Whenever Kevin Conry returns to Long Island, he looks forward to getting a chicken cutlet sandwich and a slice of New York pizza.

A native of Rockville Centre, N.Y. on Long Island’s South Shore, the Michigan men’s lacrosse coach is frequently pulled back to his roots for recruiting trips. Four members of the Wolverines’ incoming recruiting class hail from the island. And to Conry, there is no better place to connect with a prospective recruit than a visit to a traditional Italian deli.

Lacrosse has traditionally been a predominantly East Coast sport, with high levels of competition aggregating in areas like Long Island, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Yet in the past decade, the sport has embarked on a westward expansion. Notre Dame and Denver became the first Division I programs west of the Appalacchians to compete in or win an NCAA Lacrosse Championship game. Top-tier recruits have popped up across the map, including in the Midwest.

So, while Conry will always have a special place in his heart for Long Island lacrosse, he may now also find himself visiting a Detroit-style pizza joint or Cleveland Polish Boy stand with Midwestern recruits.

“As you watch the game expand, the state of Michigan has exploded, both at the private and public level,” Conry said. “So we’re really excited about the next coming years about Midwest lacrosse.” 

Five-star attackman Michael Boehm, Conry’s undisputed top recruit this season, is representative of this trend. Ranked the No. 10 attackman and No. 21 overall recruit in the country, the two-time USILA All-American from Rocky River, Ohio racked up 300 points during his tenure at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

While Michigan has not enjoyed the same level of success as Notre Dame and Denver since becoming a Division I program in 2012, its athletic and academic reputation has been enough to attract highly touted recruits like Boehm.

This year, the Wolverines reel in the No. 3 overall recruiting class in the country, according to Inside Lacrosse. Last year, the program’s recruiting class came in at No. 4.

“I think the school speaks for itself,” Conry said. “When you have an academic institute that’s the No. 1 public school in the country, it attracts the global brand of the block ‘M.’ It attracts a lot of interested parties. But as we’ve been able to grow and showcase our fantastic facilities, the type of guys we’re bringing in here and the culture we’re growing, I think it becomes more and more attractive.”

Many major college lacrosse programs are housed in some of the country’s most prestigious universities, including practically the entire Ivy League and ACC schools like Duke and Virginia. Conry emphasizes that Michigan’s ability to support its student-athletes with Big Ten-caliber facilities separates it from the pack in the eyes of recruits.

“You’re treated as a big time athlete (here),” Conry said. “A lot of the schools that play lacrosse can’t mimic that. … You really can walk in the door and have the best of both worlds for your college experience.”

In addition to Boehm, the Wolverines’ incoming recruiting class is stacked with nine four-star recruits, including midfielders Kyle Stephenson and Justin Brown. Stephenson, ranked as the No. 5 midfielder and No. 28 overall recruit in the country, netted 97 goals and picked up 58 ground balls during his time at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J. 

While it is impressive that Michigan — an emerging program entering just its 10th season — has been able to beat out more tenured programs for such recruits, Conry notes that, when recruiting players, he cares less about the number of stars next to their name and more about their character.

And with his current roster, Conry is confident that the program is rapidly accruing players rich in the latter.

“There’s certainly a type of guy that I think can win championships,” Conry said. “The guys who maybe aren’t the prettiest or flashiest, but guys who are hard-nosed and tough and can compete at a high level. Our recruiting philosophy has always been: look for the competitors. Look for the athletes and the competitors, and make them better lacrosse players.

“It’s easy to develop guys who want to be developed, and it’s a lot of fun to walk out the door and have these energizer bunnies who just want to soak everything in.”

In the midst of lacrosse’s evolution into a nationally mainstream sport, Conry and Michigan find themselves in a favorable position to attract recruits that may lead the program for years to come. Incredibly talented young players have bought into the team’s culture and are eager to strap on their winged helmets.

Now, with fresh pieces of clay in hand, it is up to Conry to mold his new recruits into collegiate-level competitors.

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