Knighthawks' Young 'Bucks' Named to All-Rookie Teams
At the 2017 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft, the Rochester Knighthawks made league history when they selected three players in the first round from the same university. Today, Jake Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell made franchise history as the first trio named to the NLL All-Rookie Team in the same season.
"It's an honor to be recognized for all of my hard work," said Fannell. "But I certainly could not have done this without my teammates."
The Knighthawks' rookie class joins San Jose (2009), Colorado (2015) and Georgia (2016) as the only other club to earn three or more spots on an NLL All-Rookie Team. Prior to this season, Rochester twice had a pair of players on the team, with the last time coming in 2017.
Knighthawks Owner and General Manager Curt Styres said it was a collaborative effort between all departments that led to the most successful rookie class in franchise history.
"It's all a testament to the hard work of Stu Brown, Jody Gage and Duane Jacobs," admitted the 2017-18 GM of the Year. "With Withers, Shanks and Fannell earning this honor, it says our scouting staff is going above and beyond.
"Our coaching staff of Mike Hasen, Mike Accursi, Pat O'Toole, Jason Johnson and Marshall Abrams, together with our lacrosse operations staff and our players, also made it possible for the rookies to have a successful start to their careers."
At last year's draft, the Knighthawks took Withers with the second overall selection and then proceeded to take Shanks at the No. 5 spot and Fannell with the sixth selection. Styres pointed out that the lacrosse operations staff was instrumental in Rochester selecting the three players from the Big Ten lacrosse school.
After spending countless hours talking to coaches and scouting games in Canada and the United States, the Ohio State teammates appeared high on everyone's draft lists.
"First of all, we were fortunate to have three picks in the first round," said Knighthawks VP of Player Personnel Jody Gage. "All three had great junior careers, but it was great to see them play in the Senior 'A' loop. That's where they were playing against NLL players, which further cemented our interest in them.
"Withers was phenomenal at the faceoff X and also played great 'D.' Austin Shanks put up numbers at both the junior and senior level. We have been looking for an off-ball righty like him for a while. We loved Fannell's size and how he played in Oakville."
For Knighthawks head scout Stuart Brown there were several reasons why the conversation kept coming back to Withers, Fannell and Shanks. One of the most significant factors was the maturity and confidence the players showed after playing for a well-respected program at Ohio State University.
"Initially, it wasn't that they were all Ohio State Buckeyes," said Brown. "The defining factor was what head coach Nick Myers does from a player and leadership development standpoint, what they call the blueprint. We knew that they had been part of a program that produces great professionals and great people. We felt it was an added bonus when we selected those three players."
Gage, like Brown, knew that the players could have breakout rookie seasons. With the support of the coaching staff, Withers, Shanks and Fannell were able to realize their potential and become instant impact players.
"You have to give them credit; they went out and did it," said Gage. "We were very fortunate that we have great coaches who helped them acclimate to the NLL. We saw them have great success developing throughout the year."
After being selected in the first round, Shanks and Fannell rewarded the Knighthawks by finishing second and third in points among NLL rookies, respectively. Shanks, who played in 15 games, was among the top point producers on the team as he placed third on the Knighthawks in goals (27), and fourth in assists (25) and points (52).
Fellow forward Eric Fannell notched 16 goals and collected 21 assists in 14 games. His best game of the season was on his 24th birthday, as he tied his then career high with two goals while notching career bests in assists (four) and points (six) on Feb. 11.
Withers, meanwhile, achieved success rarely seen by a first-year player as he dominated inside the faceoff circle. The Knighthawks defenseman led the league in faceoff wins (279) and faceoff winning percentage (.670). The Peterborough, Ontario native also set the league rookie record, and the franchise single-season mark for faceoff wins. In 18 regular season games, Withers posted seven goals and five assists for 12 points and was second on the team with 148 loose balls.
After helping Ohio State reach its first NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship Game, they departed Columbus, Ohio and moved to Rochester for the season. It was their familiarity that helped the draft picks quickly adapt and excel at the pro level.
"They played with each other for so long at Ohio State and lived with each other in Rochester," said Knighthawks assistant coach Marshall Abrams. "It's a bond, but also a way to push each other. If one guy is working hard, it pushes the other ones to work a little bit harder. I think it helped them a lot going to the next level together and being there for each other."
"Aside from being very talented players, the bond they have made the transition into the pro league a bit smoother for them," said Knighthawks Director of Player Development Duane Jacobs. "That comfort level enabled them to be able to perform as well as they did. They were able to confide in each other and lean on one another."
During the 2017-18 campaign, the rookies experienced a season unlike any other. After starting the year with a 2-6 record, the team went on a torrid run that ended with the second seed in the East Division. As the winner of eight of its last 10 games, Rochester roared through the divisional playoffs, scoring wins over New England and Georgia. That set up one of the most competitive championship series in recent NLL history. The Knighthawks pushed the NLL Finals to a decisive third game but came up just short in their bid for the NLL Cup.
The trio was instrumental in Rochester reaching its first Finals since the 2014 season. Shanks finished tied for third in goals (nine) and tied for fourth in points (18). Fannell posted six goals and five assists in five playoff games, while Withers finished the postseason with team playoff records for loose balls (56) and faceoff wins (88).
At the conclusion of the season, Withers captured the team and NLL Rookie of the Year awards. Shanks was also a finalist for the league award and a close second to Withers in team voting.
"Being named to the All-Rookie Team is a credit to my teammates, coaches and owner Curt Styres," said Shanks. "The veterans who helped me last season were instrumental in my growth. The incredible coaching staff we have worked diligently day in and day out to make us better and put us in a position to succeed every weekend."
"It's a huge honor to be named to the NLL All-Rookie team," said Withers. "Being fortunate enough to be named to the team alongside my two roommates, teammates and friends is a testament to the coaches and especially the leadership from our veteran guys this past year. I would like to thank Curt Styres, the coaching staff, the entire Knighthawks organization and most importantly my teammates for battling with me each and every night on the floor. Lastly, I want to thank the fans in Rochester for always sticking with us and supporting us through the ups and downs of last season."
Images from this story
Rochester Knighthawks Jake Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell at the 2017 Draft
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