In this installment on our continuing series on the State of Washington Lacrosse, SoundLacrosse sat down with Lewis Ratcliff. One of the most popular figures in local lacrosse, Lewis is the General Manager of Seattle Starz, Coach of the Eastside Catholic high school boys lacrosse team, offensive mainstay of 2010 World Champions Washington Stealth NLL team, and husband and father to his doting family.
Our conversation started by getting up to date on the Seattle Starz program, of which Lewis took over the helm last summer.
This will be Seattle Starz’s most ambitious summer ever with four high school boys’ teams, three middle school teams and three youth teams. Additionally, there will be a girls 7/8th team and a high school team. They will also offer a Starz Academy, a non-traveling, local program focused on letting players improve their skills. “Starz now has great opportunities for all players” said Ratcliff, “beyond the Elite teams that we’ve offered over the years.”
Ratcliff moved his family down to Seattle this past year, specifically because he wanted to be involved in the growth of Washington lacrosse. “I’m down here fulltime, it’s what I love doing,” he said, “and we’ve made a commitment to doing it the right way.”
With a few exceptions over the years, club lacrosse in Seattle has meant Starz. We spoke a bit about whether or not there’s room for more club teams. “There will always be more individual teams trying to start up,” offered Lewis, “But for an additional large program to evolve and become what Starz is, I think we’re a ways from seeing that.”
Given the rifts in other sports, specifically soccer and gymnastics, between playing for a club team and playing for a high school, the discussion shifted to the possibility of that happening in boys’ lacrosse. “We will continue to ensure that doesn’t happen with Seattle Starz,” stated Lewis, “We don’t want to dilute the Washington talent pool, or force families to choose. There’s a place for everyone at the table without stepping on toes. We work hard to make sure there’s no interference with the in-season high school programs. We’re committed to shutting down when the high school season is going on.”
As the discussion progressed to the differing roles of high school lacrosse and club programs, Ratcliff pointed out that Washington lacrosse is still at a stage where the top high schools are still a large notch ahead of the pack. “And Starz may not be as advantageous to a kid in one of those programs,” he explained, “But there are many strong, talented, dedicated lacrosse athletes, who attend schools for academic reasons that may not be lacrosse powerhouses. Starz is an irreplaceable opportunity for that kid, because he wants and needs to play with the top players, and against the top teams in the country. That’s how you get better, that’s how you grow your game. We are good at offering that experience to the elite players and there’s nowhere else for most of them to get it. And it’s not realistic that ‘March to May lacrosse player’ can become a top tier performer. It’s great for kids to play multiple sports, but you still have to have a main sport. And if that’s lacrosse, then you’ve got to have a stick in your hands. We provide an opportunity outside the high school season for you to have a stick in your hands.”
We talked a bit about the perception of a fuzzy line between the Seattle Starz organization and the Eastside Catholic High School organization. Are people confused and is there a reason to be concerned? “Well, I have to say I was blown away about how much politics there are in Seattle lacrosse. And there are definitely misperceptions about what we’re trying to do with both programs. But I didn’t take the job at Eastside Catholic to win a State Championship at all costs. We work very hard to keep the programs separate, and often that makes things a lot harder to get done. I’ve heard the talk; People who think we’re handing out Eastside Catholic scholarships left and right to good players we see at Seattle Starz. That’s not at all how we’re doing things, that’s not what we’re about and anyone who thinks we are just doesn’t know us. I want to do it the right way. I love lacrosse, I love coaching.”
We then spent a moment looking back, reflecting on the things that have happened in Washington lacrosse that have made him proud. “It’s so great to see big college programs recruiting local kids,” he offered, “Last summer in Denver, when the Starz Elite team won that tournament, and to hear Denver’s coaches go from ‘Sure, we’ll come watch your kids’ to ‘Wow, we’ve got to have that kid!’ was a great moment for me. To see Jack Pruitt go into that week as an unknown Seattle Starz player and come out of it with an offer from a D1 team that had just finished #4 in the NCAA, wow, that was unbelievable. Things like that show how far Washington lacrosse has come.”
So we asked him where he thinks Washington lacrosse is when compared to the rest of the country, the traditional hotbeds like Maryland, Long Island, and Philadelphia. “Well to be honest, it’s not where we think it is,” he said, “We’ve come a long ways but there’s a long ways to go to catch up. Look at the top Washington teams, Mercer, Bellevue, Issaquah, and Bainbridge. They each have three big games each year; when they face each other. Then later, in a playoff game and then two of them get to play in the State Championship. A high school team in upstate New York, or New Jersey, they’re playing two of those games every week. They have a big game, and then they have to get up the next day and start preparing for the next one, which is also a big game. Those players, those teams, get far more experience and grow far faster than a Washington lacrosse player. We’re not there yet, and we’re not as close as people think.”
So when we then talked about where WA lacrosse would be in five years, Ratcliff said “Look at Washington’s top players, they’re good. They’re getting recruited, they’re getting noticed. But today’s 5/6 & 7/8 players are so much better than they were just five years ago. Go watch a 7/8 game, look at the skills, look at the plays they run, it’s unbelievable. I’m very excited for the future; it’s why I’m here.”
For a comprehensive list of current players from Washington in college lacrosse programs, see this article by Walax or visit the Sunday Stroll which posts lists updates each Sunday, as well as information on who from Washington did what in college lacrosse during the past week.