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Bringing the Florida Sunshine to Lacrosse – by Alec Dawson

The scene is etched in the memory of Cavalier lacrosse fans: On Monday, May 30th, 2011 the Virginia men’s lacrosse team defeated Maryland 9-7 to claim its fifth national title in program history. It was a tumultuous season and the way it ended left Florida native Wyatt Melzer stunned, “It happened so fast that you didn’t have time to think about it – then after I went home and I was just sitting there like wow we won the national championship.”

Melzer’s journey to the national championship though, unlike many of his Cavalier teammates, only started a handful of years ago.

Before his days in lacrosse, Melzer played football, basketball and baseball growing up. The push to play lacrosse came from his mother who had overheard about the sport at one of Melzer’s football games. Melzer took the opportunity to check out the growing sport, “I went out there the first day and kind of loved it and just ran around and didn’t even know how to catch and throw.” Melzer would continue playing with a club team called the Western Warriors, “there was like fifteen of us, and we were pretty terrible.”

Melzer would first pick up a long pole his freshman year. The position of defense suited Melzer because of his aggressiveness and after realizing his potential to play at the collegiate level, Melzer transferred to the highly regarded St. Andrews School in order to play more competitive lacrosse. A short four years after picking up a stick, Melzer was an All-American his junior year at St. Andrews and became only the second Florida native to be invited to participate in the Under Armour All-American game.

Despite his talent, Melzer knew that it would take an extra effort coming from Florida if he wanted to play at a top NCAA Division I school. Melzer attended lacrosse camps in northern states and sent his highlight tapes to a number of programs. He heard back from a selection of schools, but he had his eyes set on Virginia, “the first time I ever watched a lacrosse game on TV was the 2006 NCAA title game and I was mesmerized by Virginia, they were so good and it was their first undefeated season.
Watching them, I immediately fell in love.”

Virginia lost early in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the same year Melzer was recruited and the unfortunate early exit by Virginia gave a lucky break to the defenseman from Davie, Fla.

“I remember Coach saying that they were able to get an early jump on recruiting this year because they unfortunately lost early. Usually videos that they didn’t watch, they watched that year and mine was at the bottom of the pile. They ended up going through all the videos and saw mine was there – it was a dream come true, it happened so fast.”

Outside of lacrosse, Virginia wasn’t a tough sell to Melzer either as he knew the reputation of the school, “academically, it’s one of the best institutions in the country so it’s not hard to want to get better and focus in the classroom … wherever you go, you hear people say great things about Virginia.”
Melzer’s arrival at Virginia had its normal bumps, but he knew he had some catching up to do from day one. A recent scene at a local Dick’s Sporting Goods clinic encapsulated the situation for Melzer, “we all talked about how long we’ve been playing. Chris Clements said 19 years and Steele [Stanwick] said 18 years. For me, this is my seventh or eighth year playing lacrosse.”

Melzer admits the pace was much faster coming to Virginia and his biggest challenge was adapting to the new higher level of lacrosse IQ, “these guys from Baltimore, New York, Maryland and other areas like that have the IQ growing up because they are around lacrosse so much.”

The time around a higher level of lacrosse has shaped Melzer into the player he is today and he takes pride in his improvement at being a better one-on-one defender. Playing time came sparsely as a freshman, but by Melzer’s sophomore season he was seeing action almost every game. The senior brings a physicality and mental toughness to the game that attributes itself to his athletic background. The years playing basketball, football and baseball weren’t years lost, rather Melzer sees himself as a good defender because of his previous sports experience, “I was playing football, baseball and basketball my whole life, which involves a lot of lacrosse stuff, so that’s why I was able to play good defense.”

For the season ahead, Melzer and his teammates know what it takes to get where they want to go and what it will take to defend their national championship. The hard work, Melzer says, “really is worth it … you can’t lean back and be like ‘oh we won this last year, we’ll get one this year.'” Melzer attributes all the extra time in the weight room, film room and on the practice field to the success the team had last year. It hasn’t been a bad ride for a Floridian who didn’t pick up a lacrosse stick till high school.

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