Wall Street Pipeline Finds Work for College Lacrosse Players
Before Dom Starsia talks about national titles, he unfolds a two-foot-wide spreadsheet that gives University of Virginia recruits a look at life after lacrosse.
A big part of the coach’s sales pitch for a university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 is VLAN, or the Virginia Lacrosse Alumni Network, a 300-person database of former male and female players who work in finance and other fields and are willing to help cub Cavaliers get there, too.
The database gives a person’s name, firm, industry, title, e-mail and telephone number, says Drew Fox, a managing director at Neuberger Berman Group LLC whom Starsia credits with turning a loose affiliation of former players into an organized pipeline of mentors.
“Banker, equity guy, trader, analyst -- I don’t even know what those jobs are,” says Starsia, whose teams have produced four national championships and 13 Final Fours over his 21 seasons in Charlottesville. “But I do know it’s an impressive list.”
VLAN members include Landon Hilliard, a partner at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.; John Sommi, a managing member at High Tor Asset Management; Andrew P. Kraus, managing director of investments at Merrill Lynch Private Banking; and Garth Appelt, a portfolio manager at Moore Capital Management.
Appelt, 44, a 1991 Virginia graduate, said he wants to bolster his business by helping athletes whose package of time management, competitiveness and ability to cope with failure make them ideal candidates for success in the financial-services industry.
“Imagine taking all those kids who don’t have lacrosse anymore and they can put all of that time and energy into their career,” Appelt said in a telephone interview.
Dave Huntley, a former Johns Hopkins University player and principal at Baltimore-based HR Investment Consultants, said he takes a second look at any resume that includes big-time lacrosse. The sport’s tribal nature, he said, explains why players feel a sense of obligation to help each other.
“It’s unbelievable how many guys from different schools, all with lacrosse connections, are on Wall Street,” says Huntley, 56, director of Canada’s national lacrosse team and coach of Major League Lacrosse’s Hamilton Nationals.
Like traditional lacrosse powers Virginia and Hopkins, Princeton University didn’t reach this year’s NCAA men’s tournament, either. Coach Chris Bates in a telephone interview said his recruiting pitch to Ivy League-caliber students includes more than a casual mention of the program’s inroads on Wall Street.
The network, dubbed Friends of Princeton Lacrosse, is overseen by three-time national champion Jon Hess, a 1998 graduate who works in equity trading at CapRok Capital LLC, which was co-founded by former Cornell player Joe Lizzio. The group has 3,000 members, about 500 of who played lacrosse, Hess said.
“If a kid feels like finance is something that interests him, we are going to help guide them in that process,” he said. “What we do well is get to know the kids on the current team and speak to their character when hiring and decision-making is made.”
With the end of the season and school year comes another crop of ex-lacrosse players seeking spots on Wall Street and advice or assistance from those who have worn the uniform before.
There were about 1.5 million lacrosse players in the U.S. last year, up 37 percent from 2008, the largest jump in team sports, according to a Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey. Baseball participation fell almost 13 percent and tackle football dropped about 18 percent in the same span, the association said. Youth lacrosse, 15 and under, had 361,275 players in 2011, up 11.3 percent from the previous year and the fastest-growing segment, according to USA Lacrosse, the sport’s national federation.
The sport is also expanding from its traditional Mid-Atlantic and New York roots. According to the SFIA survey, there are just as many players in the New England and South Atlantic regions, with participation up in California, Oregon and Washington.
“The sport has become so nationalized,” says A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, a former executive director of the Central Intelligence Agency who played lacrosse at Princeton during the 1950s and once served as chief executive of Alex. Brown & Sons, the nation’s oldest investment bank. “Coaches used to say, ‘Give me four years, and you’ll be working at Goldman (GS) Sachs.’”
While two-time MLL Most Valuable Player Paul Rabil isn’t working at Goldman, his former Hopkins teammate and roommate is. Equity trader Stephen Peyser is part of the Hopkins pipeline that has run through SAC Capital, where Chief Operating Officer Sol Kumin said at one point there were five former Blue Jays working full time.
Kumin said he talks with Hopkins coaches during the year to find out which players want a career in finance.
“We’ll hire a few and we’ll try and place the other ones,” he said in a telephone interview.
Rabil has become the sport’s first million-dollar player thanks to an endorsement portfolio that boasts New Balance Inc.’s Warrior brand, which includes his namesake line. He said he is thankful for friends like Ted Goldthorpe, president of Apollo Investment Corp. (AINV) and co-owner of the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings, for helping make his money grow.
“What’s LeBron James going to do for me? Get me in some parties,” the 27-year-old Rabil said. “Hedge fund guys, private equity guys, are so much more valuable. Less glamour, but these are the guys you want to know.”
Jason Duboe, a former player at Harvard University who graduated in 2010, is now an associate at Summit Partners, a Boston-based private equity and venture capital firm. Duboe said he befriended former lacrosse players from various universities during a summer league that included teams fielded by Barclays Plc, Morgan Stanley (MS) and Credit Suisse Group AG.
Duboe’s alma mater has its own version of Virginia’s VLAN, called the Harvard Varsity Club, whose mission is to support athletes, coaches, the athletic department and the university.
“Harvard lacrosse is the first network I’ll go back to because I feel close to the program,” Duboe said in an interview. “We’d be foolish not to take advantage of all those contacts.”
Drew McKnight, 35, a managing director at Fortress Investment Group, credits VLAN for helping to start his career. While searching for an internship in 1998, he contacted Appelt and Fox, who put him in touch with Matt Rakowski, at the time a vice president for high-yield sales and trading at Goldman Sachs. Thanks to Rakowski, McKnight said, he landed an internship at Credit Suisse, which led to jobs at Goldman and Fir Tree Partners.
McKnight, in turn, helped John Haldy, co-captain of Virginia’s 2011 national title team and now at Forward Insight Commodities, a brokerage firm.
“That’s outstanding -- it puts a smile on my face,” said Rakowski, who left Goldman in 2003 to co-found Force Lacrosse Club in Phoenix. “The more successful people you bring in, the more permanent that pipeline becomes.”
The pipeline at Virginia has included men’s and women’s lacrosse players for three years since separate programs merged, Fox said, and reaches beyond Wall Street jobs. The broader network involving other schools includes Cade van Raaphorst, a 16-year-old sophomore at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix who plays for Rakowski.
After weighing schools including Virginia, van Raaphorst gave a verbal commitment to attend Duke University, which, along with Cornell, Denver and Syracuse will compete in the national semifinals beginning Saturday in Philadelphia.
Van Raaphorst said part of Duke coach John Danowski’s recruiting pitch centered on that program’s own Wall Street links.
“They told me that once kids are ready to get interviews, they’ll send out e-mails to their network,” van Raaphorst said. “It’s kind of cool to see how everybody comes back.”
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