When men's lacrosse coach Joe Breschi left Ohio State after the 2008 season to fill the same post at North Carolina, he took with him his network of connections with the Baltimore metropolitan area.
Since his departure, however, the Buckeyes have maintained a pipeline to Charm City, using it to help build a roster that's only three wins from a national championship. Ohio State has six Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association players hailing from Baltimore, which is the second-most among the eight teams left in the NCAA tournament.
"I think a lot of kids from Baltimore come out to Ohio State and they just fall in love with the school," said junior goalkeeper Greg Dutton, a Timonium native and Calvert Hall graduate. "A lot of kids that want to go a little bit farther away than staying in Maryland, it's nice to go away to school, and there's just so much tradition out here. I just don't see how you couldn't love it."
Besides Dutton, senior midfielder Patrick Toohey (McDonogh), junior defenseman Joe Meurer (McDonogh), freshman attackman Carter Brown (Calvert Hall), freshman defenseman Robby Haus (Gilman) and freshman faceoff specialist Kacy Kapinos (Loyola) are regulars on the team. Junior attackman Tyler Frederick (McDonogh) is not listed on the roster; he has been plagued by complications stemming from a torn Achilles tendon.
Dutton, Meurer, Brown and Haus are starters for a 13-3 Buckeyes squad that is the third seed and will meet Cornell (13-3) in the first game of Saturday's quarterfinals at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
Ohio State has a couple of selling points that its counterparts in Maryland might be hard-pressed to match. In 2007, a $19.5 million renovation of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was finished. Columbus is just a one-hour direct flight via Southwest from Baltimore. And the school has one of the top football programs in the country — an asset the lacrosse coaches use when a recruit visits campus in the fall.
A good deal of credit for the Buckeyes' ties to Baltimore goes to coach Nick Myers, who maintained them after Breschi left.
"I don't think it's been any different," Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly said of the way Myers has succeeded Breschi, whose Tar Heels have 13 players with ties to the Baltimore area. "When Joe was the head coach there, the pipeline was huge. We had a lot of kids go that way. Nick coached under Joe for a long time, and I think Nick has just continued that tradition of going after MIAA kids. Nick's been great, and he continues to maintain relationships with me as the coach and our program. He's a great recruiter. He's very intentional, and he really works hard at trying to find the right kids that fit his program."
McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said Myers has fostered a familylike environment that has trickled down from the current players on the Ohio State roster to their former teammates back home in Baltimore.
"They've had some ups and downs in the last couple years since Coach Breschi left, but I think he's done a great job of recruiting, and I think the kids sell the university," Hilgartner said. "In talking with Joe and Patrick and Tyler about that program, they tell me how tight-knit the kids are with each other, and I think when recruits see that, it can really help sell the program. That's something that they recognize as being something special."
Myers said recruiting players from the MIAA is beneficial because there is little guesswork about the players.
"You just know what you're getting when you're getting a young man from Gilman or Calvert Hall," he said. "The guys joke on the team that we've pretty much got every team in the league represented on the roster now, and we're hopeful that with a handful more on the way, we'll have full league representation. But we've always had a great connection with Calvert Hall and we've worked really hard at getting into areas like a Gilman, a McDonogh, a Loyola, a Boys' Latin. I'm just excited about continuing to make that area a priority in our future development of the program."
For a few years, the Buckeyes played at least one game each season in the Baltimore metro area. That's how Brown, the Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, became aware of the school.
"When I was a freshman, Ohio State would come and play North Carolina," said the Bel Air native, who was recruited by Penn State and Villanova. "I know they played at Boys' Latin for a couple of years, and I know they played at Calvert Hall, and I got to see them play. I think that's when I realized that this was a team that I could look at in the future. I think that's when it really started."
Haus, who chose Ohio State over North Carolina, Notre Dame and Bucknell, said the presence of former MIAA players on the Buckeyes roster helped assuage his concerns about playing in a region not considered a lacrosse hotbed.
"It's just really cool to be able to meet the guys who you didn't know as well from the other MIAA schools," the Lutherville native said. "It made it feel a little homelier here, which is pretty cool."
More players from the MIAA will make their way to Ohio State. Goalkeeper Nick Doyle (McDonogh) and midfielders Johnny Kelly (Calvert Hall) and Bryan Lichtenauer (Boys' Latin) are slated to join the program this fall, and long-stick midfielder Brendan Barger (Gilman), attackman Colin Chell (Boys' Latin) and defenseman Eric Evans (Calvert Hall) are part of the next recruiting class.
"He has made recruiting out of Baltimore a priority," Hilgartner said of Myers. "I think he has found not only some great players, but some really quality kids that are the backbone of that program."