Heart and hard work can go a long way, even in a rugged, physically demanding sport like lacrosse.
For Manhattan midfielder Brian Lenskold, those two traits—heart and hard work—have spurred him on a meteoric rise in the sport.
Lenskold, who was a member of the Bridgewater-Raritan High School Group IV State Title team last year, has started all three games for the Jaspers thus far. He played an intricate role in the Jaspers’ first win of the season, an 11-9 decision Saturday over Big East member Providence.
Lenskold, the team’s primary faceoff specialist, was successful in 16-of-20 attempts.
“We are a young team and every game we are improving,” he said. “The atmosphere at home was amazing. To be able to come out as a freshman and play in front of a good amount of people, including family, friends and the student body, was amazing.”
In preparations for their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference slate, the Jaspers play one of the nation’s toughest out-of-conference schedules.
Tuesday, Manhattan takes on national power Johns Hopkins, which is ranked second in the country and boasts a 4-0 record. The game replay will be televised to a national audience on ESPNU Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“This is a dream come true,” Lenskold said of playing Johns Hopkins. “Ever since I started playing lacrosse, to be able to play on ESPN and against teams like Princeton, Johns Hopkins, it’s a dream come true.
“Our team is starting to click and we are major underdogs, but to be able to play a team like Johns Hopkins to see how we stack up is something I’m looking forward to,” he added.
According to Lenskold, the mindset to be an effective faceoff specialist is to quickly move on to the next opportunity, be it successful or not.
“You have to clear your head because this position has a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “You can win five straight and start to feel good about your play, but then within a matter of moments, you can lose a couple."
“The main thing is keeping your head in the game and having the ability to pick yourself back up after losing one and to move on,” he added.
As a member of a star-studded Panthers’ roster last year, Lenskold didn’t get the recruiting attention as some of his teammates did, but what drew coaches in was Lenskold’s moxie and ability to play bigger than his 5-foot-8 frame.
“You can never give up," he said. "If you keep trying hard, things will pan out. I like being the underdog. No one expects anything from you and no one knows who you are.
“I think I flew under the radar my senior year at Bridgewater but I learned a lot from my teammates and coaches," he added. "I got a lot of recognition from my role on the team.”
Lenskold has a tremendous support system. His parents, Brian and Josephine, make it to all of his games. He’s the oldest of their four sons, and the other three also play lacrosse—Richie, 14, is a freshman at BRHS and varsity member on the lacrosse team—with all being faceoff midfielders.
“I started playing lacrosse in the eight grade,” Lenskold said. “My uncle was a lacrosse player and my grandparents were big fans of the game."
“I take a big interest in my brothers playing the game," he added. "I work with them, give pointers and help them to play the right way.”
Lenskold notes there is always friendly competition between him and Richie.
“We often practice with my friends and they pair us off against each other,” Lenskold said with a laugh. “If he gets lucky, he may beat me once in a face off.”
Family banter aside, Lenskold said it’s tremendous to have family, coaches and friends who take interest in his play. BRHS coach Chuck Apel was in the stands when Manhattan played at Princeton.
“He was a great coach to play for,” Lenskold said. “He got on me and preached doing things the right way. I still talk to him weekly, and he makes sure I’m on top of my schoolwork and improving as a player.”
Lenskold was part of last year’s team that ended Summit’s incredible 68-game winning streak in the Tournament of Champions Final in May.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Lenskold said. “It was the first time I had a major role in playing and to win it with some of my best friends, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Now in college, Lenskold has taken his work ethic to the next level. The Jasper players work out nearly three hours a day and, oftentimes, wake up as early as 7 a.m. to get a workout in before classes.
“We definitely pride ourselves on our work ethic at Manhattan,” he said. “We are not the biggest, strongest or the fastest, but we practice and play hard."
“Manhattan fits my work ethic and personality on the lacrosse field,” he added.