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It’s a special event when an athlete is drafted to join the professional ranks in their sport. It not only offers recognition of a step to the highest level of competition, but an acknowledgment of the efforts made by the athlete to reach that level.

Monday, May 4, was particularly special in that way, because a total of five athletes from the town of Darien were drafted in the Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft, including three to the same team.

Mark Evanchick went ninth overall, selected by the Philadelphia Barrage. He would be joined by Brendan Hoffman who was picked 19th, and Colin Minicus who was selected 33rd. These three were teammates as eighth graders in Darien in lacrosse and basketball, and it’s now possible that they will be teammates once again in professional lacrosse. Rock Stewart and Connor Waldron, also both of Darien, were drafted by the New York Lizards.

“It was really exciting, and going back to Philly, especially where I have some familiarity with Chris Madalon and Jamie Hanford,” said Evanchick, who just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, of getting drafted. But the excitement didn’t stop after he was drafted, as he’d start seeing others taken as well.

“I just really couldn’t believe it. Not only had I played with those guys in Dylax, and with Colin in High school, but then we get to team up in professional lacrosse, it was crazy how the pieces fell into place like that. It’s pretty exciting, and it’s a testament to how much Darien lacrosse has grown over the years. And it’s a testament to the time and effort coaches put in to develop guys like Minicus, Hoffman, and others,” Evanchick said.

Hoffman, who attended Williams, said he was surprised to see himself taken when he was, “To be honest I was a little surprised. I was injured to start the season, and a few coaches reached out to me, but it was definitely a surprise when it happened. I’m really excited and grateful for the opportunity,” he said.

“I played lacrosse and basketball with Colin and Mark growing up, and also with Rock, my teammate at Williams who got drafted by the Lizards, so it’s pretty crazy we all ended up getting drafted,” Hoffman added.

Minicus, drafted out of Amherst, was the last of the three taken by the Barrage, and so seeing his name join theirs was stunning. “I’m still speechless about it. I’m so happy I get another shot to play with them. You can’t imagine that growing up. To have your best friends play on the same team together as professionals,” Minicus said.

All three pointed out that the town of Darien and its youth sports program, as well as its high school program, deserves credit for the success.

“It’s definitely a testament to the Darien youth program. They set you up not only for success in high school and college, but after that,” Hoffman said.

Both Evanchick and Minicus had heard from Darien Head Coach Jeff Brameier once they were drafted. Hoffman attended Fairfield Prep, and received congratulations from his coaches at Williams as well.

“He texted me to congratulate me. I saw him a few times over the winter when I was getting ready for the shortened season,” said Evanchick, who has a brother now playing for Brameier at DHS.

“He sent me an awesome text that he was proud of me, and anything I needed he was there to help. He’s still one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Minicus said of Brameier.

The Barrage already has a connection to the town of Darien. Jamie Hanford serves as the associate head coach with the Barrage, a team made up of players of the former Atlanta Blaze. Hanford’s connection to the Barrage goes back much longer than this year. Hanford was top pick and a member of the Bridgeport Barrage dating back to the MLL’s inaugural summer in 2001. Hanford discussed working as a coaching staff to get ready for the draft, and the efforts of head coach Spencer Ford and assistants Brian Dougherty and Kevin Kennan.

“We’ve assembled a phenomenal staff, and we put a lot of work into this. But fun work. We were really mindful about our draft. We wanted guys that wanted to play, would have an impact, and had size and athleticism,” he said.

Hanford also spoke about each of the players drafted from Darien to Philly.

“We wanted Mark because we really needed a shutdown one on one guy and I thought he was the best one there. People don’t give him enough credit, but I had coached him and I know him. Hoffman and Minicus, I thought, were under-recruited. Hoffman is 6’6 and can impact both ends. And I knew that Minicus might not get picked up by people, but I know how good he is. I think that’s a great pick,” Hanford says. But it wasn’t just because these players were from Darien that they were taken.

“I love this area. I just think there’s so much great talent. But I wasn’t picking these kids because they were Darien kids. I was picking them because I know how coachable they are, I know how athletic they are, and I know how high their lacrosse IQ is. What better people to pick? They all come from amazing families. Their parents are awesome, these are good kids, and they work hard. And they’re going to help us out,” said Hanford.

Hanford added that if Stewart hadn’t been taken by New York, he likely would have tried to add him to the Barrage as well. “He works so hard. He’s a different breed. I’d be surprised if he didn’t win the job. He reached out to me, and he wants to play. And that’s what you want. You want the guys who just really want to play and love to play the game, and Rock does,” Hanford added.

The starting goalie for the Barrage is another familiar name to Darien lacrosse fans: Chris Madalon. Madalon was an All-American at DHS, an All-ACC goaltender at the University of North Carolina, and joined the Atlanta Blaze, now Philadelphia Barrage, in the supplemental draft in in 2018 after spending time as a backup goalie with the New York Lizards. Madalon is the starting goalie for the Barrage, and was named to the MLL All-Star game in 2019.

Minicus remembered his time at Darien as a freshman with Madalon on the coaching staff. “I was a freshman and he was the goalie coach. We used to throw behind the back passes to each other, and that’s how I learned to catch it and throw it behind the back. And now it’s full circle, I get to play with him,” Minicus said.

Outside of Darien but still local, New Canaan’s Michael Kraus and Brendan Salvatore were both drafted by the Connecticut Hammerheads, giving them an opportunity to play professional home games at Fairfield University. Wilton’s Michael Brown was also drafted by the Hammerheads, and Ridgefield’s Chase Levesque was taken by the Chesapeake Bayhawks.

These players will all have options, as the Premier Lacrosse League draft is still to come, and some may choose to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA after the seasons were cancelled due to the pandemic. For Evanchick, who has already signed his Philadelphia Barrage contract, the decision wasn’t very hard.

“At this point I’m really playing for fun. There’s nothing more fun than playing with former high school teammates, guys who coached you, and guys you’ve worked with in the past.”

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