Steamboat Springs He’s not getting a scholarship, and his school doesn’t have a Division 1 NCAA men’s program, but lacrosse isn’t just a hobby for Ben Wharton.
The Steamboat Springs High School graduate, now a junior in pre-med major at University of Colorado, said lacrosse can take upwards of 20 hours out of his week during the spring season. He works it in with classes — “it actually helps, making you better with time management,” he said. He works it in with a part-time job running the university’s Sunday lacrosse league, with trips to volunteer at local hospitals and volunteer at two research labs.
“But,” he said, “I wouldn’t do it any differently, wouldn’t take any of it back.”
Wharton was recently recognized as the “March player of the month” for the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, the governing body for the university club — a term used loosely, considering the talent involved and how seriously teams take it — lacrosse programs throughout the United States and Canada.
A year ago, Wharton earned all-America honorable mention honors as he scored 28 goals and racked up 13 assists.
He’s been even better this year, having scored 35 goals and tallied 11 assists.
Wharton was red hot through March, the first full month of the season. He scored in eight of his team’s nine games, scored at least two goals in all eight of those and scored as many as four twice.
It hasn’t been easy making lacrosse fit in his life, Wharton said.
He made quite an impression during his time playing the sport in Steamboat. He helped guide the Sailors to the state semifinals as a junior, then did it again as a senior, picking up serious state accolades along the way. He was first-team all-state as a senior and was named the Class 4A Colorado High School Activities Association player of the year.
He had options to continue playing the sport in college at a Division 2 or Division 3 level, but opted instead to attend CU.
Lacrosse was, at the time, a question mark. He wasn’t sure he wanted to play, and he wasn’t sure he’d even be given the opportunity when he showed up for tryouts and found 85 other freshmen with the same idea.
“You’re coming from somewhere like Steamboat, where there are great athletes, good lacrosse players, but you’re up against kids from everywhere, guys from the East Coast or California who’ve played lacrosse their entire lives,” Wharton said.
He made the team and stuck with it through his freshman year. Then, as a sophomore, he earned a start spot and hasn’t looked back.
“You are held to a much higher standard, and I push myself,” he said. “I work as hard as I can to become a better player, and I think I have.”
Currently, he’s helping the Buffalos compete as one of the nation’s top teams. They were ranked No. 4 in the most recent MCLA coaches poll and won one of their biggest games of the season Saturday against top rival Colorado State, ranked No. 10.
Colorado won, 16-13.
It was a reunion, of sorts, for Steamboat players. Wharton plays with Penn Lukens, a CU senior and another former Sailor. Lukens was a second-team All-American defender a year ago.
Mitch McCannon, a sophomore at CU, played on the team a year ago but sat out this season with injuries.
Peyton Trask, meanwhile, plays for CSU.
Both teams are vying for spots in the 16-team Division 1 national championship tournament, set to begin May 8 at University of California-Irvine.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9