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Knighthawks join forces on UCBLL’s Hawkeyes

Knighthawks Join Forces On UCBLL’s Hawkeyes Knighthawks Join Forces On UCBLL’s Hawkeyes - NLL/Rochester Knighthawks

Three knowledgeable Knighthawks are staying in Rochester for the summer to impart their box lacrosse wisdom onto the next generation of potential NLL talent.

Dan Coates, Ryland Rees and Thomas McConvey have joined forces on the bench of the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League’s (UCBLL) Hawkeyes. While they’d be very pleased to lead their team of talented, strong-character guys to a National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) championship victory this summer, Hawkeyes’ head coach Dan Coates says that what’s more important to him and his staff is that their youthful group continues to improve on their box skills and fall more deeply in love with the sport.

“We want these guys to have success, but we also want to develop [them], as well,” Coates said. “At the end of the day, if we can help some of these players that are not familiar with the box game get to an NLL camp, or, at least, get exposed, that’s what we’re trying to do here. At the same time, if we can win, absolutely, that’s great. The three of us on the bench are very competitive, and we want the best for [our players].”

Honing the skills of college-aged players not as familiar with the box game has been one of the main goals of USBOXLA’s NCBS-affiliated leagues, including the UCBLL, since its inaugural championship series in 2019. USBOXLA co-founder Shaydon Santos has expressed how this competition was intended to give possible box lacrosse talents a chance to showcase their stuff in front of some of the NLL’s top coaches and GMs.

“We see this large tournament format as a way to increase participation from elite NCAA players looking to hone their skills… right before the NLL draft,” Santos said. “This is a true stepping stone for American youth to continue to play high-level box lacrosse through college and into the National Lacrosse League.”

Since Coates took over as the Hawkeyes head coach in 2022, these potential NLL players have been in the spotlight a lot. Overall, three Hawkeyes have been taken in the NLL Entry Draft, including Jake Piseno and Spencer Bell, who both played under Coates.

In 2022, alongside Brenden Dobbins, who has now officially earned the title “Director of Vibes,” the Hawks made it all the way to the NCBS semi-finals. The next year, having added Rees to man the defensive side of the bench, the Hawkeyes took another step forward in their run for a championship, this time making it to the NCBS finals. If they keep improving year over year, as they have the last two summer sessions, 2024 could be the year they win it all.

Coates feels that having a talented transition player and defenseman like Rees will help shore up any issues on the backend, while McConvey will be the perfect young, relatable, skilled offensive player to give the offense their best chances to succeed. The fact that the three of them play together on the Knighthawks is the icing on the cake to what they hope is the perfect recipe for success.

“There’s the familiarity of playing together, and you create a certain bond in that sense,” Coates said. “Working out off the floor, practicing, traveling together, you just share a bond and a connection. It kind of eases our way into working together (this is the first time that we’ve done this together). And, essentially, we’re learning off each other as well. We’re seeing what we can do well and what we can do better, and can kind of challenge each other to be better. Having that relationship goes a long way.”

Rees couldn’t agree more with Coates’ assessment of how the coaching staff’s friendship and respect for one another could be a game-changer on and off the floor this summer. To play together as teammates at the highest level of box lacrosse and then follow that up as coaches of the same team in the offseason is a unique and special experience that will strengthen their bond for years to come.

“We still workout throughout the week even if it’s not the NLL season,” Rees said. “We’re golfing, we’re going out to dinner – we’re always hanging out. Coaching with them has been awesome. I get to learn a lot from Coatesy. He’s a leader and a veteran in the NLL. I get to learn a lot about coaching and how he approaches the game. And the addition of Thomas, he’s obviously a phenomenal offensive player, but he also knows the game really well.”

Coming in a year after Coates and Dobbins established an initial plan of attack, Rees has fit in very nicely. After the success that the team had last year in the NCBS, there’s good reason for Coates and Rees to believe this is going to be another good year at the tournament. In the NLL, Rees has seen firsthand how Coates guides the team as the captain. Now, he’s seeing how he manages as a coach in the summertime. He’s been impressed with how Coates has developed the Hawkeyes.

“It’s been awesome,” Rees said. “Coatesy does a great job reaching out to local guys from the area and getting them – guys that were at school but are coming back home and getting them to pursue box lacrosse. It’s been cool to see Coatsey and myself kind of see it grow a bit. Last year, we came up just short in the championship, but there’s so much talent, and they’re so athletic. It’s really good to see more and more of these top college players coming and trying it out.”

For Coates, knowing that his role as head coach of the Hawkeyes in the UCBLL will impact his players’ box careers is a very motivating part of the job. Beyond that, Coates couldn’t be more in support of what the NCBS and leagues like the UCBLL are trying to do. The goal is to grow the game.

“I think it’s absolutely what’s needed in order for the NLL to grow,” Coates said. “I think we need more American players playing the game, and I think we’ve seen that. We’ve seen players come through our league that way, and we hope that we can have more turnover, more guys getting drafted, more guys going to camps, and more guys cracking rosters.”

As it stands right now, the Hawkeyes sit atop the UCBLL standings with a perfect 3-0 record. They have won each of their three games by at least five goals, including a 17-7 win over Armory last Thursday. Thomas Gravino has led the way for the Hawkeyes. His 20 points and 14 goals lead the UCBLL. His teammate Nate Senez is tied for the UCBLL lead in assists with six so far this season.

3-0 with convincing wins is what Coates, Rees and McConvey hoped to see, but this is just the beginning for this group. They don’t want to be playing their best lacrosse right now, and they don’t think this group has reached their peak yet. With the group the Hawkeyes have this season, the sky is the limit.

“It’s a great group,” Coates said. “I think we’ve built a strong culture. We have great character within our locker room and it’s a team-first mentality.”