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UCBLL PLAYERS MAKE IMPACT AT NLL DRAFT

The end of the first round of the 2023 National Lacrosse League entry draft ushered in the beginning of a wave of picks who played in the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League. The UCBLL is a member of the National Collegiate Box Series, which is a partner of the NLL.

With the 19th pick in the draft, held at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre on Saturday, September 16, the Georgia Swarm picked talented righty forward Kaleb Benedict. There he will have an opportunity to play with his cousins: Jeremy, Lyle and Miles Thompson.

Benedict comes to the NLL most recently from the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League, where he helped lead the Orangeville Northmen to an undefeated regular season then led the team in scoring as they advanced to the OJLL championship series.

Before that, Benedict had played for the Syracuse Spark in the PBLA/PBL league this past winter. The league had an unusual rule that allowed teams to opt for a penalty shot rather than a power play, and Benedict took advantage of being one of the Spark’s regular penalty shot takers to demonstrate his skill and creativity with the ball in his stick.

Before both of those leagues, though, Benedict was a member of the UCBLL’s Armory. He points out that when he played in the UCBLL, it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, so there was not much box lacrosse happening. The NCBS managed to develop a plan that allowed them to conduct a season safely for the players, so when a friend reached out and asked if he wanted to play, Benedict jumped at the chance.

“The experience was different,” he says, “playing with NLL rules with crease dives and bigger nets. It was a new league when I started and it’s grown a lot now. I think the speed of it helped me get up and down the floor faster. I haven’t been following it as much but a lot more people I know have been playing in it and really enjoy it, so they are definitely doing a great job on keeping the compete level high. It’s definitely gotten bigger and seems just as fun as when I played.”

Now that he is moving on to the NLL, Benedict looks forward to returning to the rules that were played in the NCBS, and to joining his cousins on the Swarm roster. Family is important to the Lafayette, NY native who now lives in Akwesasne. He was supported at PBL games by family members attending, and he brought several members along with him to the TRAC for the draft.

“Yeah, it’s nice, I had to bring everybody out, could have brought a couple more people, actually.”

Included among those sitting with Benedict at the draft were his girlfriend and their son, Kaleb II. “Hopefully I’ll make a name for him, because I named him after me,” Kaleb I says, “so hopefully I did a good job, we’ll see.”

Luke Pilcher. Hawkeyes v Armory 7.21.2021 :: Photo By Micheline V

Pilcher Enjoyed Leadership Role With Armory

Five picks after the Swarm selected Benedict, the Las Vegas Desert Dogs grabbed his former Armory teammate, taking lefty forward Luke Pilcher.

Pilcher won back to back NCAA Division III national championships at RIT in 2021 and ’22. He will return to campus to continue his education for another year and hope to win a third title.

Pilcher has played for several teams in a variety of box lacrosse leagues. He suited up for his hometown Oakville Buzz in Jr. C then Jr. B, and moved up to Jr. A with the Toronto Beaches and then Burlington Chiefs (now Blaze). With Burlington, he played for his brother Dan MacRae, who is the head coach of the team and is also now a coach with the Colorado Mammoth after retiring from the NLL as a player earlier this year.

Pilcher has also played in the Arena Lacrosse League and at the World Junior Lacrosse Championship as well as heading over to the Czech Republic to play in the European Box Lacrosse Invitational and the Ales Hrebesky Memorial. He loves the game and is always looking for opportunities to play. So when there was no lacrosse to be played in Canada in 2021, Pilcher stuck around in Rochester and joined the UCBLL.

“During Covid, Canada was a little bit behind and there was no season up here and for Rochester and Buffalo to put that season together for us to play and continue to get better was great. Just having a great leadership role and helping some of the non-box players come in and learn it was a great opportunity,” Pilcher says.

As a player with plenty of box experience in a league loaded with players new to the indoor version of the game, Pilcher enjoyed the opportunity to take a leadership role and found that helping players learning box was beneficial for him, too.

“Oh, 100%, 100%. A lot comes from the coaches, right? So they’re telling you what to do as a leader and you’re kind of relying on them and it’s huge,” he says. “It’s a great role, especially getting to that role at a younger age. As you’re telling them you’re also realizing for your own game what you’re doing wrong and you see it and you adjust to it. It’s awesome.”

The whole process worked out well for Pilcher with the Armory; he was selected the team’s 2021 MVP and named First Team All-NCBS.

When he got to RIT, though, Pilcher was on the other end of the experience spectrum.

“First couple of years, as our offensive coach Shawn Wilkins always says, it’s not easy. You’ve got to wait your turn, but once your turn comes that will be your job,” Pilcher explains. “I had to be behind guys like Larson Sundown who’s with the Riptide and Spencer Bell who got drafted by Rochester last year, so very good players. Being behind them and practicing with the best every day, you get to see that and learn from it. Once your number is called you can show them what you’ve got and succeed.”

EAST AURORA, NEW YORK – AUGUST 3: UCBLL :: Jake Piseno celebrates the Hawkeye’s victory. Rapids v Hawkeyes :: August 3, 2023 in East Aurora, New York, USA. (Photo by Micheline Veluvolu)

Piseno Getting the Hang of Box Lacrosse Quickly

The next NCBS player taken in the draft is a more recent vintage.

Rochester Knighthawks’ players Ryland Rees and Dan Coates coached Jake Piseno with Hawkeyes, and they recognized that he would make a great future teammate, so the Knighthawks drafted him in the second round at 35th overall.

That will have to wait for a year as Piseno is heading back to UAlbany for a certificate in graduate studies. That might give him time to get some more box lacrosse games under his belt, since he has not played a whole lot so far.

“To be exact, I’ve only played eight games,” the native of Liverpool, NY points out.

The idea of playing has appealed to him ever since he was part of the Haudenosaunee team for the U21 world field lacrosse championship in Limerick, Ireland in 2022. Some of his Haudenosaunee teammates encouraged him to come north and play box for the summer of ’23. Piseno had some more work to do on the field, though.

He was the breakout star of the World Lacrosse field championship in San Diego this June. Piseno was named the best defender at the tournament while playing against Canadian and US teams loaded with professionals.

Piseno says he was confident in his abilities but knew he needed to work as hard as ever to get ready for the experience.

“Right after the [college] season I kept working, I didn’t really take any days off because just like the jump is going to be from the collegiate box league to the NLL, it was even more of a jump to play college kids and then go and play guys like Josh Byrne and go and play with guys like Lyle Thompson. I definitely had to hone in my craft and do a lot of work to get ready for that.”

Piseno switched to box when he got back from San Diego, playing the last regular season game with the Armory, their two playoff games to win the Mearns Cup, then playing four of their five games at the NCBS nationals in Utica.

There was a lot to learn, Piseno says, and he credits Rees and Coates for doing a great job of teaching him very fast in the limited time he had to play before nationals.

“I really wanted to grasp it so I really listened to every word that they said and took it to heart,” Piseno says. While there were hiccups, Piseno adds that he felt confident about getting up to speed in the new discipline. “I have full confidence in myself. In the indoor game, I went in there with confidence like I know it’s a new game but it’s lacrosse, I love playing it, and as long as a stick is in my hands I’m going to go out and do everything 100%.”

Not everything went smoothly right away, he admits.

“There were multiple times on the picks and on the two-man game I might not have seen a pick coming. I’m caught up in playing one-on-one defense because that’s how it is in field. {Box is] such a shorter area than field so I just get caught caught up playing one-on-one defense and not thinking, like, I have a full team behind me. It’s such a shorter area that everything’s happening at once, but I think with my style of play and my mentality I didn’t take that as oh man, I’m not good at this game and no coaches are going to see me… I learned from it.”

One element of the game that he enjoyed immensely but is still working to master is transition. The opportunities abound, but closing in on a box goalie presents challenges beyond what faces a defender getting a chance to shoot in field.

“The transition was super fun,” Piseno says with enthusiasm. “I didn’t actually get myself a goal. I had probably about 12 shots during my whole run of games. It was awesome. When you see that ball go flying or the shot clock is so short that you can catch yourself getting behind the defense, especially on the second and fourth quarters when you change sides, you can get behind the defense for sure. I found myself in many of those opportunities and sometimes off of caused turnovers I would pick off a pass and just run down. But it definitely is different taking a 15-yard step down with a long pole than being a fast guy and trying to get it by a bigger goalie in a shorter net.”

EAST AURORA, NEW YORK – JUNE 8: Kellen Pulera leads the way to the bench. Buffaloes v Rapids :: UCBLL Action June 8, 2023 in East Aurora, New York. (Photo by Micheline Veluvolu)

The UCBLL’s draft day wasn’t quite finished after Piseno was taken at 35, either. Buffalo native Kellen Pulera played Jr. B across the border in Niagara with the Thunderhawks in 2018 and ’19, then has played with the Rapids in the collegiate league the last two summers. He was also added to the Hawkeyes roster for the NCBS championship tournament this year. Pulera was picked in the fourth round, 68th overall, by the Bandits.

Benedict, Pilcher, Piseno and Pulera are looking forward to making their marks in the National Lacrosse League, and they appreciate the steps towards that goal that the UCBLL afforded them. Whether it is this fall for Benedict and Pulera or a year from now for Pilcher and Piseno, they are excited to take the next steps to make their dreams a reality.

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