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Manasquan (N.J.) senior Canyon Birch would have had a stellar career if he had just broken a school record. It would have been legendary after he broke the New Jersey state record for points in a season.
But if Birch has his way, a different adjective will be used by the end of this season - champion.
The 2018 Shore Sports Network Boy’s Lacrosse Player of the Year admits the personal accolades are nice. But he has bigger aspirations.
“I’m more concerned about our team goals and leaving Manasquan as the best lacrosse team to ever play in the Shore Conference,” says Birch.
I want to raise the bar for all our younger Manasquan players coming up.”
In New Jersey, that means taking the Shore Conference, State Sectional Championship, Group 1 Championship, and New Jersey Tournament of Champions.
Last season, Birch helped guide Manasquan to Shore Conference and NJSIAA South Jersey Group 1 Sectional title. In the process, he broke the state record for single-season points with 175 with 123 goals and 52 assists in 23 games.
His goal total, which broke the previous conference record, was six short of the New Jersey state record held by A.L. Johnson (N.J.) player and University of Virginia great Matt Poskay.
For now, Poskay also owns the New Jersey state record for career points at 468.
Birch has 389 going into his senior season.
Birch can look back on a well-rounded athletic journey that has gotten him to this point and how it may influence his future.
“When I was in elementary school, my parents made us try all sports, and we had to finish the season once we started. We didn't have to play that sport the next year if we didn't like it, but we had to try everything," Birch said. "My two brothers and I decided on football and lacrosse. We felt the two sports went very well together. I play running back and linebacker.”
Birch settled in well to both of his team sports and stars in both. Last season he earned All-Group 2 Offensive and First Team All-Shore Honors in football.
Ironically, Birch is known for putting the ball in the back of the net but began his lacrosse career trying to stop it.
“I started playing lacrosse in the 3rd grade. I played close defense for my first three seasons before switching to attack in the 6th grade,” Birch said.
He admits that this may have helped him with his offensive skills.
“By learning to play lacrosse with a long pole, it helped me a lot early in my career. I had some growing pains that caused me to miss some time, but once I started weight training, this seemed to help me a lot.”
That training has paid off with his athletic accomplishments, particularly in lacrosse. He will head to Happy Valley in the fall to play for the Penn State Nittany Lions.
“I always wanted to play in the Big 10 or ACC so when I visited Penn State, met Coach Tambroni and had the opportunity to meet many of the Penn State players it just felt right to me," Birch said. "My goal is to play for a National Championship, and I believe Coach Tambroni can get us there. I will be a finance major, and I like the academic opportunities Penn State has to offer.”
More Than Sports
About the prospect of being a student-athlete, Birch is looking at more than just playing lacrosse and how the college experience can benefit him.
“I would like to build a strong foundation for my career path. Penn State has an outstanding alumni organization which I hope to utilize when I reach the job market," Birch said. "I am really looking forward to the big college experience. I am also looking forward to playing lacrosse at a big school that has a big following and work extremely hard to reach our team goals.”
While looking forward to this experience and the opportunities ahead, Birch understands the hard work that comes with being a collegiate student-athlete. As many athletes at the college level will tell you that this is practically like having a full-time job along with being a full-time college student.
“College sports, and especially Division I sports are demanding on student-athletes. Managing my time will be the most challenging aspect of college life, especially my freshman year as I acclimate to the program," Birch said. "I realize I will need to be disciplined in getting my course work done while training hard to be the best lacrosse player I can be for Penn State.”
That understanding will go a long way, and Birch appears ready for the challenge. But first, he has some unfinished business heading into his senior season.
When thinking about his individual achievements on the field he considers the impact that his teammates have had on his success.
“Setting the New Jersey single-season point record last year was created by the aggressive play of our defense and the ability of our offensive players to move to open space and finish,” Birch said. “Our defense is so good, that they have given our offense a lot of opportunities to possess the ball. Our attack line works great off the ball, and they can score from anywhere. Our middies are fast and athletic so teams will need to respect them again this year.”
As confidence is high for team success, Birch still has his sights set on the state record for career points as well as the state record for goals in a season that he came up just short on a year ago.
Manasquan won the Shore Conference, and NJSIAA South Jersey Group 1 Sectional title, but fell short during the Group 1 final against Moutain Lakes (N.J.) 16-7.
Manasquan has yet to win a Group championship - finishing as runner-up in 2016 and 2018.
“I fell six goals short of the single-season goal record last year so it has given me the incentive to work harder this offseason so I will hopefully get another chance to do it,” Birch said.
Whether the goal is reached or not Birch has left his mark on New Jersey lacrosse with a storied career and has an excellent chance to have a significant impact at Penn State.
His understanding of the game, the work it takes, the obstacles in his way, and the drive needed to be the best, have set him on a path for success in the game of lacrosse and in life.
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