By: Patrick Kolb
FREDERICA, DE –The greater Philadelphia area boasts an ample amount of top-level talent when it comes to high school lacrosse, but during the summer season players are always looking for the best opportunity to put their skills on display. Players from top level high school programs within the Philadelphia Catholic and Inter-Ac leagues were certainly aware of that opportunity this past weekend playing at the Liberty National Elite Classic and Showcase at the DE Sports Turf in Frederica, Delaware. Having over 65 club lacrosse teams in attendance over the weekend, with teams joining from across the Eastern United States, there was certainly a chance to make an impression as a player or club down in Frederica … and the boys from Philly surly made their presence known.
This past Saturday, the Liberty National Elite Classic saw a total of six divisions competing for a spot a-top their respective brackets going into Sunday. Philadelphia had several teams in attendance, however one team showed out across the board, competing within all available high school age groups (2022-2024) - that team was Duke’s Lacrosse Club.
The Duke’s Lacrosse Club, founded in 1998 by former Springfield High School coach Ebe Helm, featured some top-level talent and coaching throughout the weekend. Duke’s was competing in the AA championship for all high school levels at Liberty National while also rostering eight Liberty National All-Showcase players as well as the 2022 class MVP, Lars Homan from North Penn High School.
The 2024 AA Class Champion Duke’s Elite 2024 had a near perfect outing, winning five of their six total games and finishing with a AA Championship in their age bracket. Coached by La Salle College High School head lacrosse coach Rob Forster, the club had plenty to be excited about with their performance.
“Our group has really come together and played quality lacrosse all summer,” said Forster, who’s been coaching with Duke’s since 2017. “It’s a great group to coach, not only are they very good lacrosse players but more importantly great young men.”
The club also performed well in the 2023 AA Class, sending two Duke’s teams to the finals in Duke’s Young Guns and Duke’s Elite 2023’s. Ultimately it was Duke’s Young Guns who came out on top, but the club was happy either way.
“It wasn’t our tournament necessarily, but you have to give credit to coach [Jack] Forster and the Young Guns,” said Duke’s Elite 2023 coach and Duke’s president Ebe Helm. “They played well all tournament.”
The 2022 high school class championship game featured a Duke’s Elite 2022 vs. Sidewinders 2022 matchup. While Duke’s Elite 2022 was able to hold off the Sidewinders the day before in a 7-4 win, Sunday proved to be a different story. Even with a 3-1 halftime lead with two first-half goals from La Salle College High School attackman and Marist commit PJ Oppenheimer, the Sidewinders came on late with two goals from Will Mercer of Indian Creek School to tie the game late and win in overtime.
While many of the Duke’s coaches couldn’t help but be pleased with their club's performance throughout the weekend, many of the players were equally as encouraged by their play and acknowledged the benefits playing in a club setting has for their development. Germantown Academy’s Jack Luviano talked about the differences between club lacrosse and high school lacrosse after his weekend in Frederica, DE.
“Club vs. Germantown Academy (GA) is definitely a lot different. For GA we have a specific game plan we follow, but Duke’s is more free flowing,” said Luviano when talking about playing elite level club lacrosse.
“For Duke’s sometimes you’re forced to play out of position or you’re put in a spot you’re not used to, but even though you’re not used to it you still have to play through it and figure it out on the fly. That allows you to expand your game and learn how to make plays even when you’re uncomfortable,” added Luviano.
From June 28-30, Duke’s played in the Naptown Challenge. The 2022’s were the No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs and were 4-0 leading into the quarterfinals, eventually losing to the Annapolis Hawks 8-4.
The Duke’s Elite 2024’s also had a great showing at Naptown Challenge, claiming the No. 4 seed after winning their first three games before falling to NXT Mamba in the second round of the playoffs.
“It’s pretty hot down here, but we’re playing the best lacrosse we’ve played all summer,” said Luviano, when asked how the team was performing in the Naptown Challenge. “We’ve got our best guys here and are making the most of it.”