The Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (UCBLL) recently completed its second season as a member of the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS). Still, it has already established itself as one of its premier leagues.
Not only have teams advanced to the playoffs of the NCBS National Championships in back-to-back campaigns, but the UCBLL has seen six of its players selected in the National Lacrosse League Entry Draft.
In 2021, Hunter Lemieux and Nick Miller were chosen in the draft. On Sept. 10, the UCBLL saw double that number selected as Spencer Bell, Austin Blumbergs, Ryan Sharkey and Christian Watts heard their names called at the draft in Toronto. It was a historic day for the upstart league based in Buffalo and Rochester.
“The four players selected in this year’s draft is a testament to what the UCBLL is building,” said Hawkeyes coach and Rochester Knighthawks defenseman Dan Coates. “You are starting to see more players selected from non-traditional leagues and markets, and it’s huge for the growth of the NLL. The UCBLL, in its two-year infancy, will continue to have more players on NLL GM’s and coaches’ radars. But, those four players are paving the way for the next guys, and it will change the landscape moving forward.”
Bell, who plays his college ball at RIT, was the first UCBLL player to go in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft. The two-time Division III national champion was selected in the fourth round (60th overall). Sharkey went next as the Buffalo Bandits chose the defenseman later in the round with the 73rd overall pick. Buffalo then drafted a pair of players in the fifth round by welcoming Watts (82nd) and Blumbergs (88th) to Banditland.
All three players selected by Buffalo played for the Rapids, who finished one win shy of winning the coveted Mearns Cup. Sharkey was a stalwart defenseman and transition player for the team coached by Bandits forwards Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne. The Canisius College standout was named to the 2022 All-UCBLL First Team. In nine games, he chipped in three assists for the Rapids.
Watts was named to the All-UCBLL Team as a second team member. The East Aurora, NY, native finished second in the league with 29 assists and 52 points en route to team Darris and Rich Kilgour Most Valuable Player honors. The Siena University product was also tied for the team lead with 23 goals. Watts was the leader of one of the top offenses in the UCBLL.
“Christian Watts has proven all year that he’s one of the best players in this league,” said Byrne. “His hard work and ability to learn on the fly is one of the reasons why we believe that he will go on to have a great lacrosse career. The future is bright for Christian!”
Blumbergs, who is from nearby Penn Yan, NY, also had a stellar year in the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League. In nine regular season games, he notched 13 goals and 17 assists. In his field career, he has received MAAC All-Conference honors four times, earning second team honors after playing in all 15 games with 19 goals, 23 total points and 12 ground balls in 2022. He was one of six St. Bonaventure players picked in the NLL Entry Draft.
Rochester tabbed Bell in the fourth round from the Mearns Cup champion Hawkeyes. With his selection, he became the second Hawkeyes player chosen in an NLL Draft. In 2021, forward Nick Miller went to Buffalo in the fourth round. Bell has played in eight regular season games over the past two summers with the Hawkeyes, collecting 10 goals and four assists for 14 points. In two postseason games in 2021, he notched six goals and one assist as the Hawkeyes reached the league finals.
Bell, who will return to play at RIT, credited the UCBLL with helping transform his game and make him an NLL prospect.
“The UCBLL helped me get used to the pace of play and the unique situations in tight that differ from field,” he said. “It gave me opportunity to be seen by some of the best NLL organizations, while also learning from current players and veterans of the game.”