realize he had a gamer. In the 2010 season opener against Hofstra, Hawley dropped three goals, dialing in a couple long-distance bombs from close to the top of box. Whistlers moving so fast it would have made little difference if the goalie were from Hofstra or Mount Ida.

Hawley continued to build on his early-season performance, scoring multiple goals in all but three of Brown’s games last year. With Reade Seligmann and Thomas Muldoon doing much of the heavy lifting off the dodge, Hawley found a natural role on the backside, where he let his blistering shot and quick release take care of the rest. At the end of the season, Hawley had garnered first-team All-Ivy League laurels, and this winter was one of two Ivy League players (along with Princeton’s Jack McBride) drafted when the Boston Cannons chose him in the seventh round.

“From the first game he was extending the defense,” Tiffany said. “He’s a lot like a deep threat in football who makes the opposing safety have to come over.”

Hawley’s journey from the New England backwoods to Providence, R.I. -- and the fact that his low-to-high pyrotechnics have carried over -- provide a fresh reminder that good lacrosse exists beyond the Division I hoopla and ESPNU periphery. Certainly, Hawley is not the first to find success moving from Division III to Division I. In the mid ‘90s, David Curry was a two-time All-American at UVA after two seasons at Gettysburg. Will Mckee won a championship with Duke last year after being named the Liberty League’s Player of the Year at St. Lawrence his sophomore season.

But Hawley’s decision to leave Williams wasn’t as much about flexing his offensive bonafides to a larger audience or finding new competition as it was about getting a different kind of college experience.

Coming out of New Canaan (Conn.), Hawley had chosen Williams, a college tucked away in the mountains of western Massachusetts, for its academics (it usually ranks at the very top of the Liberal Arts Index). But for all the school has to offer as a scholastic heavyweight, it’s small. And by 10 o’clock, most of the restaurants in Williamstown have closed: not the ideal situation for your typical twenty-something.

“Williams had a tremendous academic reputation. I got along with everyone, had a great time, and it was a beautiful school,” Hawley said. “But it was a lot of cow pastures and in the middle of nowhere … I wanted a more well-rounded college experience.”

Hawley, pictured here playing for Williams in a 2009 game against rival Amherst, says he keeps up with the Ephs and respects how NESCAC competition prepared him for the Ivy League.

© Kris Dufour

After gaining his official release from Williams during his sophomore fall, Hawley began contacting coaches, eventually being courted by the likes of Brown, Georgetown and Penn. He leaned towards the Bears, drawn by Tiffany’s hand-written notes and genuine interest in him. When he visited Providence and experienced Thayer Street firsthand, he was sold.

He also liked the idea of playing Division I lacrosse. Coaches and teammates describe Hawley as a competitor (you don’t put on 20 pounds of muscle your freshman year doing nothing), and someone interested at proving himself at the highest level. He had the game to match. He was the NESCAC Rookie of the Year and first-team all conference as a freshman and second-team as a sophomore. And with his blend of size, speed and shot, he was a bit of an anomaly in Division III.

“I remember we were playing Middlebury in the playoffs, and he was going against James Guay (arguably the best defender in the NESCAC),” Willams senior defenseman Aaron Flack said. “As a freshman, he dodged downhill and just split him hard.”

It’s worth mentioning, however, that some of the more ardent chip-on-their shoulder Division III fans believe, or at the very least enjoy arguing, that there isn’t much difference between the two divisions. Certainly, there’s some credence to the idea that elite Division III schools could compete outside the top 15 in Division I. But a couple cherry-picked hazy scrimmage scores -- the 2005 Duke-Salisbury throwdown or early 2000 Middlebury-Dartmouth tiffs are usually message board favorites -- doesn’t forecast an easy transition from the NESCAC to the day-to-day grind of the Ivy League.

For Hawley, transferring to Brown meant raising his level of play, overcoming any doubts he had about his own limitations, and adjusting to the overall depth of a Division I program (which is what he believes separates them from their non-scholarship peers).

“The biggest difference is everyone can play," he said. "You can’t just focus on two or three guys."

Still, Hawley is quick to pay his respects to the NESCAC, mentioning a number of players in the conference could have been impact players in Division I, like former Middlebury midfielder Mike Stone. He credits his two years in the Berkshires with prepping him for the cutthroat Ivy League.

Because NESCAC teams don’t have “fall ball” or coaches breathing down their necks in the offseason, Hawley learned how to prepare and work hard when no one was watching. Being one of Williams’ best players meant he had to carry the ball more and diversify his game beyond catch-and-shoot.

Tiffany agrees that Hawley’s Division III experience probably helped his development. “If I was a pro coach in the major leagues, I’d want to take the rookie sitting in the dugout and send him down to Triple A,” he said.

This season at Brown, Hawley hasn’t had the luxury of Muldoon and Seligmann generating offense, and instead has had to deal with scouting reports, increased attention and long-stick middies. He’s still had his moments, including a six goal outburst in a come-from-behind win against Vermont and three goals in a loss to reigning champion Duke. Recently, he was moved back to attack to add some scoring punch and big-shot prowess to the struggling Bear offense. The extra attention on Hawley down low sprung free midfielder Rob Schelsinger (four goals, two assists) and attackman Parker Brown (four goals) in Brown's recent 13-12 upset of No. 13 Penn.

Of course, as satisfied as Hawley is at Brown, he still misses his friends at Williams, the golf course on campus, and the annual opportunity to take down archrival Amherst. (He went 1-1 against the Lord Jeffs during his tenure.) He keeps tabs on how the Ephs are doing, and there’s usually a steady stream of supportive post-game text messages -- sometimes congratulatory, sometimes salty -- between him and his former teammates.

While there hasn’t been much to celebrate -- the Ephs are 1-7 going into Wednesday night’s game against Union -- since Hawley left, the Williams guys seem happy that he’s found the right fit.

 “I’m really proud of him,” Flack said. “He really did prove he belonged there."

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