Brooks van Esselstyn was born a Maryland man. Now, he’s headed back to the lacrosse hotbed to show off his new skills. The May River sophomore was selected to the prestigious Under Armour Underclass Games this August, a tournament for the sport’s top high school talent in the country.
“I think it’s awesome to be honored with the opportunity,” van Esselstyn said. “I’ve been seeing that accomplishment for years and have been just wondering if I’d have a chance to compete at that level. All summer I was focusing on that tryout, and when I made the team it was pure joy.”
At just 4 years old, van Esselstyn already had a stick in his hand. It was the sport to play growing up in Calvert County, Maryland. For the better part of elementary school, lacrosse was his childhood. Then, as most kids do, he tried something new and set out to the hoops hardwood. But as his family packed their bags and moved down to the Lowcountry, he decided to pack away the basketball and focus on his first love: lacrosse.
After playing a pickup game with some of his new buddies, van Esselstyn knew he was back, and better than ever.
No one knew much about him when he took the field for the May River Sharks on February 28, 2020. They certainly did an hour later, as van Esselstyn scored three goals and assisted on two others in a 13-4 blowout of Mandarin (Fla.). When the season came to an early end in March, he led everyone with 17 goals and 10 assists. What could’ve been a freshman season for the ages and a year of revelation for the Sharks was cut short, completely out of his and their control. But what a preview it was of their new rising star.
“People didn’t know who I was,” van Esselstyn said. “Sometimes I wasn’t getting the best defender, but honestly I was just thinking that I have to play my best to help the team win, and since I’ve worked so hard I can’t be scared of anyone. So any time I was going against a guy, I knew I could take him on. Having that confidence really helped this year.”
That confidence was built by his tremendous drive to improve. He worked to become a better overall athlete and pinpointed the areas where he needed results. From his athleticism to his stick skills to his mental game, van Esselstyn was a sponge coming into high school and picked up every valuable sliver of information.
Even during basketball, which he still played to a lesser degree, he found opportunities to use the similarities between the two sports to improve his offensive awareness. He took his “crossover move” from the court to a lethal “split dodge” on the field. All of a sudden, van Esselstyn was putting all the pieces together, and it all came to fruition this spring.
“I’m a big midfielder, I can dodge, and can get past guys,” he said. “I can facilitate on defense and get the ball from the defensive to the offensive end. And then when I get on offense I can help the team in any way I can.”
With van Esselstyn becoming the young, proven star on this May River team, all eyes now turn to a very promising 2021 season. In their brief four-year history, the Sharks have certainly been competitive, but they have yet to earn that elusive first postseason win. After a strong 4-2 start before the high school sports world came to a sudden halt, it looked like 2020 would be the year. But all is not lost for the up-and-coming Sharks. May River will be returning nine of their top 10 scorers next year, including senior standout Rob Gadomski and sophomore van Esselstyn leading the way.
“We’ve never been this excited,” van Esselstyn said. “We’ll miss some guys who we’ll lose, but returning eight starters and our entire defense is going to be great. We were just starting to reach that point in the season where we were clicking, and then it went away. That left a really bad taste in our mouth. We really want to get out there and just play hard and make a run. I want to be a guy who can help my team and lead my team through those difficult situations that can happen when we make a playoff run.”
But before that anticipated year kicks off, van Esselstyn has some personal business to attend to after earning the opportunity of a lifetime this summer. The Under Armour Underclass Games will be held on the weekend of Aug. 8, and college scouts will be given video of the event as they eye the potential future of their programs.
For van Essesltyn, it’s a phenomenal chance to make his mark early in his high school career, a crucial step on the way to the next level. He’s not sure what schools he would prefer to play at, but he does have an eye on Maryland, his mother’s alma mater. So it’s fitting in so many ways that the Games will be held in Baltimore, setting up a pilgrimage back to his home state. He’ll bring his elite athleticism, skills, and work ethic back to where it all began.
And then, he’ll come back to the Lowco, with high-level experience in hand, ready to lead the Sharks to uncharted waters and maybe even some hardware.
Story by Wes Kerr / Photo courtesy of Bobby Thorne Photography
Wes Kerr is a graduate of Hilton Head Island High School and Davidson College. He has a passion for statistics and analytics.