Sailor grads shine on college lax stage
Two earn All-America honors playing for CU
Steamboat Springs — For many athletes fresh out of high school and new to college, club lacrosse at a university may sound like easy fun.
Ben Wharton, a 2014 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School and a sophomore at University of Colorado, was among that group and one of nearly 80 freshman who showed up the first day of practice for the school’s highly ranked club lacrosse team.
Turns out, it’s not so easy, chasing away many of those interested players, but, Wharton said, it is still a ton of fun.
“I’ve been pretty all-in so far,” he said. “I love it.”
Wharton is one of a pair of Steamboat Springs grads playing on the team and was one of two to earn All-America honors from the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which counts 10 leagues and more than 200 teams across 43 states.
CU junior Penn Lukens led the way for the local players by making the MCLA’s second team.
Wharton earned an honorable mention.
Mitch McCannon also played on the team, but missed much of the season after sustaining a concussion.
“It’s just really cool to see a small mountain town having two people represent on the All-America list,” Lukens said. “It’s a huge accomplishment, something you always want to be as a kid growing up, and it pushes me. I know for next year, there are still places to improve and move up the ladder.”
The team pushed to the MCLA national championship game last year. This year, it again won its league, posting a 5-0 conference record and an overall 9-4 regular season mark. The team ended up 11-6, overall. It beat University of California-Santa Barbara 17-6 in the first round of the national championship tournament, but lost to Cal Poly, 10-5, in the second round.
Lukens, playing defense, was one of the team’s leaders in ground balls, eighth on the team while scooping up 25. He stepped into a full-time starting role for the first time this year after playing extensively off the bench last season.
Wharton ended up third on the team in scoring with 28 goals and 13 assists. Those 41 points ranked him fifth in the conference, quite a step up after seeing limited action a year ago.
“It just shows, with Penn and everyone else, the depth our team has,” Wharton said. “It also shows how strong our coaching staff is to have a program that continually makes it back and is a top-seeded team every year.”
He said the relentless CU schedule helped prepare him and the team. The squad practiced at least four days per week through most of the year and lifted weights as often as three times per week.
Still, playing is a decision neither Lukens nor Wharton regret.
“It definitely makes you organize your time better. You have to get your studying done before practice,” Lukens said. “After practice, you’re most likely just going to bed, because you’re so exhausted.
“I’m still super excited. Playing lacrosse was the greatest decision I made when going to college.”
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