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Druley: Geneva’s O’Neil is landmark lacrosse recruit

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Mike O’Neil recently committed as St. Ambrose’s first men’s lacrosse recruit with zero games of varsity experience as a Geneva goalie.

It’s conceivable he could tote the same seasoning to the Davenport, Iowa, campus as St. Ambrose prepares to begin playing lacrosse in the spring of 2014.

The oddity doesn’t bother O’Neil, who, per IHSLA.org posted the state’s best save percentage among junior varsity goalies the past two seasons.

“Signing really puts me at ease,” O’Neil said. “So If I make JV, I’m still going to play and have fun with it.”

O’Neil embraced lacrosse in much the same manner three springs ago. Friend and fellow Vikings senior Rob Mondi, who has played since seventh grade, wanted a few more of his buddies to see what the sport was all about.

At the time, O’Neil was 30 to 40 pounds heavier than his current weight of 185.

“I just kind of used that as an excuse to be a goalie,” he said. “But then I started developing, getting better at it and spending time working out. So here I am playing still.”

Increased interest in the sport eventually steered O’Neil to the Naperville-based New Wave Lacrosse club, with which he played in a showcase during the first weekend of January in San Diego.

St. Ambrose coach Brad Keel was among those in attendance as O’Neil excelled in the Adrenaline Challenge, where he said “all the teams were elite.”

O’Neil also considered Illinois Wesleyan – the college destination of returning varsity goalie Steve Laduzinsky – along with Augustana and Beloit.

Active with youth camps and intrigued by the idea of advancing what many call America’s fastest-growing sport, O’Neil knows he has St. Ambrose to look forward to no matter how this week’s Geneva tryouts turn out.

Keel, currently the coach at Seckman High School in Imperial, Mo., south of St. Louis, is less than five years removed from high school himself.

“I saw this opportunity as if I’m not going to start, I’m still going to get a ton of playing time,” O’Neil said. “That part really attracted me, definitely, and the aspect of helping start build a program from its roots really stuck out, too.”

Welcome to the Majors: Geneva alumnus Shawn Sloan enjoyed a standout varsity career for the Vikings boys soccer team.

A little less than four years after graduating, he is eager to build a professional resume.

Sloan this week signed with the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer after initially joining the club in January as part of its haul in the league’s supplemental draft. Knowing nothing was guaranteed, Sloan traveled to Florida for the Crew’s month-long preseason training camp and emerged with spot on Columbus’ 29-player roster.

His next goal is making the Crew’s 18-player travel team after playing nearly everywhere on the attack during camp – outside midfield, center midfield and forward.

“I’ve always prided myself on my soccer IQ and I really just think that I’m adaptable when it comes to the game,” Sloan said Thursday. “I’m not extraordinarily fast or a standout in any area of the game, really, but I like to be myself as just a consistent player that is going to make the right pass or the right decision that is going to those things with the ball and help the team.”

Sloan earned first-team All-Big South Conference recognition in each of his four collegiate seasons at High Point (N.C.). He graduated in December, one semester early, and at first had designs on medical school before the Crew drafted him as a midfielder Jan. 22.

Between calls from Vikings coach Ryan Estabrook and persistent texts from former teammate Kendall Spurgeon, Sloan has found “fantastic” interest from the Geneva community since.

“It’s really overwhelming the support and congrats I’ve gotten from all the people in Geneva,” Sloan said. “It’s nice to have that support system there. Just knowing they’re pumped for me and keeping up with me gave me that extra little boost during training.”

• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com.

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