By Jessica Bernheim
UMBC Assistant Director of Athletic Communications
UMBC head men’s lacrosse coach Don Zimmerman watched Scott Jones play a pickup basketball game during the 2010 offseason and was impressed with his attackman’s ability to get up and down the court and understand team defense, qualities that could be useful on the Retriever midfield in the upcoming season.
Zimmerman approached the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Jones with the idea, and Jones accepted the challenge.
After a superb opening game of 2011 in which he scored four goals and added an assist against Presbyterian, Jones struggled to score in the next three contests, tallying just one goal and two helpers.
So Zimmerman again met with Jones and asked which position the sophomore would rather play, and Jones chose attack.
“I’m the most comfortable playing attack,” Jones said. “I just didn’t think I could contribute to the team as much on midfield. I’m more comfortable, personally, popping off the crease within seven feet of the goal.”
The move paid off immediately, as Jones scored three goals against sixth-ranked Maryland in his first game back at his natural position, and he added two more in a win over Quinnipiac.
“I think it was a good move for us,” Zimmerman said. “I thought he did a good job (at midfield), but he really is a guy who is more comfortable and productive right in front of the goal and the crease. We do a lot more dodging with our middies than off-ball play, and Scott really is an off-ball player, and a very good one, especially inside. I just felt like it was time to move him back to his natural position, and he came through with a real nice performance against Maryland.”
A native of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, about a half hour outside Vancouver, Jones’ comfort level in front of the goal stems from his indoor lacrosse background. Indoor lacrosse is played in a hockey arena, and the hard-surfaced court – usually made of concrete, wood or artificial turf – is much shorter than in outdoor lacrosse. In addition, there is a 30-second shot clock, so the game is much faster-paced than outdoor. Therefore, offensive players must make decisions immediately when they catch the ball or risk being hit.
“So naturally, most Canadians that come to the NCAA play crease attack,” Jones explained.
“I think the Canadians bring a unique style to the game,” Zimmerman said. “They’re crafty, they have great sticks and they know how to put the ball in the goal. I think that’s why you’re seeing so many be successful playing the game here in the United States.”
While he did have a little experience with the outdoor game – in Canada, outdoor lacrosse is a winter sport, so he quit playing hockey when he was 15 or 16 in order to play lacrosse year-round – Jones said it took him a little while to adjust to the outdoor game when he arrived at UMBC. He played in 12 games in 2010, but he scored just two goals. This year, however, with a year of experience under his belt, he has started eight games and is the team’s leading goal scorer with 12 tallies through nine contests.
“I felt like last year was kind of a learning experience for me,” he said. “But I’m definitely used to it now.”
“I thought Scott had an OK year last year,” Zimmerman said. “It was a year of transition not only from high school to college, but from the Canadian-style game to the U.S.-style game. I think (the adjustment) is true for any new player, whether it be a freshman or a transfer, because they’re coming into a new system. But in Scott’s case, he’s playing a different game on a different field with different rules. But I see it coming, and now he’s in his natural position, and he and (junior) Rob Grimm are working well together, and I think our attack unit is starting to take shape.”
Jones says his on-field chemistry with Grimm began in practice last season and has carried into 2011.
“He’s real easy to play with,” he said. “If I move off-ball, he’s going to find me most of the time.”
Jones was a baseball player when he was younger, but his older brother – former UMBC letterwinner Jeff Ratcliffe – made fun of him and put a lacrosse stick in his hand.
“I always looked up to him when I was younger,” Jones said. “We played in the backyard a lot when he came home from school.”
Ratcliffe, who now lives in Philadelphia, played a major role in Jones traveling 3,000 miles to attend UMBC, as he alerted his former coach of his younger brother’s progress. Zimmerman, who first met Jones as a 10-year-old in 1999 – “I saw potential in the kid back then,” he says – saw a lot of similarities between Jones and Ratcliffe, who graduated in 2000 and currently ranks 10th all-time at UMBC in goals scored. Jones and Ratcliffe make up one of 28 brother combinations to play for the Retrievers in 44 years of intercollegiate lacrosse.
“I think they have similar personalities – they’re good guys, they’re well-liked,” the coach said. “They can keep a team loose when the team needs to be loose, but when it’s time to play, they put on their pads and they’re eager to get out there and perform. Jeff really started off as a middie here, and then we moved him to crease attack, and that’s when he flourished, and we’re doing the same thing with Scott. It’s great to have Scott here following in his brother’s footsteps.”
Jones notes the similarities, as well – “He’s a bigger guy too, not really a dodger but more of an inside finisher” – and he hopes to continue in his brother’s footsteps beyond college and into the professional ranks of the indoor National Lacrosse League, where Ratcliffe scored 240 goals in eight seasons with the Philadelphia Wings and New York Titans.
Having Ratcliffe so close by has eased Jones’ transition to the East Coast. Jones says Ratcliffe attends most of UMBC’s games, and he spends Thanksgiving with his older brother and his family.
“I thought it would be a lot tougher, but having my brother here has helped,” Jones said. “I have a lot of good friends here, and I get to go home for winter and three months in the summer, so I find it enough.”
Jones took a couple years off after high school before attending UMBC to work and travel in Thailand, so though he is just a sophomore, at 22, he is already the second-oldest player on the team behind fifth-year senior J.D. Harkey. Because of his advanced age, he has taken on a leadership role in the locker room, despite being just a second-year player.
“I guess for a sophomore I’m a pretty vocal guy in the dressing room,” he said. “I’ve played a leadership role in the past with my teams at home, and I’m very comfortable with it. I just try and lead by example and hopefully everyone respects that.”
“I’ve told Scott from day one that I felt like he could be a real strong leader on this team,” Zimmerman said. “When we recruit, certainly we go after lacrosse ability, but we go after players who we feel will add a lot to our program both on and off the field. As a sophomore, he still has some years and experience behind him. He just has the personality where guys look up to him, and that serves an important role on this team. We expect everybody to step up and be leaders, and Scott does it not only by his play on the field, but you can sense around the locker room that Scott has the respect of his teammates.”
Jones said he has told his teammates to keep their heads up during the Retrievers’ tough four-game losing streak that ended with a 9-7 win over Quinnipiac on March 26. “It’s all coming down to conference play now,” he said. “We can’t go into conference with our heads down, we’ve just got to keep rolling and hopefully pick up some wins.”