The words Waxhaw and college lacrosse dont often go together.
Thanks to Mike Sawyer, they do now.
Sawyer, a former Charlotte Catholic lacrosse player whose family lives in the Union County town of Waxhaw, has become one of the college games top players this season.
A junior attackman at Loyola (Md.), Sawyer is among the countrys leading scorers (45 goals) and a primary reason why the Greyhounds (14-1) are the top seed in the NCAA lacrosse tournament which begins Saturday, when they host Canisius in a first-round game.
Sawyer leads the Greyhounds in scoring with 45 goals and 53 points. Hes third in the nation in goals-per-game average (3.0) and 21st in points per game (3.6). He also is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the top player in college lacrosse.
Hes also the first to admit that his background doesnt quite square with lacrosses northeastern base.
Yeah, being up here and playing and going to school in Baltimore is a lot different than living in Waxhaw, N.C., Sawyer said earlier this week.
But lacrosse is picking up in popularity in North Carolina and Sawyer personifies that growth.
After his family moved to Waxhaw from the lacrosse hotbed of Syracuse, N.Y., when he was in elementary school, Sawyer continued playing the sport in Charlotte-area youth leagues and in middle school. He transferred to Catholic from Weddington High and became a top -- if under the radar college prospect.
Lacrosse is the countrys fastest-growing high and college team sport. In the Charlotte area, about 3,000 boys and girls play in 21 recreational leagues. Many public schools offer the sport on a varsity level, with private schools such as Catholic, Charlotte Latin, Providence Day and Country Day having played lacrosse for several years. There are mens and womens college programs at Queens and Belmont Abbey and Davidson has a womens team. Major League Lacrosses Charlotte Hounds are playing their first season.
Its great that the sport is getting bigger and being more recognized now, said Sawyer. You might even consider Charlotte as being a hot spot now. Its bringing up the level of play for colleges to come and recruit.
Sawyer isnt the only one in his family that coach Charley Toomey has recruited to Loyola. Mikes younger brother Matt is a sophomore midfielder. Another Sawyer Nick is a junior at Catholic and has verbally committed to play for the Greyhounds.
And Loyola has three others from North Carolina on its roster: Freshman defender David Manning and sophomore midfielder Kyle Duffy (both of Chapel Hill High) and freshman face-off specialist Devon Lepsch of Holly Springs.
Were all becoming more well-versed in North Carolina high school lacrosse, said Toomey. In the past theyve been known as having great athletes, but were able to go down there now and find kids who can help us early in their career. Theyre past that developmental position when we get them.
Mike Sawyer, however, seems to be the best of them so far. He has one of the more powerful shots in college lacrosse, Toomey said, and he also has expanded his game by improving his accuracy.
Sawyer has been much more efficient this season, increasing his shots-on-goal percentage from 46.8 to 56.0 percent, while upping his goals total from 31 as a sophomore to 45 (and counting). Sawyers most productive game came against Duke, when he scored six goals and had two assists in a 13-8 victory against the Blue Devils.
Mike has always had a good shot, but this year hes become a kid who enjoys sticking around after practice and getting in 20 to 30 extra shots, said Toomey. The younger guys see that. Hes really blossomed as a player and a leader for us.